Wednesday, December 19, 2007

'Green Carts' Initiative

On Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced their support for the Green Carts proposal, which calls for a phase in over two years of 1,500 City pushcart vendors that exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. The carts will operate in areas throughout the five boroughs with low consumption of and limited access to fruits and vegetables. Some of those on the long waiting list for street vendor licenses will likely opt to sell fruits and vegetables instead of waiting to operate the usual and unhealthy hot dog/pretzel stand. The Bronx and Brooklyn, which have more food deserts, will receive the most permits.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Farm Bill Passes Senate

The Senate finally approved the 2007 Farm Bill with a 70-14 vote. The massive piece of legislation covers agricultural subsidies, conservation, as well as nutrition programs like the Food Stamp Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The new Senate bill expands investments in the Food Stamp Program and TEFAP. It raises household asset limits and indexes them, increases the indexing of the $10 minimum monthly benefit and the standard deductions for households with three or less, and boosts TEFAP commodities purchases. President Bush has threatened a veto, stating the bill is too costly - he also threatened a to veto the version passed by the house in July. Check out for updates on the 2007 Farm Bill.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Businesses Benefit from the Food Stamp Program

The Food Stamp program is advantageous to the businesses that accept EBT cards, as well as to those holding the cards. In the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that despite an influx of gentrifying people still has many poor residents, Viva Fruits and Vegetables in the Essex Market is just one example of a business benefiting from its participation in the Food Stamp program. Fresh and exotic produce is found at a bargain at the stand and in the market. The manager of Viva, Sobeida Delacruz, said "We get lots of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer for food stamps) cards." Delacruz estimates that 70 percent of the stand's business comes from the food stamp program.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Elderly Face Hunger

A new study released today finds that more than one-third of the 1.3 million elderly in New York City are worried about not getting enough food. The Council of Senior Centers and Services conducted a survey of 802 elderly people in 15 communities across all five boroughs, of which 35% reported suffering from food insecurity - even with help from senior centers and emergency food pantries. Food insecurity among New York City's elderly exceeds national and state rates, and the number is only expected to increase with the growth of the aging population.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

USDA Announces New, Revised WIC Food Packages

Today, the USDA announced a new revision to WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food packages – the first one in nearly three decades. The new packages “will include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” according to the press release. Through WIC, low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women and women with infants and children up to age five receive health and social services referrals, nutrition education, and supplemental food.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Is Hunger A Crime?

New York State announced its continued agreement with New York City’s demand to keep finger-imaging in place for food stamp applicants. El Diario published an editorial written by Joel Berg, NYCCAH’s executive director, calling attention to the announcement and denouncing the continued insistence on finger-imaging - a practice that has not been found to significantly reduce fraud and instead deters eligible people from applying. The City spends nearly $800,000 yearly on finger-imaging, while in 2006 only 31 cases of fraud were detected through finger-imaging out of 1.1 million people.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

2007 Survey Findings Released at Events in all 5 boroughs!

The Coalition released its report on its 2007 Annual Hunger Survey at City Hall the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as well as at a series of events at food pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs. The City Hall event was in conjunction with leading New Yorkers - Council Speaker Christine Quinn, HRA Commissioner Robert Doar, NYC food policy coordinator Ben Thomases, Councilmembers Bill de Blasio, Eric Gioia, Annabel Palma , James Vacca, Letitia James, Jessica Lappin, and executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, State Senator John Sabini, and Queens Councilmember Eric Gioia attended the Queens specific press event at East River Development Alliance/Center of Hope International Bread of Life Food Pantry. In Brooklyn, borough president, Marty Markowitz, attended the press event at Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger food pantry.

The survey release was covered by the NYTimes, Metro NY, AM New York, NY Daily News, Times Ledger, NY1, News12 Bronx, WNYC, Bloomberg News, BBC World Service, and by over 35 foreign media outlets across the world, including Taiwan's The China Post, Slovakia's Bleskovky paper, Angola Press, and Brazil's Globo News - just to name a few. Here is a complete list.

NYCCAH's Annual Hunger Survey 2007 Findings - Rising Food Lines, Sinking Economy

The Coalition Against Hunger conducted its Annual Hunger Survey of soup kitchens and food pantries across New York City. The Coalition’s full survey report, Rising Food Lines, Sinking Economy: Increase in NYC Hunger is Early Proof of Economic Slow-Down, found that the number of people forced to use these programs soared in 2007, while food stocks declined forcing more than half of the programs to ration food.

The Coalition's survey estimated that food pantry and soup kitchen use increased by 20% in 2007, on top of an 11% increase in 2006 estimated in last year's survey.Fully 59% of agencies – a record number – said they lacked the resources to meet their growing demand in 2007, a sharp increase from the 48% who lacked such resources in 2006.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

City to Give $1M to Soup Kitchens

Mayor Bloomberg announced that the City will give soup kitchens and food pantries $1 million extra funding and will provide a new 311 system for hunger assistance that will be staffed by city workers, instead of being automated. The mayor said that the money is coming from the federal government as part of the bonus the city earned by boosting food stamp program numbers. The 311 operators will handle calls about emergency food between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Monday, November 26, 2007

$5M Boost in State Funding to Food Banks

Governor Eliot Spitzer announced a $5 million boost in state funding to help restock the shelves of strained food banks across New York state during the holiday season. Spitzer made a visit to Bowery Mission in Manhattan on Wednesday; United Way of NYC will receive the largest portion of funding at $1,245,600. Decreases in private donations and in federal funding like TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) have contributed to drastic shortages at food banks across the state. As seen in the Coalition Against Hunger's 2007 Annual Hunger Survey, the current economic slump is not only decreasing private donations, it is increasing the number of people in need. Emergency food programs are able to purchase much more with a dollar than the average consumer as they are able to buy in bulk at low rates; if you wish to contribute to your local food agencies, please consider making a monetary donation!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

NYCCAH's Website "Inspiring and Beautiful"

NYCCAH's website was included in a list of "Ten inspiring and beautiful non-profit Web designs" on the blog d'bug. The Coalition's current website was created and designed by former NYCCAH VISTA, David Hsia- thanks Dave!

"These ten registered charitable organizations are not only doing their part to enhance the quality of life for all humankind, but they are encouraging others to get involved through inspiring Web designs that communicate a clear message."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hunger and the Farm Bill - Joel's NY Times Editorial!

Read Joel's excellent editorial on the Farm Bill published in the New York Times here. The Coalition's executive director responded to Michael Pollan's recent editorial in which Pollan referred to conservation programs and the food stamp program as mere "fleas".

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Farm Bill Has Fleas?

This Sunday's New York Times featured an op-ed article by Michael Pollan, Weed It and Reap, in which Pollan states his concerns with the current Farm Bill. Pollan,author of the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma, views the 2007 Farm Bill as continuing "in the traditional let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold." The massive piece of legislation that is the Farm Bill covers a wide variety of interests and has engendered strong feelings and differences of opinion as it comes up for vote in the Senate. NYCCAH's Joel Berg responds to some of Pollan's more pointed comments:

"Michael Pollan claims that environmentalists and the “hunger lobby” are bought off in the farm bill, giving our support to the harmful “elephant in the room” – agribusiness subsidies — in exchange for funding for conservation programs and food stamps, which he derides as merely “fleas.”

But blaming us for bad farm bills is like blaming long-suffering Mets fans – seated in the far upper deck at Shea Stadium – for the team’s overpaid players and year-end collapses.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, agribusinesses contributed more than $399 million to federal political campaigns between 1990 and 2006. In contrast, even when some anti-hunger groups (such as mine) risk alienating donors by opposing corporate farm welfare, we hardly impact this big-money debate.

Considering that the Food Stamp Program helps more than 26 million Americans each month, it is no mere “flea.” Fighting to help millions avoid starvation, anti-hunger advocates take what we can get.

Mr. Pollan betrays his class bias in saying that processed food is not “real food.” While I agree with him that we shouldn’t be subsidizing sugared cereals and candy, his blanket condemnation of food processed by machines seems based on the assumption that working Americans have nothing better to do than mill their own flour, grind their own corn, make their own apple sauce, or create their own peanut butter from scratch.

He implies that the hunger problem in America would be magically solved if the government merely stopped subsidizing corn and other commodities which incur his wrath. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35 million Americans live in homes that face food insecurity, unable to afford enough food even with today’s low prices for subsidized commodities. Thus, while Pollan’s proposal to reduce the disparity between prices for produce and those of other agricultural products would certainly improve nutrition for some, it would do little to aid the poorest, hungriest Americans.

To truly help that population, we need to return to an America in which people earned enough through full-time work to be able to feed their families. Until that time, we still need a stronger and better-funded Food Stamp Program."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thanks to the Boss

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger owes an enormous thanks to the one and only Bruce Springsteen. The Boss not only donated tickets for his two New York City concerts to the Coalition to auction off, he also had Coalition staff collect money during both nights in New York City. Mr. Springsteen made an announcement from the stage about World Hunger Year and the Coalition Against Hunger and the need to help fight hunger and poverty in New York City. The Coalition thanks him for his generosity and for his invaluable help in the fight against hunger. See the Boss's set list from his New York City concerts with blurbs about WHY and the Coalition here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Empty Shelves for NYC Food Providers

Soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City are feeling the strain of not having enough food to feed all the hungry people in need. Brooklyn as the borough with the largest population and the largest number of needy people is particularly strained for resources. The Daily News highlighted the dire situation at two different emergency food providers in Brooklyn. In the last year, 52% of Brooklyn food providers have run out of food at least once. Those in need either just miss the qualifications for food stamps, or only receive enough food stamp benefits to provide meals for 2-3 weeks and then have to resort to food pantries.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Senator Schumer Calls For Urgent Passage of 2007 Farm Bill

With New York City food programs facing food and funding shortages, Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference yesterday calling for urgent passage of the 2007 Farm Bill - legislation that would greatly increase food stamp benefits and funding to urban food programs. The Coalition Against Hunger's executive director, Joel Berg, joined Senator Schumer at Yorkville Common Pantry to press for increased federal funding of the vital programs that help to feed the over 1.3 million hungry New Yorkers. Senator Schumer vowed to push for increased funding for food banks and for a $5 million increase to Food Stamps. See Senator Schumer's press release here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Berg Calls For Revamping of AmeriCorps Program

Executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg, recently published an article, Restoring the Purchasing Power of the AmeriCorps Educational Award, on The Coalition Against Hunger hosts both AmeriCorps Direct and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers. The AmeriCorps program engages Americans in domestic national service in exchange for financial aid to help with college or graduate school. Berg calls on the next president to restructure the existing AmeriCorps program, which currently offers an education award of $4,725 - a total that was determined in 1994 at the program's launch. The award now only covers about 5% of a four-year private institution's tuition and 21% of a four-year public education.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Food Stamp Progress!

"NYCCAH is glad to report significant food stamps progress on three fronts:

1) At a meeting of the HRA Commissioner's Advisory Board yesterday, Commissioner Doar announced that the number of people receiving food stamps in New York City had increased by 22,837 people, to a level of 1,111,170, which is the highest level since January of 1998.

Program participation is now 321,774 people higher than when Mayor Bloomberg took office in January 2002. As a result, low-income New Yorkers will receive at least $500 million more in federal nutrition assistance support this year than in 2001. For families facing hunger or the threat of hunger, that is certainly good news. It is clear that the increases are due in significant part to government improvements in program access, as well as expanded public/private outreach efforts, including those in which the New York City Coalition Against Hunger is a key partner.

Even with this good news, we do note three continuing concerns:

One of the reasons more people are getting food stamps is that poverty, hunger, food insecurity, and underemployment continue to make more New Yorkers eligible for and/or in need of such food assistance. The only better news than more eligible people getting food stamps would be if the economic well-being of low-income New Yorkers improved enough to the point that many no longer needed food stamp benefits.

The rapid month-to-month fluctuations in program participations raise significant questions. While we are certainly pleased by the large, 22,837-person, increase in August, it is truly odd that there was a 6,6,51-person drop in July, as well as drops in many of the preceding months. Given that both economic conditions and the amount of outreach were relatively stable over this period of time, you would expect either a consistent increase, a consistent decrease, or small monthly fluctuations - not the very large monthly swings we have seen. This could be due to problems related to application re-certifications, processing, and/or reporting, but we don't have enough data to know for sure. The Commissioner said he would further look into this matter.

Participation is still 347,130 people (24%) below the peak participation level of March 1995, which means that low income New Yorkers are still obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars less per year in food stamps benefits than 12 years ago.

2) A Federal Court reached agreement with the Urban Justice Center and with the City, State, and Federal governments to provide millions of dollars of back food stamps payments to tens of thousands of disabled New Yorkers previously denied food stamp benefits. This provides yet more proof to back up our long-held contention that the City routinely violated the law regarding food stamps access. But more importantly, it seems like this one problem has been fixed, at least for now. See the settlement press release. Covered by NY1, WNYC, the Daily News, and the NY Times

Here's what U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said about the settlement: "Hunger is an insidious and, still, all-too-pervasive problem that a nation as rich as ours must eradicate. That is why I am pleased with today's federal court verdict that supports access to food stamps for our most vulnerable, disabled citizens. It was dreadfully wrong to have denied, for 8 years, the benefits many disabled needed to stave-off hunger. But I am wholly aware that much more must be done to ensure that all Americans have ready access to the food they need for a complete, nutritious diet."

3) The State's Working families Food Stamps Initiative has now been formally approved by USDA. See Governor Spitzer's press release, as well as the NY Times article covering the story.

We hope the State can now implement this excellent new initiative rapidly."

Joel Berg
Executive Director

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rivera Supports Classroom Breakfast

The NY Daily News published a feature today by New York City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera. Rivera responded to the school breakfast data released last month by the Food Research and Action Center (and subsequently brought to the public eye by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger in a successful press conference on the steps of City Hall.) As promoted by the Coalition, Rivera expresses support for allowing children to eat school breakfasts in classrooms, a method practiced by the highly successful Newark breakfast program.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Food Stamp Failures

Today's New York Times featured an editorial on the poor state of the Federal Food Stamp program in New York City. With its somewhat misleading but eye-catching title, Why the Hungry Refuse Help, the article discusses the recent study by the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, that found that of 9,500 food stamp recipients, 5,800 had benefits cut off within 20 months of enrolling. Even though most were still eligible for the program, many failed to show up at city offices to renew their benefits citing the complex paperwork involved, long waits, and inability to get off work or leave children.

While the managers of the program, HRA (the Human Resources Administration), disputed the report's findings, official statistics show that even as New York poverty levels remain fairly constant, the number of City food stamp recipients fell by 7,000 in July 2007. As the City spends it own millions to support soup kitchens, food pantries, and other emergency food programs, it fails to maximize enrollment in the Federal Food Stamp program and thereby loses hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. Reapplication by phone or even online, as well as changing it from the current 6 month period to the federal standard of 12 months, would help increase enrollment.

The Urban Justice Center's findings were also reported by WNYC and the Staten Island Advance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Calorie Data Rule Dismissed

The city health regulation requiring restaurants to post calorie information next to menu items has been struck down by a federal judge. Judge Richard J. Howell of United States District Court in Manhattan threw out the regulation on the basis that some of the provisions of the rule are already covered by federal law. The NYC Department of Health had sought the regulation as a way to quell what it refers to as "an obesity epidemic" in the city. It is unclear whether the city would try to adopt a regulation that would satisfy the judge.

The calorie data controversy has been covered by NYCCAH in previous blogs on April 3 and June 15, 2007.

Also see WNYC, Forbes, CBS.

Urban Garden Oasis

Through the help of Bronx Green-Up, the New York Botanical Garden community gardening program, urban gardeners have been transforming abandoned plots in the Bronx into green oases that produce vegetables, herbs, and fruit that are then sold at the Botanical Garden's farmers' market. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, visited the garden and farmers' market this week. The City Council recently added money to the budget to support and enable the use of food stamps at farmers' markets, thereby providing low-income families with access to fresh, nutritious, "straight from the farm" food. "Obesity and hunger are two sides of the same coin. These markets bring them to a connection to quality and to combat obesity", said Speaker Quinn.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Presidential Hunger Policy

Read NYCCAH executive director, Joel Berg's, recent post How the Next President Can End Child Hunger in America. Berg's nonpartisan entry on IdeasPrimary outlines how a president might effectively wipe out childhood hunger across the nation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Census Reveals NYC Poverty Spike

According to new data released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people living in poverty in New York City increased to 1.54 million people, even as there was a slight dip in the number of people in poverty nationwide. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger held a press conference yesterday afternoon to bring attention to these new statistics. The number of poor New Yorkers has increased by 151,000 since 2000 - in every borough except for Manhattan. About one in five city residents now live below the federal poverty line, which equals a family of three surviving on an income of $16,600 per year. Brooklyn, the borough with the most poor people, had an increase of 85,000 people in poverty from 2000 to 2006. While poverty rates soared, the number of people receiving public assistance dropped by 241,388.

The new data was released the same day New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a speech in Washington, DC, about his poverty initiative to increase Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) payments for single men. While advocates greatly laud the mayor's initiatives and his insistence that poverty can be solved and with government taking the lead, they still note that more can be done when there are 1.5 million city residents living in poverty.

The press conference was held at Child Development Support Corporation in Brooklyn with City Council member Letitia James, Bill de Blasio, Chair of the General Welfare Committee of the City Council, and Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

It was covered by the NY Times, Daily News, Daily News Brooklyn, Daily News Boroughs, El Diario, WNBC4, the Metro, WNYC, Gothamist, NY1, News12, the Queens Chronicle, and the New York Press.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

NY Post - No Hungry Children in New York

The NY Post followed up on its article covering the Coalition Against Hunger's press conference on the low rate of school breakfast participation in New York City with an editorial - Books Before Breakfast - in which it states that participation is low because children are actually "not hungry". According to the New York Post, "Hunger is simply not a problem in New York City" , a conclusion echoing its previous, "nobody of sound mind goes hungry in New York" statement. The Post denies that poverty and hunger are in an issue in New York City, but yet also covered NYCCAH's press conference and recently published an article, "NY Kids In Terrible Poverty". Joel Berg, executive director of the Coalition, wrote a letter to the editor of the Post, which, as with letters in the past, went unpublished. An excellent response to the Post's editorial was also blogged by The Neighborhood Retail Alliance.

Joel Berg's unpublished letter to the editor of the NY Post:

To the Editor, NY Post:

Your editorial, "Books Before Breakfast" - opposing calls to expand school breakfast participation among low-income children in the city - missed the point.

When kids eat breakfast in a classroom instead of a lunch room that is a hallway or two away, that gives them more time to focus on their studies. A vast amount of research proves that children who eat breakfast have higher test scores, fewer school nurse visits, and act up less in class. It makes no sense to say that children should get either books or breakfast - they
should obviously get both.

But more absurd than your opposition to school breakfast is your continued
insistence that child hunger isn't a problem in New York. Even the Bush Administration released data proving that one in five of the city's children live in homes without enough food. Not only that, children are one of the fastest growing populations forced to use the city's more than 1,200 soup kitchens and food pantries. The Post's denial reminds me of an old Chico Marx line: "Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?"

- Joel Berg
Executive Director
New York City Coalition Against Hunger

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

NYCCAH Holds Press Conference to Bring Awareness to NYC's Trailing School Breakfast Participation

The Coalition Against Hunger held a press conference yesterday at City Hall to bring attention to the low rate of school breakfast participation in New York City. The Coalition brought together leading elected officials and anti-hunger advocates to comment on a new national study that finds that New York City trails virtually every other large city in the nation in school breakfast participation, even with one in five New York City children living in food insecure homes.

The study by national anti-hunger group, the Food Research and Action Center, found that New York has the second lowest participation rate out of 23 large American cities. Breakfast participation has increased by six million meals over the last three and a half years owing largely to the Bloomberg administration's adoption of universal school breakfast, as well as experimenting in allowing children to eat breakfast in their classrooms.

Even so, 80% of low income City public school students fail to receive school breakfasts, and only 29% obtain school lunches as opposed to 98% in Portland, Oregon, 94% in Newark, and 64% in Boston. Higher participation rates were linked to districts where school breakfast was made more available in the classroom, unlike New York where students have to go to a separate lunchroom to eat. Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH, called on the city to increase participation by allowing breakfast to be served in the classrooms. Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), State Senator Carl Kruger, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, City Councilman Eric Gioia, and City Councilman David Weprin joined Berg in calling for increased efforts to boost school meals participation.

The conference was covered by the New York Times, New York Post, WNYC, NY1, News12 Brooklyn and Bronx, El Diario, DailyNews1, DailyNews2, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and the Staten Island Advance.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Farm Fresh Produce Comes to West Harlem

Yesterday a partnership of groups - including the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Action Network of New York State, West Harlem Action Network Against Poverty, United Way and Just Food - gathered with elected officials and West Harlem residents on the historic campus of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to inaugurate the first year of the Farm Fresh project.

The pioneering, three-year initiative is designed to simultaneously fight hunger and obesity in New York City by connecting low-income residents to regional farmers through cooperative buying groups, farmers’ markets, and innovative uses of the federal Food Stamp Program.

Hoy, NY Press, All Things Considered (Hour 2, 38:00)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Yet One More Reason to Eat Ice Cream!

Alphabet Scoop, an East Village ice cream shop organized by Father's Heart Ministries, not only doles out delicious scoops of homemade ice cream, it also benefits the at-risk local youth who work at the shop and learn about work ethic and saving money. Recently covered in Time Out New York Kids, the program was conceived in 2003 and focussed in on at-risk teens two years ago - Father's Heart Ministries also runs a soup kitchen, an after-school program, and a job readiness program. Teaching young people work ethic and how to hold down a steady job is a vital step in helping families move out of poverty and into self sufficiency.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

NY Post Confused On Poverty

Today, the New York Post published an article - "NY Kids in Terrible Poverty" - covering the newly released Kids Count 2007 study, which found that one in 10 kids in the state of New York currently live in extreme poverty. This is an interesting contribution, as the NY Post just published an editorial last month that denounced Governor Eliot Spitzer's enhancements to the Food Stamp Program as welfare "trolling" and claimed that "no one of sound mind goes hungry in New York." (The ill-informed editorial was covered in a previous NYCCAH blog and Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH, responded to it with a countering letter to the editor - which went unpublished). The Food Stamp Program is one of the bulwarks against extreme poverty and helps families make the transition to self-sufficiency.

Maps Mania!

NYCCAH's free summer meals and farmer's markets maps were blogged by Google Maps Mania. Check them out!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Yorkers Hit Hard by Diabetes

A new study by the New York City Health Department shows an alarming 71% rise in deaths and hospitalizations from diabetes. The City death rate due to diabetes rose between 1990 and 2003, and during that time patients were hospitalized 80% more often than in the rest of the U.S. Black New York diabetics die at three times the rate of whites, while the Hispanic death rate rose 169% since 1990. In low-income neighborhoods, such as East Harlem, residents are hospitalized for diabetes at 10 times the rate of those from upscale neighborhoods, like the upper East Side. Diabetes is directly linked to obesity, and obesity is often extremely high in low income neighborhoods where there is lack of access to fresh, nutritious food. The city also has a lower average income than nationally. According to Dr. Shadi Chamany, the city Health Department's head of diabetes prevention and control, "That can be a risk factor if people are more likely to be overweight or obese and less physically active because they live in a particular neighborhood where they don't have access to resources."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Question for the Candidates

Today the Coalition Against Hunger submitted a question for the first-ever YouTube Presidential Debate. The Democratic debate, to be held online July 23rd, will feature only questions submitted by YouTube users to be answered by the all candidates.

Submit your own question about hunger and food policy in the U.S.!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Some Summer Meals Won't Last All Summer

Today Metro NYC reported that due to new guidelines for the implementation of the free Summer Meals program in NYC, several school sites will only be open for the duration of summer school, not all summer.

While these site closures may cause some confusion, there are many more sites in each neighborhood, from parks and pools to NYCHA housing projects. Find all the sites near you!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer Meals "Feed Multitudes," Reports Times

On the front page of the New York Times today, the Summer Meals Program in NYC was highlighted as one of the largest programs assisting low-income New Yorkers and their children during the summer months.

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Hunger, was quoted as saying, "Not only will no single pantry or kitchen serve even in that ballpark, there is a good chance that even the combined 1,200 pantries and kitchens in New York City won’t serve much more for children over the summer."

Despite it's size and the fact that it is almost purely funded by the federal government, the Summer Meals Program has historically been drastically underutilized, mainly due to lack of awareness. Find a free summer meals site near you!

(New York Times, Newsday)

Speaker Quinn Bolsters Food Stamps at Farmers' Markets

This morning, Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn paid a visit to the Bronx to highlight the use food stamps at the Poe Park Farmers' Market.

Through Quinn's efforts, the City Council agreed in this year's budget to increase the City's support of efforts like those at Poe Park to $295,200.

“We hail Speaker Quinn for building on the City's success in providing more neighborhoods with access to fresh food that is both nutritious and affordable,” said JC Dwyer, Director of Programs and National Service at the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “These efforts will help more low-income New Yorkers avoid both hunger and obesity, as well as support small family farmers in our region. This is a quintessential ‘win-win’ situation for New York City.”

(1010 WINS, WNYC, Press Release)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Free Summer Meals Open For Business

The kick-off for this year's free summer meals program for children in NYC was covered in-depth by the WNBC News 4 team.

Free summer meals are available all summer to all children 18 and below at schools, housing projects, parks and pools. There is no paperwork, and no restrictions except age.

This program is particularly important for low-income families who rely on school meals during the rest of the year to help them make ends meet and provide their children with food that is nutritionally sound.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

NYCCAH Maps Highlighted in Today's Dietitian

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger's groundbreaking online maps of hunger resources, and a spin-off project based on the same Google Maps technology, were highlighted this week in the national magazine Today's Dietitian.

The article lauded the Coalition's maps of soup kitchens and food pantries as a resource for nutritionists and dieticians, as well as introduced, a free resource now available for anti-hunger organizations across the country.

Last week, NYCCAH also released its 2007 map of free Summer Meals Sites for children; a map of the city's 2007 Farmers' Markets is forthcoming.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

NYC Trans Fat Controversy

The city-wide trans fat ban and rule requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie information on menus have officially gone into effect - sort of. Chain restaurants, including McDonald's and Burger King, are resisting the calorie policy and seem to be waiting for a federal lawsuit to throw out the rule - the City also does not plan to issue any fines for violations until October 1.

The trans fat ban has created some controversy in the food industry as restaurants fear altered food and higher prices due to making the switch to more expensive, healthier oils. However, many restaurants have already been using healthy oils, like canola and peanut oils, and others are not finding any drastic differences in food quality with the switch. According to the Wall Street Journal, emergency food programs are also affected by the trans fat ban as Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, says, "Logistics are an issue for other food servers. Volunteers at soup kitchens and food pantries are now supposed to examine labels on food products and separate which can be served where. That's because the ban covers food served in soup kitchens, but not packaged foods handed out by food pantries." Most facilities are "run by unpaid volunteers. They have enough trouble keeping track of inventories" says Mr. Berg, who adds that he nevertheless favors the law."

Bloomberg Sets His Priorities for the Farm Bill

NYC anti-hunger advocates were pleased to learn today that Mayor Bloomberg has offered his own letter to Congressional leaders asking for positive changes to the Food Stamps Program in this year's Farm Bill.

Calling the changes "critical" to the City's ability to support low-income working families, Bloomberg proposed increasing the minimum Food Stamps allotment to at least $25, increasing the resources limit to $4000 per household and allowing for simplification and increased flexibility in the program's administration.

Congressional leaders will meet for the next round of discussion on the Farm Bill this month. To get involved, consider writing a letter to your legislators!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

City Report Exposes Serious Flaws in Welfare Reform

A powerful new report released last week by the Comptroller's office provided further evidence of serious flaws in welfare reform and job training in NYC. The report details many inadequacies in the more than $44 million spent each year on contracts for employment services and placement efforts for New Yorkers leaving welfare.

1) As explained on page 19 of the report, City contracts provide bonuses to contractors for placing people in "high wage" jobs, defined as jobs that pay a weekly wage of $344.25. Equaling only $17,091 per year, such "high wage" jobs would relegate most New Yorkers to an insecure financial existence, and actually place families of four or more below the federal poverty line.

2) To make matters even worse, the City gives these "high wage" bonuses to contractors even when wages are far below this level. Out of three such bonus payments found from of a random sample, one job paid a weekly wage of $150 (equaling $7,000 for a year) and one paid a weekly wage of $193 (equaling $10,036 for a year). Imagine that - New York tax dollars being used to reward contractors for providing jobs that pay less than half the poverty line for a family of three!

Note that even in times of high unemployment following the 2001 recession and 9/11, the City's welfare rolls were not allowed to grow to meet the extra, urgent need. And in recent years, the City's job placement rates fell sharply even as welfare rolls continued to decline. Even though the official unemployment rate is lower today, the City has again lowered its job placement targets to only 80,000 people for 2007 in an effort to "move the goalposts" based on prior failures. As of May 20, 2007, the City had only placed 24,216 people in jobs - 30% of its target for the year.

The City has explained that these reduced job placement rates are a function of the fact that the people remaining on the welfare rolls tend to have more barriers to employment. That is certainly true. But it doesn't explain why the welfare rolls are continuing to decrease at a time when job placements are also decreasing.

It is more than fair to ask whether such continued reductions in the public assistance rolls are responsible, at least in part, for the growing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and inequality of wealth in New York City.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Details of Poverty Payments Announced

Yesterday, City officials announced details of a new program aimed at paying low-income families for performance on metrics like school exams, keeping a full-time job and having health insurance.

The Mexican model for the program, called Oportunidades, is intended to ease the economic difficulties associated with meeting such goals, which often require low-income earners to take time off work in order to apply for benefits or assist their children. The long-term goal of the program is to enhance the next generation of workers.

When it was initially announced, the Coalition Against Hunger expressed its support for such innovative thinking, but warned that a program focused only on bettering personal behavior would not be enough to help the 20% of New Yorkers living under the poverty line.

(Covered by CNN, the New York Times, New York Post and Daily News)

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Rich Get Richer While...

Newly revealed federal data shows how $9.8 billion in farm and land subsidies was handed out to billionaires and investors - some of whom don't live anywhere near a farm. Farm and land subsidies are designated by the USDA, as is the federal Food Stamp Program, through the Farm Bill. While philanthropist David Rockefeller, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, and former NBA star Scottie Pippen each received thousands of tax dollars in the form of farm subsidies, participants in the federal Food Stamp Program now receive an average of $1 per meal per person. While people applying for Food Stamps have to go through a complicated, often drawn-out process to prove they deserve at least $1 for a meal, billionaires and investors receive farm and land subsidies - few questions asked.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nutritional Labeling Rule Challenged

Today the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) filed suit against the NYC Board of Health in an attempt to stop the implementation of a new citywide rule designed to give fast food consumers more nutritional information with which to make buying decisions.

While the NYSRA raised the spectre of Big Brother and government bureaucracy in their heavy-handed press release, the Center for Science in the Public Interest dismissed the suit, calling it "desperate" and "malevolent."

The Coalition Against Hunger has previously marked its support for the rule provided that it is fairly administered, citing the over-abundance of fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods and the positive effect that better information could have on unhealthy consumption habits.

(Update: The NYSRA's suit has succeeded in delaying implementation of the rule, which has also been formally snubbed by McDonald's, from July 1 to October 1 of this year )

Monday, June 11, 2007

NY Post to Hungry People: You're Mentally Ill

Following the Spitzer Administration's announcement last week of enhancements to the Food Stamps Program in New York State to help more working families, the New York Post published an ill-informed editorial that slammed the move as welfare "trolling" and went so far as to claim that "nobody of sound mind goes hungry in New York."

The Coalition Against Hunger's Joel Berg fired back in a letter to the editor that (surprise!) went unpublished, pointing out that the Post is trying to have its welfare policy two ways: "On the one hand, you want more people to move from welfare to work, but, on the other hand, you ignore the reality that food stamps benefits are one of the most important tools to help families successfully make that transition," stated Berg. "Governor Spitzer should be hailed for rewarding work."

Colbert Highlights Food Stamp Challenge

Last week, faux conservative comedian Stephen Colbert highlighted the efforts of Illinois Congress Member Jan[e] Schakowsky as she took part in the national Food Stamp Challenge.

The segment focused on the pervasive myth that rising rates of obesity and diet-related disease among low-income families are somehow proof of overnutrition - a notion Colbert proceeded to mock through a mouthful of cheap pork rinds and marshmallow fluff.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What Does Hunger Cost?

On Tuesday, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger released its local analysis of a national report calculating the economic costs of hunger. In a WBAI radio interview with Hugh Hamilton, NYCCAH's Director of Programs and National Service JC Dwyer explained the significance of these findings for New Yorkers.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Spitzer Eases Food Stamps Access for Working Families

Anti-hunger advocates today hailed the National Hunger Awareness Day announcement by the Spitzer Administration that the State would take a number of significant steps to make it easier for all eligible New Yorkers, and particularly low-income working families, to access federal food stamp benefits.

For all food stamps applicants, the State will eliminate the assets cap (currently $2,000 for most families). For working families, the State will enable people to apply for and maintain eligibility for benefits on-line and over the phone rather than be forced to physically visit a government office. The State will also waive finger-printing requirements and reduce reporting requirements for such families.

Said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger: "We are particularly excited that, by eliminating the limit on resources that families can own and still receive food stamp benefits, the State is making it easier for parents to feed their families and at the same time be able to save money to send their kids to college, buy a first home, start a small business, and/or open a retirement account."

(Note: This story was covered by the Albany Times-Union, Associated Press (1, 2), New York Press and WNYC, and in advance by the New York Daily News)

Study: Hunger Costs New York City $2.65 Billion Yearly

New York City pays an estimated $2.65 billion per year due to health care spending, reduced productivity, and other spending caused by the fact that 1.3 million city residents are forced to live in households that cannot afford enough food, according to new data released today by advocates to mark National Hunger Awareness Day. The cost to each city resident is $335 per year.

According to a national study released today by Dr. Larry Brown of the Harvard University School of Public Health, it costs the nation $90 billion a year to let 35 million people live in households that are unable to afford enough to eat. This is the first-ever study to calculate the cost of hunger and food insecurity not only for the victims but for the entire nation. The New York State portion of this bill comes to $5.37 billion a year, equaling a yearly cost of $278 per state resident. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton noted the study on her website, stating, "These are staggering statistics that must not be ignored."

"We’ve known for quite some time the heart-breaking reality that, when families can’t afford enough food, their quality of life suffers in many ways." said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "As a result of this groundbreaking study, we also know much more about how much the persistence of hunger costs all of us."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Upstate Advocates Applaud State Assembly for Passing Healthy Schools Act

Yesterday, upstate advocates applauded the passing of the Healthy Schools Act (A8698), a bill that if it were to become law would increase the quality of free school meals statewide, including New York City.

"We especially applaud the effort to expand the school breakfast program, increase state funding for school meals, and eliminate junk food from our schools," said Mark Dunlea, Associate Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State.

The bill now faces passage in the State Senate. If you want to let your State Senator know how you feel about this bill, you can find his or her contact information using NYPIRG's Who Represents Me? database.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gioia Pressures Costco to Accept Food Stamps

City Councilman Eric Gioia recently wrote a letter to the president of Costco, the large discount warehouse retailer, asking the company to start accepting food stamps. After taking the Food Stamp Challenge and living on the average weekly allotment of $28, Gioia is even more sensitive to the fact that poor New Yorkers are unable to eat nutritious, balanced meals on such a meager budget. By getting discount retailers, such as Costco, to accept food stamps, poor New Yorkers will have access to healthy food at more affordable prices. Costco president James Sinegal contacted Gioia's office to say he is considering it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Advocates Hail Bloomberg, Quinn Food Announcements

Anti-hunger advocates praised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn for announcing three hunger and nutrition-related initiatives today.

Included among these announcements was the unveiling of a new Paperless Office System (POS) Food Stamps Project, in which five pilot sites at soup kitchens and food pantries are now accepting applications for Food Stamps directly (see a map). The program, a collaboration between community partners, the City, FoodChange and the Coalition Against Hunger, has already enrolled 92% of the clients who have availed themselves of the service in the Food Stamps program.

Said Coalition executive director Joel Berg, "We are grateful to HRA, FoodChange, and our neighborhood-based partners for achieving significant success on this project in its very initial stage. So far, this joint project is truly a ‘win-win’ solution.”

(Update: this story was covered by the New York Post, WNYC, the Staten Island Advance, the Queens Gazette and the Brooklyn Downtown Star.)

Upstate Press Praises Schumer's Farm Bill Proposal

Yesterday, the Rochester-based Democrat & Chronicle published an editorial praising Senator Charles Schumer's recent legislation aimed at influencing the Farm Bill. The editorial called on upstate legislator Rep. Randy Kuhl to join Schumer in his call for indexing the benefits of the Food Stamps program to inflation.

Also notable in the public comments of this story is a variation on the old "food stamps buy steak and shrimp" myth. This myth has pervaded the public comment sections of many stories associated with last week's Food Stamps Challenge, often using similar language and style.

Peer-reviewed research on the Food Stamps program has concluded that participation does not affect diet negatively. Neither has any evidence been found that food stamps increase obesity and diet-related diseases, despite a multi-year panel convened by the USDA to examine just this question.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gioia Reflects on Food Stamp Challenge

Yesterday, Queens-based NYC Council Member Eric Gioia submitted an op-ed to the New York Daily News reflecting on his week living on a food stamps diet and calling for progressive change at both local and federal levels.

Gioia rightly opined: "Government can't promise that everyone will be rich, but it should guarantee that no child goes hungry."

Spitzer's Council Could Reduce Hunger, Aid Farmers

Governor Spitzer has signed an executive order creating a New York State Council on Food Policy. Anti-hunger advocates, farmers, nutritionists, and other food related organizations see this announcement as a huge victory as they have been calling on the State to create such a council for many years. Executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg, called Spitzer's order a "bold advance that will allow us all to better work together with State agencies to achieve our mutual goals of decreasing hunger, helping family farmers stay on their land, improving nutrition, bolstering our economy, and reducing obesity.” Read NYCCAH's press release here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harlem Short on Healthy, Fresh Foods

A new study by the New York City Department of Health concludes that neighborhoods like East Harlem have a much higher percentage of fast food restaurants and small retailers that have difficulty selling nutritious food than ritzier neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. Gothamist, NY Metro (p.4), the New York Post and Newsday covered this story, which sounds awfully familiar to us...

Food Stamps Challenge Raises Awareness in Congress

The week-long Food Stamp Challenge was concluded yesterday by NYC Councilmember Eric Gioia and NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg in the halls of Washington, where the two met with New York Representatives Crowley, Meeks, McGovern and Rangel to push for enhancements to the Food Stamps Program in this year's Farm Bill.

Rangel, the head of the House Ways & Means committee that is crucial to funding the enhancements, was quoted by the NY Daily News as supportive: "On questions of nutrition, health, education ... how do we explain to people that we are being fiscally responsible as their bodies and their minds fall apart?"

The Challenge was recently covered nationally by ABC News and The New Yorker as well as locally by WNYC, Gothamist and the Queens Tribune, Times-Ledger and Chronicle.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NYCCAH Celebrates 1st National AmeriCorps Week

This week the Coalition Against Hunger helped organize New York City's participation in the first National AmeriCorps Week. This inaugural event consisted of a full week of events and volunteer activities throughout the city performed by current AmeriCorps and VISTA members, as well as alumni, grantees, and friends of AmeriCorps.

The purpose of National AmeriCorps Week is to bring more people into national service, as well as highlight the broad impact AmeriCorps has throughout the United States and in individual communities. There are thousands of AmeriCorps and VISTA members participating in national service at hundreds of non-profit agencies in New York City alone! If you or someone you know may be interested in joining the Coalition's AmeriCorps teams, learn more here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Gioia and Berg Respond

Last week New York Magazine published a somewhat satiric article on New York City Councilman Gioia's participation in the Food Stamp Challenge that implied that all New Yorkers are already well aware of the limited and poor diet people on food stamps are forced to endure. This week the Magazine published letters from Councilman Gioia and Joel Berg Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger countering the article's erroneous and misleading message. Read their responses here.

Life On Food Stamps Weighs On Councilman Gioia

Only one day into the Food Stamp Challenge New York City Councilman Eric Gioia started to feel the pangs of hunger that come with living on the meager food stamp allotment of $28 per week, according to an article in the Daily News. Gioia admitted to serious food cravings, especially when he sat down to dinner with his family who were enjoying a meal of lasagna, baked ziti and stuffed mushrooms, while he was limited to a ration of pasta with tomato sauce from a jar and a few slices of cucumber. His family is not participating in the Food Stamp challenge with him, as he has a baby daughter whom Gioia said, "just couldn't survive" on food stamps.

Now halfway into his week on the Food Stamp Challenge, Gioia has gained 2 pounds due to having to buy the cheapest food, which also tends to be the least nutritious. On his limited food stamp budget, he is forced to buy carbohydrates and items such as "sandwich slices" that are full of excessive amounts of salt, fat, and calories. Dr. Lara Kross of Brooklyn's Long Island College Hospital looked at Gioia's shopping list for the week, and said that living on such a diet for a week would not be too harmful, "But if he was eating like this long-term, I would worry about an increase in cholesterol and high blood pressure. Heart disease could also be a problem."

Four U.S. Representatives, James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jan Shakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH), have joined the Food Stamp Challenge and pledged to live on an average food stamp budget of just $3 a day from May 15-21, 2007. They have invited other Members of Congress to join them in the challenge.

Hunger and Food Stamps

An editorial in the Sunday New York Times entitled "Hunger and Food Stamps" raised the issue of hunger in the United States and argued for increased food stamp benefits as a bulwark against it. Food stamp benefits have not been adjusted since 1996, that comprises over 10 years of inflation that has not been factored into the formula when calculating food stamp allotment. As the farm bill, which covers the Food Stamp Program, comes up as legislation this year, Congress has a lot to reconsider.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NYCCAH's Joel Berg on the Food Stamp Challenge

“We are extremely grateful that Council Member Gioia has taken on this vital challenge. He has long been a leader in the fight against hunger in New York City, but now he is going the extra mile by experiencing first-hand some of the difficulties faced by hard-pressed food stamp recipients.”

“None of us will spend the week pretending that we will truly know what it’s like to be hungry. However, this exercise will provide a stark demonstration of the extremely difficult choices that low-income New Yorkers are forced to take on a daily basis.”

NYC Councilman Takes Food Stamp Challenge

As covered by NY1, the Daily News, and ABC7, New York City Councilman Eric Gioia is taking the Food Stamp Challenge and living for one week on $28.25 for groceries - the average weekly allotment per person in New York City. He will be joined by New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg. They are starting today, Thursday, May 10, and will limit their budgets to $1.30 or below per meal. Councilman Gioia warned, "Often the cheapest food isn't the healthiest." Those taking the challenge hope to raise awareness and increase funding of the Food Stamp Program as Congress sets to consider the new Farm Bill, which delineates the size, scope, and cost of the Food Stamp Program for the next five years. Berg is quoted in the news as saying, ""We know that food stamps used to last three to four weeks. Now they last two to three weeks and then the recipients start showing up at soup kitchens."

Food Aid and the Farm Bill

An op-ed article in the New York Times examines the proposed farm bill and its possible effects on food-aid recipients and farmer's markets. Food-aid recipients are frequent customers at farmer's markets, but new government proposals to increase the fruit and vegetable supply for poor people could transpose their business to supermarkets, which continue to be more convenient. Food-aid recipients receive plastic debit cards with which to pay for food, and most farmer's markets don't take plastic. The dilemma seems to be that increased fresh produce for poor people will actually hurt small farmer's and local farmer's markets. However, there is a way around this, if farmer's are supplied with card readers and other means to make shopping at farmer's markets more convenient, then it is beneficial all around. Urge legislators to support the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, Community Food Projects, and other programs in the farm bill which can make this a reality.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kids and Hunger

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, was recently quoted in an article in the New York City Independent Media Center's IndyKids, a publication geared toward kids in 4th to 8th grades. The article discusses the serious and increasing problem of hunger in the United States and also low minimum wage as a contributing cause of food insecurity. Berg is quoted as saying, “Childhood hunger is one of the biggest unnatural disasters in America. But unlike a natural disaster, you can prevent it from getting worse.”

Friday, April 06, 2007

NYC's Middle Class - Heading for Extinction?

New York City's Middle Class is shrinking rapidly. According to a study by the Brookings Institution released summer 2006, the City had the smallest proportion of middle class families out of any of the country's metropolitan areas. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy conducted a survey of New York leaders to try and discover ways to strengthen and increase middle-income families in the city. Among other enlightening results, the survey found that while the City's median family income is just over $49,000 a year, those surveyed think $75,000 to $135,000 is the actual amount it takes a family of four to have a middle-class standard of living.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Making America Stronger: U.S. Food Stamp Program"

A video released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities "commemorates the 30th anniversary of the of the reforms achieved by the Food Stamp Act of 1977 by telling the story of how food stamps dramatically reduced the extent of severe hunger in our country, how they continue to help Americans in need, and how this essential program can achieve still more." The video offers an interesting look at the history of the Food Stamp program, it also discusses some of the many reasons that make the program an absolute necessity.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mayoral Food Policy

According to an article in today's New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, "has taken on more food issues, and provoked more controversy, than any New York mayor before him." The piece explores Mayor Bloomberg's past and present food policies, highlighting such actions as banning smoking in restaurants, banning trans fat, improving school lunches, and, most recently, forcing restaurants to post calorie counts on menus. Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg, is quoted, “The tools are now all in place to achieve significant progress, but it depends on whether the city decides to use the tools...It took Nixon to go to China, maybe it’ll take a Republican billionaire to have real progress on hunger and poverty.”

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Whopper of a Policy

Although it does not go into effect until July 1, the recently passed Board of Health rule requiring restaurants to list calorie data next to each menu item in the same size print is already causing some noticeable changes. When the rule goes into effect, it will only apply to restaurants that already list nutritional information for their standardized menus, thus mostly affecting fast food establishments. In response, some fast food chains, including Wendy's and White Castle, have stopped posting nutritional information in their establishments in order to avoid compliance with the rule. Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, personally witnessed the trend of nutritional informational removal. Berg had this to say:

As you know, the Department of Health's new regulation requiring restaurants to have clearer nutritional labeling applied to chains that had some information already posted prior to the implementation. There were some media reports that certain chains actually took down their already-posted nutrition information before the deadline in order to avoid having to comply. But now I have seen it with my own eyes: the Burger King right next to the NYCCAH office on Beaver Street did in fact recently take down their large nutrition information poster. So, unfortunately, the City's good-intentioned effort had the practical impact of reducing the nutrition information available to consumers.

An interesting Burger King fact: its costs LESS to get a medium fries and medium soda than to get a small fries and a small soda, because the "value meals" only come in the medium or large sizes. The cash registers literally won't ring up smaller sizes for the value meals.

Yet, according to nutritional information available at the Burger King web site (but not on their wall), the nutritional difference between medium and small sizes is massive. A double cheeseburger is 500 calories and 29 grams of fat, not counting fries and a drink. Small fries are 230 calories and 13 grams of fat and a small coke is 140 calories and 0 grams of fat. Medium fries are 360 calories and 18 grams of fat and a medium coke is 200 calories and 0 grams of fat.

Thus, a double cheeseburger with small fries and a small coke equal 870 calories and 42 grams of fat; a double cheeseburger with medium fries and a medium coke equal 1,060 calories and 47 grams of fat. Given that USDA recommends that the average adult should eat about 2,000 calories per day, the small meal would comprise 44% of that, but the medium meal would be 53% of the daily caloric needs.

Even worse, large fries equal 500 calories and a large coke equals 290 calories. A double cheeseburger, large fries, and a large coke would be 1,290 calories, or 64% of a person's daily caloric needs.

To further stress the point, the "king"-size fries equals 600 calories and a "king"-size coke equals 390 calories. Thus a double cheeseburger, king-size fries, and a king-size coke would be 1,490 calories, meaning that this one meal would equal 75% of a person's caloric need for a a whole day. No wonder they don't want to post nutritional information. Perhaps it's time for a revised City law/regulation to require restaurants to have real nutrition information easily available to their customers."