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  1. #1
    ennasirk's Avatar
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    Food bank ... a fresh food revelation!

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    Today I had the privilege to volunteer at the Alameda County Food Bank, helping out in the central food warehouse, cleaning up and packaging donated food for distribution. Our group was working on bagging oranges, and cleaning and bagging up fresh corn. I was pretty impressed that we were working with fresh produce, as other times I've supported food banks, it's always been processed/packaged food. I admit, my head was very much stuck in the stereotype that food banks primarily distribute processed stuff. An absolute lifeline to those who don't have any food whatsoever, but certainly not the best choice.

    At the end of our shift, the staff member who had been working with our group took us on a tour of their very impressive warehouse. She took us back into the 5,000 square foot fridge/freezer section, which was packed to the rafters with fresh produce! More corn and oranges, but also cabbage and lettuce and carrots and plenty of other veggies I didn't get a chance to see. To my surprise, she said that 52% of the food that the food bank distributes is fresh produce!

    As stores and manufacturers have become better at managing their inventory, the food bank actually gets fewer bulk donations of packaged food, and has moved to grow its partnerships with donors that can supply fresh produce (or can supply it at a greatly reduced price). The corn we were sorting was often either on the small side, or had minor blemishes - stuff that wouldn't necessarily sell in the groceries or the market, but which was perfectly edible. The have a nutritionist on staff and as much as they are able to, they focus on getting more nutritious food in the door and out to those who need it.

    Small steps, but I gotta say I was mightily impressed.
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  2. #2
    Lily Marie's Avatar
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    That's awesome!
    I don't remember any fresh food back in my food bank days.

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    My father is an apple farmer and at the end of each season he ends up sending a semi-trailer full of apples to food banks. When I was a child my mother volunteered at our local food bank and about all I remember seeing is cans of spaghetti-os, boxes of mac and cheese, peanut butter, and stacks of white bread. That is great that that is changing. In Minneapolis/St. Paul there is an incredible organization that distributes organic produce year round to the poor neighborhoods. They roll in with a bus full of produce and give it out, not strings attached.

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    I'm going to slip in a plug here for an organization that I think is awesome, the Healthy Food Bank. They raise money for food banks all over North America to buy healthy food for their clients. I found out about them through Krista Scott-Dixon, who is the woman who writes Stumptuous.com. They do some cool work, and they give 100% of their donations to orgs because their admin costs are covered through corporate supporters. They have a magazine called Spezzatino that is all about food (yay food!), and the profits from that go to the project.
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    My friend runs "The Rainbow Kitchen" which provides meals for homeless and low income families in need. It is in a decommissioned church. They have raised vegetable beds running the length of one side of the old church which helps to supplement the donations. He would like to expand the gardens. He does have one local produce market that does a weekly donation of fresh veg and fruit, but the majority of this donations are from bakeries. He does six pick ups a week of left over bread, rolls, pastries etc. We had a really interesting dabate/discussion about the recent Dr. Mercola article saying that wheat germ and gluten are responsible for a lot of the depression, anxiety and other psychological condition in our society today and the fact that these issues are huge in the homeless and low income populations and whether there is a link to their diet containing more processed breads and pasta etc which are cheap and often the staple of foods at kitchens and food banks.
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    ennasirk's Avatar
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    The food bank rep directly acknowledged the link between processed food and obesity, and how giving access to more fresh foods was one of the ways they were helping to combat that and improve nutrition in the people they serve. She didn't go so far as to say grains were bad (and I certainly wasn't going to get into a food debate in that situation), but did acknowledge the need to make more fresh food available.

    It's a tough debate because when you're going hungry, even bad food is better than no food, but it's nice to see that food banks are making the efforts they're able to make to improve the quality of the food. I also know that where I live (Northern California) it's probably easier to do something like that because we really do have an overabundance of fresh food and a much more favorable year-round growing season than a lot of climates. Might not be possible to do so in other regions.
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    I don't pick on food banks that give out bread--as Ennasirk said, bad food is better than no food. I think it's better to support getting more healthy options available to food bank users (veggies, fruits, quality protein) than it is to get them to stop giving people grains if that means that the folks who need it won't get enough to eat. It's easy to pick on agencies for feeding grain to poor people until you realize how hard they have to work to stock their shelves with the donations they get. Our food bank here--the first one to open in Canada--fundraises and holds food drives constantly to make sure their clients can access food when they need it. If we could get more community members and businesses to support the food bank and work to eradicate the poverty issues that lead people to need them so there's less demand, then maybe after that we can start getting worked up about the grain they give people.

    Real hunger sucks: not the kind you get when you don't eat for a few hours, but the kind you get when you don't eat for days. I've been there once upon a time, and I can tell you that in that situation, I would have been angry at someone who suggested that eating some boxed mac and cheese was worse for my mental health than dealing with the ongoing physical toll of under/malnourishment the and emotional stress and psychlogical damage caused by food insecurity and the fear of starvation.

    We need to address food security before we can address food quality. See Satter's hierarchy of food needs:

    Satter
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    Our food bank here--the first one to open in Canada--fundraises and holds food drives constantly to make sure their clients can access food when they need it
    The first one to open in Canada? Please clarify. Do you mean the original and oldest food bank ever in Canada or first of that name or....? There are five food banks that I know of in Victoria alone, the biggest being the Salvation Army and the Mustard Seed. I know the Share Society and the United Way have food banks in Vancouver plus several smaller organizations. The sad thing is that so many are needed and have been needed for so long.
    The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease. - Thomas Edison

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    The Edmonton Food Bank is the oldest in Canada. It's definitely not the only one. Sorry if my phrasing was confusing!
    “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

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