Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hunger is Unacceptable

I am thrilled to be a member of the newly formed Austin Food Blogger Alliance (#AFBA or @ATXfoodblogs on twitter). Our mission is to work together to set a standard of transparency and fairness in food blogging. We also support each other and our community through classes, social events, and philanthropy.

The first official event for AFBA happened last month at the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) where I met other Austin food bloggers to embark on our first philanthropy project. Our visit to the CAFB really opened my eyes to the myths of food stamps and my misconceptions. I was shocked to hear that 82 percent of CAFB clients are not homeless and 41 percent are children.

Let me let that sink in just a second. In December 2010 the CAFB dealt with 49,409 cases in Travis County with 110,756 people receiving benefits...and nearly half of those were children.

It was really great to meet Lisa Goddard and hear from her about the positive programs CAFB has implemented in our city. At the same time it was heart breaking to hear the large number of folks who have to decide between buying food for their family or paying the utility bill. The Federal Food Stamp Program changed it's name to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in 2008.

If you live in Texas you may have seen signs in grocery stores that say "Lone Star Card Accepted." Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) gives food (SNAP) benefits through the Lone Star Card. This is a plastic card that is used like a debit card. Each month, your approved monthly benefit amount is placed in the card's account. I thought this debit card system was a smart way to allow clients to be discrete at the grocery store.

Hunger exists when an individual lacks access to the resources needed to provide enough healthy, nutritious food on a regular basis. 1 in every 2 people in the COUNTRY will be on SNAP at some point in their life. Alex Cruz would know, she is one of the case workers who helps families and individuals sort through the very LONG and confusing application for the SNAP program. She knows first hand how to debunk the many myths about SNAP benefits.

1. Myth: SNAP benefits are welfare.
  • Fact: SNAP is a nutrition assistance program. It helps low-income people buy nutritious foods. It is not welfare.
2. Myth: Other people need SNAP more; I don’t want to take them away from someone else.
  • Fact: SNAP is an entitlement program. Anyone who applies and is eligible will get SNAP benefits. This will not reduce the amount that goes to anyone else.
3. Myth: You have to go to the office and wait many hours to get an appointment.
  • Fact: CAFB’s SNAP Outreach coordinators (like Alex) can help you with your application. Any applicant can request a telephone interview.
Continue reading the top 10 myths about SNAP here.
Our challenge is to bring more awareness to our local food bank and particularly the SNAP program by creating some nutritious snack ideas for the CHOICES Nutrition Educating Program.

Angela is the CAFB’s Nutrition Education Manager and walked us through the types of cooking demos she does for partner agencies, SNAP clients, local housing authorities and Title 1 schools. One of the programs that interested me the most was "Kids in the Kitchen." This seven to eight week series teaches children and youth basic nutrition based on MyPyramid. This hands on series teaches children and youth how to prepare simple, healthy dishes and snack foods for themselves and for their families.

Using affordable foods available on the SNAP program and foods readily found in the CAFB's food pantry, Angela prepared a Black Bean and Mango Salad.

1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can corn kernels, drained
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 mango, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice and zest of one lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro to garnish

Drain and rinse the black beans and corn. Combine all ingredients into a bowl, stir to incorporate. Garnish with cilantro to serve.

Nutrition information per 1/2 cup serving:
Calories 93, Total Fat 3g, Carbohydrates 17g, Fiber 3g, Protein 3g, Sodium 74mg, Cholesterol 0mg

Following the food demo by Angela, we toured the CAFB food warehouse.

I thought this warehouse was huge! For 30 years, this Food Bank has packaged food and grocery products to be delivered or picked up by human and social service agencies across Central Texas. I was surprised to learn that in 2010, 25.3 million pounds of food were provided to Partner Agencies to provide hot meals served on-site or groceries to Texans in need.

The inventory in the warehouse changes daily. Here is a picture of one of their refrigerated sections, which makes up part of the160,000 total cubic feet of freezers and coolers at the Food Bank.

H-E-B Grocery Company is the largest local retail donor. Although the food items most requested by agencies' clients are canned meats, cereal, dried pasta and pasta sauce...the fastest growing product area happens to be fresh produce.

One of my favorite areas of the CAFB was this remarkable Teaching Garden, "Seeds that Feed."

The CAFB Teaching Garden teaches CAFB Partner Agencies how to grow food to supplement their needs. This project also provides resources for their partners to teach those who need food how to grow their own.

This bed in particular was particularly neat. For adults and children with sight impairment, this touching garden provides a wide array of plants with various textures to explore.

Lisa gave us a very thorough tour. Love the quote in the background here, "Food is a human necessity, like air and water, it should be available."

Some of the planted beds were sponsored by companies. If you are interested in volunteering in the Teaching Garden, click here.

This was an extremely difficult post for me to write. I've probably gone through several tissues and walked away from my computer at least four times to take a break and clear my head. This subject weighs heavy on my heart, and I don't know anyone who could read these statistics without wanting to help. There are so many programs at the CAFB, choose one that suits your strengths and volunteer!

I've never brought it up on my blog so most of you probably don't know that I grew up in a low income family. My mom stayed home with my brother and I while my dad worked double shifts at the machine shop to make ends meet.

The interesting thing is that now that we are older and my younger brother and I talk about our childhood...we really didn't know we were poor. My mom always made sure we had food in our bellies, even though I now learned there were nights when she didn't eat. She was smart and knew that if she made our meals fun, and got us involved we would love it. (That's me chowing down on some corn.)

Want to know some of my favorite meals growing up? For breakfast my mom would make cinnamon toast, and then pull up our tiny chairs to the warm oven and we would use the open door as our table. It was special (we didn't know she was keeping us and the house warm). Some nights for dinner she would make Birds in a Nest which would be white rice pushed against the inside of a bowl, then she would drop a couple tablespoons of beans in the middle. My brother and I loved this and even cheered when it was Birds in a Nest night (we didn't know that was all she had in the house).

Fruit Juice Popsicles were another favorite of mine in the hot Texas summers. We didn't have the fancy Popsicle containers, we would help my mom pour apple juice or orange juice into Dixie cups and drop a spoon inside. Once frozen, these sweet and messy treats were enjoyed out in the grass under the hot sun. Tiffany over at has a great jello popsicle recipe (her picture above).

A healthy snack we often ate were Meat and Cheese Roll-Ups. We would take a piece of deli meat and place a slice of cheese on top, then roll it up. It was always extra special when mom let us get involved and prepare our snacks along side her. Pictured above are some beautiful ham rolls ups filled with boursine cheese and apple pieces by My Gourmet Connection. I loved the addition of apple, very smart. And these are so pretty, much prettier than what I would make growing up.

For this Hunger Awareness Blog Projgect, we've been asked to come up with some ideas for nutritious snacks the CHOICE program can use. I got to thinking about what I liked to eat as a kid and made a few fun and healthy snacks at my house.

I didn't discover the quesadilla until I was older, but would have loved to eat this as a snack after school.

I bought the block of cheddar cheese from HEB because it's much cheaper than buying the shredded cheese.

I used to take saltine crackers and put a small square of cheddar cheese on top, then microwave it for 10 seconds. The melted cheesy crackers were my homemade version of the nacho when I was a kid.

Tortillas are an affordable food, here I used Mission (Jim must have bought these because I prefer the HEB tortillas that are made fresh in the store). Also I have what is left over from a can of black beans.

In a small skillet over medium heat I warmed a tortilla, sprinkled with cheddar cheese, topped with black beans.

Added a second tortilla on top, then flipped in the skillet. When the bottom tortilla is warmed through and starting to brown,  you are done!

While we are talking about tortillas, let me share with you this idea I got from a friend of mine. Her son loves these PB&J Roll-Ups.

 Isn't this a brilliant spin on the boring Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich?

I used smooth peanut butter and grape jelly.

Spread peanut butter on one half, and jelly on the other.

If you have fresh fruit, chop it up and add it right on top. Bananas would be great on this tortilla roll up with the peanut butter.

Peanut butter and bananas just go togethe,r don't they?

I thought of several things to do with bananas. They freeze really well! Just peel them first and then place in the freezer. If you stuck a Popsicle stick out the bottom first and then froze it I bet frozen banana on a stick would be a fun treat on a hot summer afternoon. You could dip it in melted chocolate or peanut butter.

 I shaved the round bottom off of my banana so it would sit up like a boat.

Next, I carved out a little on top and filled it with peanut butter then stuck whole almonds down the center. I accented my boat with toothpicks...and I call it Pirates of the Banana Boat! You could use anything for "pirates" like raisins or chocolate chips.  I never ate Ants On a Log but my husband remembers eating it as a child. It's a snack made by spreading peanut butter on celery and placing raisins on top. For me, if my mom let me help make it and then gave it a fun name, I would eat it!

I would like your help exploring more healthy snacks for kids, keeping in mind that most of these families in SNAP are working with a very limited budget. Do you have any inexpensive and healthy snacks that you can recommend? Check out what other Austin bloggers have come up with so far.


  1. This is such a great blog post. So informative and personal all in one-thank you for introducing me to the area's programs.

  2. Fantastic Post-Thank you so much for sharing your own story as well.

  3. Mandy -- Your post is touching on so many levels. Thank you for sharing info about this project with such a personalized perspective.


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