Food Fight

Food inequality, first hand
September 7, 2006, 1:34 pm
Filed under: children, food, nutrition

My experiences last night pretty much sum up why I am so frustrated with the food industry and its affects on under-privileged children. It is a long story, but please stick with me.

I volunteer at transitional housing for victims of domestic violence and their children. For two hours a week, I work in the kids program where we play, do art projects, and have a snack. The snacks come from Second Harvest, the food bank in this area. The food that we get is usually pretty bad, and really boring: fruit snacks, stale pretzels, and juice, every single day. Supplies were low last week, and so I did what I sometimes do when I have time, and stopped by the store on my way there last night.

First of all, I ended up at Safeway because I didn’t have much time and so couldn’t detour into the nicer neighborhoods to hit up a Trader Joe’s. I normally shop at Trader Joe’s because it is inexpensive, a lot of the food is organic, and I won’t find a lot of yucky stuff like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. But since I was coming from Blossom Valley, a lower middle class San Jose neighborhood, and through downtown into Santa Clara, my only option along the way was Safeway.

I had about 10 minutes, no budget, no kids with me, and just wanted to buy some snacks for the kids. I wanted the food to be fairly healthy, fairly inexpensive, and containing little or no high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. You’d think that would be easy. It wasn’t.

Almost everything I picked up had those two bad ingredients in them, even those claiming to have zero grams of trans fat. After studying the ingredients list of everything and trying to find the least-processed food in the store, which is hard at Safeway, here is what I ended up with:

  • String cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Wheat Thins
  • Pretzels
  • Apple juice
  • Grapes
  • Organic peanut butter

Total: $23, saving $10 thanks to sales.

I was surprised at how expensive it was, even though I guess I did buy a lot of cheese. So this experience made me realize first hand how hard it would be to shop here all of the time, on a budget. And there would be no way I could do the careful label reading if I had little kids with me.

Loaded up with my groceries, I went to the shelter to find that they had their food bank delivery: fruit juice, peanut butter, and little tubes of PB&J. Nothing to put all of this stuff on, but they have started getting weekly bread deliveries, so they could put the peanut butter on that.

I checked out the juice boxes first. 100% juice, no added sugar. Fine except for the obscene amount of packaging. The jars of peanut butter were what we always have, so I didn’t look at those in detail, although I am sure it had added hydrogenated oils and sugar. But then I looked at the tubes of PB&J.

Ingredients for the “peanut butter” tube: fully hydrogenated oil, peanuts, sugar, salt. As if peanuts didn’t have enough fat by themselves. As if partially hydrogenated oils weren’t bad enough. Ingredients for the “jelly” tube: high fructose corn syrup, grape juice, (other preservatives and chemicals). Does that even count as jelly?

So here I was, trying to buy food that didn’t have the two worst ingredients that the modern food industry has to offer, while the food bank is providing these poor kids with nothing but!

The grapes and string cheese, which we picked for snack that evening, were huge hits. The kids inhaled them. I tried not to think about the growth hormones in the Safeway-brand cheese or the pesticides in the conventional grapes and apple juice (grapes and apples have the highest residue pesticide levels in fruit). I plan on bringing new fruits to the kids every week from now on.

I talked with the older kids about fruits, what they liked, what they had eaten that day, and stuff like that. I was happy to hear that these two older girls (about 11) had eaten watermelon, apples, and celery at school that day. I was also excited that they liked fig newtons and were intrigued by the idea of fresh figs (which I had at home and wished that I had brought). But they were completely clueless about how fruits had seasons when they were harvested. They didn’t know that apples and grapes came in the fall, for example. Here we are in California, surrounded by agriculture, and kids don’t even know that certain fruit grows at certain times of the year. Note to self: when bringing fruit each week, be sure to talk about where the fruit came from and what time of year it grows.

So that’s my long story about snacks. And that’s why I am so frustrated. And that’s why I want to do something about it. I am doing what I can for now, but I hope to do more in the future.


4 Comments so far
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[…] Food inequality, first hand: My long, involved story about my attempt to buy healthy snacks for kids last night. […]

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Actually, fully hydrogenated fats are probably less bad than partially hydrogenated ones. This just means you end up with some kind of (fully) saturated fat. Not that this is a great thing, even lard (!) is mostly unsaturated fats. Good luck with the blog!

Comment by Molecule of the Day

I realized that after I wrote the post, but still, why was oil the first ingedient in peanut butter in the first place?

Comment by Lauren

I realize how much work my mom did serving healthy hippy food to 5 kids each day! I love chocolate milk , apple, and string cheese for kids, with tofu (strangely kids like tofu, just plain). This is what I’ve learned from my sisters, who follow the family line from my mom of being hippy moms 🙂 yoghurt & fruit – another great snack. Fresh figs, yum.

Comment by anna

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