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BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog

Thrift, Charity, and Thrice-Cooked Bacon

By Mandy Kessler

Thrice-Cooked Bacon. That was probably the crowd favorite when a group of Food Bank staff enjoyed a communal dinner last week at Mission Chinese Food, the hip new LES outpost, recently imported from San Francisco, where SF foodies haven't been able to stop raving about it since it opened in 2010.

But in truth, it's pretty hard to choose. Everything we had from Kung Pao Pastrami, to Salt Cod Fried Rice, to Stir Fried Sweet Peas, was absolutely delicious. And the Chongqing Chicken Wings — what a tasty, albeit spicy, surprise! Ignoring the chili peppers heaped on top of them, they looked like typical chicken wings, but they sure didn't taste like it. Not at all greasy, just perfectly crispy on the outside, they were tender and flavor-packed inside.

As we had been forewarned by the hundreds of amazing reviews which have piled up since the restaurant opened in May, the food was hot. But for those of us who went in a little afraid of what that meant for our sometimes-weak palettes, we were pleasantly surprised. The spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors, and with plenty of components to balance the heat — like the amazing rice cakes that come with the Thrice-Cooked Bacon and, of course, delicious cold beer — the heat didn't last too long.

But the very best part of our meal? As we enjoyed delicious food and excellent company we knew that, simply by dining at Mission Chinese Food, we were helping provide nutritious meals to New Yorkers in need. Why? Because for every tasty entrée purchased at Mission Chinese Food's NYC location, the restaurant donates $0.75 to the Food Bank For New York City. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the restaurant leadership, including rising star Chef Danny Bowien, and to the efficient work of the Food Bank, where $1 donated helps provide 5 meals for New Yorkers in need, our meal helped provide over 22 meals for our struggling neighbors. It took the guilt right out of ordering a second helping of Thrice-Cooked Bacon, to take home

Chongqing Chicken Wings
Stir Fried Sweet Peas
The Thrice-Cooked Bacon - after we demolished it.
The Thrice-Cooked Bacon - after we demolished it.

Send a Message to Support Ending Finger Imaging for Food Stamps!

by Triada Stampas

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State will be putting an end to finger imaging for the Food Stamp Program (also known as SNAP). Abandoned by most other states in favor of more cost-effective and less stigmatizing fraud detection methods, finger imaging for food stamps currently exists only in New York and Arizona. In anticipation of dropping the finger imaging requirement, New York State has already put a new system in place that analyzes client data to detect duplicate cases and protect the integrity of the Food Stamp Program.

Not only does finger imaging add a layer of shame and stigma to the application process, it adds to the time and inconvenience applicants must endure to receive needed food assistance. In addition, finger imaging has been another step in the process where errors can deny applicants the benefits to which they are entitled. A recent report by the Empire Justice Center found 97 percent of fair hearing cases related to finger imaging were resolved in favor of the applicants – that's right: fair hearings upheld denial of benefits in only three percent of cases where households allegedly failed to comply with finger imaging requirements.

The state's proposed regulation to end finger imaging has been released, and as with any proposed change in regulations, New Yorkers can submit their opinions to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (the state agency that administers the Food Stamp Program) during the open public comment period. Comments in favor of ending finger imaging will create a public record of the broad support that exists for making this change. The deadline for comments is July 16, 2012.

Take Action Today : Send a message today in support of ending finger imaging!

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

A City of Overeaters? Watch out for Portion Distortion!

by Katy Mitchell-Gilroy

It seems normal that a large soda at a restaurant might be 44 ounces (for reference, a quart is 32 ounces!), a muffin might be as large as a grapefruit or pancakes might be as large as a dinner plate!

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, looking at how much meals have increased in size over the years, I would say we’re in a full-blown era of “Portion Distortion”!

I’m not the only one who thinks this. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently launched a new subway ad campaign to bring attention to the impact this trend has had on our general health.

Portions have grown - Cut your portions and reduce your risk of obesity.
Soda sizes (in the news recently due to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal of a 16-ounce maximum size for sugar-sweetened beverages at food service establishments) used to be much smaller. A large cola used to be 16 ounces and approximately 200 calories. If you’re extra thirsty and want to order a large cola today, be prepared for 32 ounces and a whopping 400 calories! And what is today’s “small” cola? Yesteryear’s large! 16 ounces and 200 calories Surely some of our readers are in the camp that try to avoid sugary drinks overall, but this is just one example of increased portion sizes, and it impacts much more than sugar sweetened beverages. Are you try to eat healthfully and having a Chicken Caesar salad for lunch? 20 year ago, a Chicken Caesar salad was approximately 1 ½ cups and provided 390 calories. That same Chicken Caesar Salad today is 3 cups but it has 790 calories.

Why does this matter? If someone isn’t aware of proper portion sizes (and many of us aren’t), they will consume more calories while underestimating the amount of food they’ve actually eaten. This is a perfect recipe for weight gain and other obesity related illness. With so many people overweight already, this increase in portion size is a real health concern – which is why teaching people how to recognize the right portion size is part of all of our nutrition education work.

In fact, recent Centers for Disease Control obesity statistics for New York City indicate that 58 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese (BMI 25+). In 2009, a data brief from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that child obesity rates in the five boroughs are higher than the national average - 22 percent are obese and 19 percent are overweight in contrast to 17 and 14 percent nationwide.

So just how good are you at spotting “Portion Distortion”? Check out this interactive quiz from the National Institutes of Health, and see how you score – then try to watch out for portion sizes in your daily life. We’d love to hear what you find – let us know in the comments!

Katy Mitchell-Gilroy, Nutrition Resource Manager with Food Bank for New York City, is a Registered Dietitian as well as a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and has experience working in the public health nutrition field. When she’s not working she enjoys singing, cooking, and spending time with her husband and daughter.

Now That You Have Your Ph.D., Time to Apply for Food Stamps

by Astrid Spota

Education has always been portrayed as an avenue to career mobility and prosperity. However, recent studies challenge this adage, revealing that advanced degrees may not insulate families from financial hardship.

It is likely not surprising to hear that individuals with less education make up a large majority of households that rely on food stamps (SNAP) or cash assistance such as TANF. After all, access to most better paying jobs is limited to those with greater education. Nevertheless, a recent study from the Urban Institute,finds there has been a dramatic increase in the number of households with advanced degree holders receiving aid since the recession began in 2008.

The recession increased reliance on safety net programs across the board, but whereas for households with no more than a high school degree, the number receiving SNAP or cash assistance increased by 53 percent between 2007 and 2010, for those with a Master’s Degree, the number of households receiving aid increased by 188 percent in the same period. Even more shocking, the number of households with doctorate degree holders that receive aid more than tripled , increasing by 244 percent.

These trends are consistent with the findings of the Food Bank’s NYC Hunger Experience 2011: Sacrifice and Support, which indicates that a rapidly growing percentage of college-educated residents are struggling to afford food and are concerned about needing food assistance in the future. While the percentage of New York City residents struggling to afford food was similar in 2010 and 2011, the percentage of college graduates struggling to afford food increased considerably during the same time period. Between 2010 and 2011, the percentage of residents with a college degree reporting difficulty increased from 24 percent to 30 percent; and for those with a graduate/professional degree, from 19 percent to 21 percent.

Similarly, while the percentage of New York City residents with lower levels of educational attainment who expressed concern that they may need food assistance over the next year did not change significantly, the percentage of New York City residents with a college degree expressing concern increased from 23 to 30 percent .

Astrid SpotaThese findings not only speak volumes about how the recession has halted the progress even of those best equipped to get ahead, they underscore the importance of the safety net in protecting families who are unable to move up the economic ladder. Without resources such as SNAP, food pantries and soup kitchens, many households would be left with nowhere to turn, and forced to make extreme sacrifices that could be detrimental to their health and long-term financial independence.

Astrid Spota, Research Associate, works on projects that help the Food Bank ascertain trends and determine the need for emergency food, nutrition education and income support programs throughout New York City.

A Chance to Save Food Stamps

by Triada Stampas

This week, the Senate starts debate on the Farm Bill, the legislation that sets policy and funding for the key programs – food stamps (SNAP) and emergency food (TEFAP) – that make up much of our nation's safety net against hunger. The Senate bill currently under consideration will cut $4.5 billion in SNAP benefits – making it even harder for vulnerable children, seniors and families to keep food on the table – unless an amendment by New York's own Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is passed.

SNAP is our nation's first line of defense against hunger. More than 46 million Americans struggling to get by – including 1.8 million New York City residents – rely on SNAP to keep food on the table. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the $4.5 billion cut to SNAP will result in a loss, on average, of $90 in monthly benefits for every affected household – a significant drop in any family's food budget. Approximately 190,000 households in New York City would see a reduction in SNAP benefits as a result of this cut. Cutting SNAP doesn't just hurt the families who lose benefits – it hurts businesses and communities. The Center for American Progress estimates that more than 13,000 jobs are lost for every $1 billion cut from SNAP – meaning this $4.5 billion cut will cost more than 60,000 jobs.

Emergency food is our last line of defense against hunger. The Farm Bill the Senate is currently considering does increase funding for TEFAP by $150 million over ten years, and empowers the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make additional purchases of food at times of high need. However, TEFAP has lost $173 million in the past year alone, and at a time when food pantries and soup kitchens are already struggling to meet unprecedented need in this city, our emergency food network is ill equipped to address the additional demand that drastically reducing SNAP benefits for 190,000 low-income families will create.

The Farm Bill, which is renewed every five years, represents our nation's most significant investment to prevent hunger. It is our opportunity to protect and strengthen the safety net that keeps food on the table for millions of Americans. New York's Senators are doing their part – Senator Gillibrand's amendment would eliminate the $4.5 billion SNAP cut, and Senator Charles Schumer has given his support as a co-sponsor. The Gillibrand amendment provides a critical opportunity for Senators to protect this safety net and show their commitment to anti-hunger priorities – a strong show of support will send the message that taking vital food resources from the most vulnerable among us is not an acceptable or responsible way to achieve budget cuts.

If you live outside of New York State, please contact your Senators today to ask them to support Senator Gillibrand's amendment – and stay tuned here for developments as the Farm Bill makes its way through negotiations.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

How Mario Batali & The Chew Helped Me Enjoy Food Again

By Daniel Buckley,

Last week, after finishing the Food Stamp Challenge, the first thing I wanted to do was spend an evening cooking a dinner that would make me excited about food again. One of the comments I heard a lot around the office during the challenge is that living on a food stamp budget made food boring. There is only so many times you want to eat the same thing, and there are only so many options at such a restricted budget. I can tell you that it'll be a while before I eat peanut butter again.

So when I took a look at the recipes Mario Batali posted to The Chew's website while he and his family were taking the challenge (see the links to your right), I was excited to find recipes that would remind me how enjoyable eating can be while still keeping a pretty low budget.

The Braised Chicken with Potatoes and Tarragon was the perfect choice for me since I had eaten enough lentils and beans during the challenge, and chicken and potatoes was exactly the kind of comfort food I needed. With just a few basic ingredients added – water, garlic and red onion – the dish produced a stock that was incredibly savory and had a bit of unexpected sweetness added from two tablespoons of tomato paste. While the potatoes were perfect for sopping up the stock, I would recommend accompanying this dish with some simple, steamed spinach or string beans that would combine well with the meal's flavors and add the greens that every meal needs.

I'm thankful that Mario's dish helped me enjoy food again, and I love it that, while taking the Food Stamp Challenge, he also took the time to identify recipes that could help low-income Americans eat well anytime without breaking the bank.

Choosing to Tackle a Very REAL ISSUE

My name is Marcellus Wiley. In a single lifetime I've answered to ivy league graduate, professional athlete, sports commentator, friend and father. When you're in the public eye there's an assumption that the real you is known by all based on various television and radio interviews. When I saw Mario Batali in the news recently, it brought me back to the first title I ever had and that is "SON."

As a teenager I was often sent to the store by my mom to shop for the family. Whether it was for an extra ingredient needed for a certain dish, a gallon of name it and I was probably the one sent to get it. The journey I took to the store was not unlike that of countless kids all over the country. My team jersey was the same as most. My Chuck Taylors weren't too different from anyone else's and I gave the same "pound" to friends I saw along the way. The only thing that I was pretty certain set me apart from others was the currency burning a hole in my pocket. I knew that at the end of my shopping trip I would be paying the cashier with what I called "funny money", properly known as food stamps.

As a kid, I hated it. It's not like I was walking around like I thought I was better than others or some kind of Richie Rich but that didn't mean I wanted everybody to know THAT MUCH of our situation. In fact, sometimes I was so embarrassed that I would walk around the store in circles, up to 45 minutes in hopes to significantly delay the checkout process just so NO ONE would see me paying with those food stamps. 

When I heard that the Food Bank For New York City was doing a Food Stamp Challenge where people were actually CHOOSING to live on $31 for the week, I was intrigued. In all of the rhetoric today it's great to see people walking a mile in another's shoes in order to better understand their situation. When you're on any form of public assistance like food stamps, you're never thinking about the fact that you are one of almost 50 million Americans who are ALSO requiring assistance.

In my conversations with the Food Bank's president I learned that almost 80 percent of people on food stamps are mothers and their children. That's not different from my story. I also learned that many times teens would rather avoid using programs like free and reduced lunch assistance to keep from being embarrassed in front of their peers. That too is not different from my story. What's different for me now is that as an adult I better understand the necessity of a safety net for any family in need. Being needy doesn't mean anything about your character and certainly it doesn't say anything about your potential.

My mother firmly placed me on a path of success. The fact that part of that journey included walks to the store carrying food stamps makes me admire her even more. My sincere hope is that each person who has taken the Food Stamp Challenge will walk away understanding that what was an experiment for them is just called life for so many others. We live in a world where it's better to be called anything but poor. The Food Stamp Challenge reminds us that it's important that we use our voice and circle of influence on behalf of those who could truly use it. Food Bank For New York City is using this challenge to increase awareness and encourage all of us to act by letting our elected officials know that we care about those in need and expect them to do the same. If you'd like to join us in this effort just click here and let your voice be heard too.

Governor Cuomo Ends Finger Imaging for Food Stamps

by Triada Stampas

Making good on his pledge to work to ensure that no child in New York goes hungry , Governor Cuomo yesterday announced that New York State will be putting an end to finger imaging for the Food Stamp Program (also known as SNAP). A practice abandoned by most other states in favor of more cost-effective and less stigmatizing fraud detection methods, finger imaging for food stamps currently exists only in New York and Arizona.

As the Food Bank For New York City helps more than 40,000 New Yorkers with the complicated food stamp application process every year, we have seen our share of seniors, working parents and young adults frustrated and humiliated by having to be finger-imaged just to access needed food assistance. For many food stamp applicants, finger imaging has added a layer of shame and stigma to an already difficult experience.

Our President and CEO Margarette Purvis voiced our position best:

"We enthusiastically applaud Governor Cuomo for ending a practice that for too long has kept eligible low-income New Yorkers from the food resources they need. People should never be ashamed to seek out help. Ending this stigmatizing practice will take a barrier away from getting people the food they need for themselves and their families."

The state will issue a new regulation at the end of this month to eliminate finger imaging from the Food Stamp Program in New York. Once the regulation is released, the state will begin a 45-day public comment period – if you are interested in submitting your comments in support of ending finger imaging, stay tuned to this blog for information about how you can provide your input.

Finger imaging will officially end in New York State in mid-July, when the new regulation goes into effect. At that point, our team of food stamp specialists will be more than happy to inform the New Yorkers they assist that getting finger-printed is no longer a necessary step toward receiving the help they need.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

How My Mother and I Got By, on Food Stamps

By Lisa Hines-Johnson

Today, Mother’s Day, is the third day of the Food Bank For New York City’s Food Stamp Challenge – a call to supporters to spend just one week experiencing what it is like to have to rely on a food stamp budget of $1.48 per meal.

As I reflect on the challenge and how powerful it will be for people who participate, it has struck me how fitting it is to have this experience on one of the most important days celebrating mothers – as the face of poverty is overwhelmingly that of a woman and her children. I am also reminded of my own mother and our experience, as a single mother and her only child, having to rely on food stamps.

It was the early 1980s when my mother lost her job after fourteen years of dedicated service to her company. I was young, yet old enough to know that something was different. My mother still got out of the bed we shared in our one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx well before the sun came up, but she no longer put on her work clothes or those high-heeled shoes that I slipped on while playing dress-up. My mom was now home when I arrived from school. We spent more time together. That was good. Nothing seemed wrong….at least for a little while. I found out years later that my mother was able to provide for us for some time with the severance package her company had given her. Once that money was spent, things changed.

I asked my mother how she felt during this time of transition from a life of modest comfort to trying to stretch a dollar until even it begged for mercy. She shared that she did what she had to at a time when her options were limited. It was hard. She talked about the embarrassment that quickly turned to anger when she noticed disapproving stares as she paid with her food stamps. She wanted to yell out “I’ve worked. I didn’t plan for this!” She felt defeated yet thankful for the neighborhood grocer who was kind enough to allow us to get food that we needed and pay him later. And worried about the how we’d get through the next week with the stamps – which were actually stamps back then – and other support running low.

I remember when I first noticed that our food supply was dwindling which, of course, always happened towards the end of the month. Those meals always consisted of scrambled or fried eggs, French fries and a canned vegetable, usually beets. I remember sharing in my own little girl version of my mother’s shame, anger and sadness that resulted in an inescapable resilience.

I also remember that, despite her situation, my mother always tried to do things that would improve our reality even if only temporarily. From odd jobs in local shops, to babysitting for children in the neighborhood, to taking courses to become a dog groomer and grooming the same 3 dogs every month, my mother tried with everything she had to ensure that I still had gifts to open at Christmas, parties to celebrate my birthday and a new outfit to wear on picture day at school.

As a mother of three, my heart aches for what I can now fully comprehend was my mother’s struggle during this period in our lives. As someone who lived the Food Stamp Challenge and never thought she’d have to, my mother told me how important she feels it is for people who participate in this experience to talk about it so that others might know how urgently the people who rely on food stamps need this support to get through the next month, the next meal. So they might join the larger discussion around poverty and what needs to be done to truly move people back into the lives they had or the ones they dream of having.

Stamped: ANXIOUS

By Margarette Purvis

Seven months ago I returned to the Food Bank ready to put forth my best effort in helping as many New Yorkers connect to the plight of our poorest neighbors. Within the 1st month I met with our director for all things policy related to discuss this Food Stamp Challenge I saw on CNN. We had a robust conversation where she gave me examples of how it could work and the many avenues we could take. As I walked out of her office, I said over my shoulder, “I definitely want us to do that.”

So here’s my Friday morning confession: when I said I wanted to do it…I had no idea that she was going to make it a reality six months later and that I would have to figure out how I would eat for One WEEK on $31! I remember the day that they raced in my office to say that Susi and Mario had agreed to lead the campaign. I was just as thrilled as they were. I remember when Mario stood before the crowd at our recent Can Do gala and spoke passionately about why people should join his family in the challenge to relate to almost 50 million Americans and 1.8 million New Yorkers. I’ve smiled every time a tweeter joins the campaign. I experienced all of that and still 24 hours before the challenge begins…I FEEL INCREDIBLY ANXIOUS.

I’m no different than any other working professional. I love a great coffee and probably lean on it a little more than I should. When I actually get a chance to go out for lunch…I expect it to be pretty yummy. My days are long and I typically have no desire to spend those final hours over a stove. and feel like personal gifts from the universe TO ME. They make this working girl…WORK. So now I stare at 7 days on a food budget that I usually have spent in a single day. The overachiever in me wants to do everything really well. But the negotiator in me immediately started figuring out how/where I could adjust the challenge to fit my lifestyle. Hey, don’t judge me. I warned you that this was a confession.

Yesterday morning as I stared in my fridge berating myself for not shopping BEFORE the challenge and still having nothing FOR the challenge, I had a bit of an epiphany. I think the first lesson for me was to remember that what’s causing me anxiety equals RELIEF for people who actually NEED these resources. Imagine if my anxiety was based in having NO FOOD. I’m blessed that this is not my daily reality so I’ve decided to be grateful to have the opportunity to highlight the daily struggle of others. This doesn’t mean that I won’t complain a lil bit on one of these days…it just means that the disposition of my inner foodie has been adjusted.

The Food Stamp Challenge is about people living on the BUDGET and not the actual benefit.  My plan is to crack open my handy crock pot and make meals that will stretch. Thankfully the Food Bank has a great team of nutritionists who put together a $31 grocery list. (That’s not cheating because this resource is provided via monthly trainings to our member network and clients in our Harlem site.) While perusing my list, the first thing I noticed was that the array of fruit that I typically eat is MIA. I can get a couple of apples though. Not the kind I like but at least an apple. Also, according to the list I would have to eat ground meat rather than ground turkey…because it’s too expensive. So, I decided to go online to find coupons so that I could hopefully trade up. You can follow my journey on Twitter OR you can join me by participating in the Challenge, sharing your experiences on Facebook and Twitter and CONTACTING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS to encourage them to PROTECT this most valuable resource in our safety net….FOOD FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT.

Margarette Purvis is the President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @FoodBank_Prez.

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