Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 5: U.S. Jobless Rate at 6.7%

Since January 2009, the US has lost 1.9 million jobs (for all of you New Engalnders, that is the total population of Vermont and Maine combined). The majority of job losses have occurred in the past three months, with 533,000 lost in November alone.

This news comes as the big 3 automakers lobby Congress for $34 billion in government aid. If any of these companies fall, there will be significant losses throughout the supply chain, and with it, more families left out in the cold.

I personally struggle with a bail out of the auto industry. On the one hand, allowing economic-darwinism to take its course, is an opportunity to re-frame US manufacturing to re-frame itself to be more sustainable, relevant, flexible and prosperous. On the other, thousands of communities will be deeply affected - and we may see a dramatic increase areas such as domestic violence, alchohism, and drug-use.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nickle and Dimed

This is a great video, and a great book!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 3: Hunger and Brands

Working in social-experiential marketing, I tend to think a lot about brands - about how to build brand love, brand value and brand experiences. With a $21 / week food allowance, the food I am eating is generic, completely brand-less. The packaging contains no logo, fancy fonts, color schemes - just the words "black beans."

As we enter what may the longest recession since the Great Depression, this experience has caused me to think about the impact of financial crisis on brand-loyalty. Faced with economic realities, many brands will be easily abandoned. An Information Resources Inc. study determined that about 30 percent considered high-income swallowed their pride and grabbed store brands in the year’s second quarter, up from 20 percent during the first. Consumers are now making very basic decisions about whether or not to pay a premium price for a favored brand.

Consumers are asking a more of brands: Do I trust the brand? What does the brand stand for? Does the brand support non-profit cause? A compelling case must be built for a brands singularity among aisles of generics.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

(Almost) Free Rice

Thank the lord for rice. Rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than any other crop. At $.86 / lb, it's a big part of my diet these days.

A Few Facts on the School Breakfast Program

Eating my breakfast (2 eggs on toast and coffee), I decided to look up information on the School Breakfast Program (SBP). A few facts to think about from the Food Research Action Center:

- The
School Breakfast Program was established by Congress - first as a pilot program in 1966, then as a permanent entitlement program in 1975 to assist schools in providing nutritious morning meals to the nation's children.

- Each day
, roughly 10 million children in more than 84,500 schools and institutions participated in the SBP. Of these children, 81% received free or reduced price breakfasts.

- To receive free breakfast, household income must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level; for reduced price breakfast, income must be at or below 185 percent.

- Breakfasts served as part of the SBP provide one-fourth or more of the daily recommended levels for key nutrients that children need. They are required to provide no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.

- Research shows that children who have school breakfast eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume a wider variety of foods than those who don't eat breakfast or have breakfast at home.

- Studies conclude that students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores as well as improve their speed and memory in cognitive tests.

- For the 2008-09 school year, schools are reimbursed $1.40 per free breakfast served, $1.10 per reduced priced breakfast, and $0.25 per paid breakfast. For fiscal year 2006, federal reimbursements for the SBP totaled $2 billion dollars.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 1: Hunger and AIDS in America

So here goes, today I began my food stamp diet. Today also marks World AIDS Day, a time to reflect on and increase attention and support to address the HIV / AIDS pandemic. The two issues, HIV/AIDS and hunger, are inexplicably linked, both thriving on economic fault lines amongst the most marginalized.

These issues come to a head in Atlanta's westside neighborhood known as Bluff. 98% of the population is African American. More than 40% live below the federal poverty line of $17,170 (the income threshold for a family of three). Many of these families are supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The AIDS burden is heavy in this community. More than 68% of Georgia's reported AIDS cases are in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. African Americans represent 79% HIV cases and 77% of new AIDS diagnoses according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Hunger and malnutrition is a major challenge for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). Healthcare costs often push PLWHA deeper into poverty. Low-income HIV-positive people are too often forced to choose between paying for their lifesaving medications and the nutritious diet that will allow the medications to work. (Many medications also require a full stomach before taking them). Furthermore, HIV/AIDS treatment often results in drastic weight loss due to their causing excessive vomiting and/or diarrhea. Adequate nutrition helps to keep the immune system strong thus enhancing the body’s ability to fight opportunistic infections. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago has great information on the link between Nutrition and AIDS.

What $16.53 Buys

12 jumbo white eggs
6 Ramen noodle packs
1lb of lentils (dry)
2lbs of black beans (dry)
3lbs of long grain rice
1 Whole Chicken (4.83 lbs)
1 loaf of wheat bread
10oz of Espresso

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bill Moyers on Hunger in America | PBS

Bill Moyers Journal looks at shortages in America's food banks. A very interesting look at hunger in America.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Few Facts

A picture may be a thousand words, but a number can reflect the realities of many millions. A few numbers to think about:
  • In 2007, 37.3 million people (12.5%) were in poverty.
  • 35 million Americans - including 12.6 million children - are food-insecure.
  • Georgia (where I live) ranked 9th in the prevalence of food insecurity (13% ).
  • 1 in 5 Americans use at least one of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs during the year.
  • The average monthly food stamp benefit is $93 per person-barely $1 per meal.
  • 26.7 million Americans use food stamps in an average month. Half of these recipients are children.

Feeding America has great fact sheets as does Share Our Strength.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why I am doing this

I have spent much of my career focusing on causes affecting the world's poorest: HIV/AIDS, access to safe water and adequate sanitation, and recovery from a major natural disaster. My work has taken me both physically and mentally to distant communities around the world. These are places and issues for which I am deeply passionate.

Yet, I often look at these issues with tunnel vision. I am often too focused on what is happening "over there" that I am left completely ignorant of the harsh realities affecting my neighbors.

I spent the days prior to the election canvasing in Atlanta's most disenfranchised communities. More than one third of the homes we visited were deserted and boarded-up. Many we spoke with were jobless. No income. No insurance. I was, and remain, embarrassed by my own ignorance.

As the price of food continues to climb and more and more Americans lose their job, the number of people going hungry and malnourished in this country could reach numbers we have not seen since the Great Depression. For many Americans, the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as the Food Stamp Program) will provide a critical lifeline during this time of economic crisis.

I want to better understand this program. I want to better understand what it means to survive on food stamps by living on $21 / week for two weeks (Dec 1 - 14) and by shopping only at grocery and convenience stores which accept food stamps.

This is not a test nor a challenge of any kind. This is an exploration - and I fully recognize it is an imperfect one. While I will go back to my overpriced eating (and coffee) habits after 14 days, this is a semi-permanent reality for more than 28 million Americans living on food stamps.

I have no grand ambitions with this exploration or this blog. I hope to simply learn and explore my own thinking on poverty and hunger in America.

The Rules

Okay, so here are the rules for my two week exploration:
  1. Spend a total of $21 on food and beverages per week.
  2. All food purchased and eaten during the week, including fast food and dining out must be included in the total spending.
  3. Only eat food that I purchase for the project. I cannot eat food that I already own (trust me, there's not much in the fridge anyway).
  4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions or meetings.
  5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of my experiences throughout the week.
That's it. No fine print. I promise to keep to these rules. Game on.