I appreciate that food banks help many people who need food to eat, but, as I learned more about nutrition, I realized that almost all of the foods collected and distributed by most food banks are not the nutrient-dense, fresh foods that are needed to do more than just barely survive.
Even though I agree that it’s better to eat poor quality food than no food at all, I have thought there must be a better way to help hungry people to have better food. Why do food banks provide mostly processed, carb-heavy, and low nutrition foods? Isn’t there a way to provide fresher, healthier, more nutritious food to people who are hungry?
I’ve learned that there is a better way! Although organization and planning are required, at least one food bank has found a solution, and it is superb! The Sacramento Food Bank has converted to a farm-to-table operation that coordinates with local farmers–many of them organic–to provide healthy foods to those who need it. Fresh foods now make up about half of each allotment.
I found out about the Sacramento Food Bank through an Associated Press article by Tracie Cone (featured in the Houston Chronicle), which describes how the Sacramento Food Bank converted to a farm-to-table format. They added distribution centers in two dozen locations, including schools and churches, for the convenience of those who need food. The number of families helped grew from 8,000 to 20,000 in two years. The article quotes Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Cooked, “For too long, America’s food banks have been giving out the worst kind of food– precisely the sort of highly processed food-like substances that contribute to obesity and chronic disease.”
The layout of the Sacramento food bank is much like a farmers market. At the distribution centers, they teach home gardening seminars and feature booths that “offer clinics on smoking cessation and health screening.” The fresh produce, the seminars, and health booths all make a difference in the health of those who need it.
Other food banks in California are trying to include more fresh produce in their distributions. A good goal for all food banks would be to improve the nutrition and freshness of the food they hand out. While we know that it is difficult and takes planning and enterprise, we can hope that more food banks will see the importance of nutrition and good health and try make some of these healthy changes.
Update August 24, 2014: A Washington D. C. program is subsidizing produce at local farmers markets for people who need food assistance. Read more . . .