Are Do-Gooders Making Food Insecurity Worse?


by  James A. Bacon

Food deserts are back in the news here in Richmond with the premier of a documentary, “Living in a Food Desert,” at the Richmond International Film Festival. First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, who has made food security her signature cause, attended the screening and addressed the audience. More than 300,000 Virginia children are food insecure, she said. “There needs to be a forceful call to action.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams picked up on the remarks in a column today. Mrs. McAuliffe, he wrote, “called it ironic that a state whose $70 billion agriculture industry feeds folks around the world is not reaching its neediest citizens.”

Yes, it is ironic indeed. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to more people than ever in the program’s history. It is ironic that food insecurity exists despite the existence of school lunch and school breakfast programs for disadvantaged children. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the efforts of groups like Tricycle Gardens to encourage inner-city Richmond residents to raise their own food. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the mobilization of the not-for-profit community through food banks, food pantries and church food drives in an unprecedented giving away of free food and free meals. It is ironic that Richmond’s Feedmore food bank has originated as an institution that provided food for emergency situations into one that fills chronic, ongoing needs. Food insecurity, one Feedmore official told me two years ago for an article I never completed, was becoming “the new normal.”

Everyone quoted by Williams laments the terrible state of affairs. And let me just say, before being condemned as a heartless, evil  conservative, that it is a terrible thing for children to go hungry. But when food insecurity evolves from a sometime thing to a permanent state affairs — and seven years after the Great Recession, it’s getting a little hard to continue blaming the economic downturn — it makes me wonder if we’re doing something wrong.

Here’s my question: How, despite the funneling of unprecedented government and philanthropic dollars to the feeding of the poor, has food insecurity has gotten worse? There are clues in Williams’ column.

A recurrent theme Sunday was that this issue represents an opportunity for folks to take charge of their lives by developing socially conscious economies around food.

It is important for any solution around food deserts to not be paternalistic in the sense that you just come in an drop food off and you’re gone,” Duron Chavis, project director of [Virginia State University’s] Indoor Farm, says in the documentary.

“The key word there is empowerment,” said panelist John Lewis, director of Renew Richmond. “We have the opportunity to empower communities that live in food deserts, especially low-income individuals, to take their food system back.”

Now, couple those comments with this: “As disciples of the Lord, we are commanded to feed the hungry. And we take that commandment seriously,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael A. Sanders of Mount Olive Baptist Church. “We have quickly become one of the largest food pantries in the city of Richmond.”

To what extent does the commandment “to feed the hungry” conflict with the imperative to “empower” the poor? Does society’s impulse to feed the poor result in behaviors that are the opposite of empowering? Why don’t poor people grow their own garden plots? Why don’t they organize community gardens? There are plenty of vacant plots of land in the East End of Richmond, the city’s biggest food desert. There are plenty of groups, like Tricycle Gardens, that are willing to provide the know-how. Why isn’t it happening? Is it possible that the more outsiders take on the obligation to feed Virginia’s poor, from Richmond’s East End to Appalachia, the less they do for themselves?

Are our charitable impulses making worse the very problem we decry? That’s the one question no one seems to be asking.

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60 responses to “Are Do-Gooders Making Food Insecurity Worse?

  1. I don’t think you’re heartless but I do think you’re once again thinking in sound bites and not willing to deal with the guts of the issue.

    People with bad educations have an unemployment rate twice, three times the average.

    the idea they should grow their own gardens is ludicrous. Think about your own household. Do you think you could make even a 5% dent in your food budget with a garden ? Would you grow chickens, hogs, cattle in your back yard or expect others? How about pasta ? have you thought about what it takes to get cereal or pasta? Oatmeal? ketchup?

    I’d challenge you to go with your wife (whom I presume does the food in your house) and look through the pantry and the fridge and freezer and identify what you could grow in your back yard

    Finally – the Church says to help those who need help – the poor, the sick, those unable to care for themselves .. we live in a sanctimonious society these days when a majority of people, especially Conservatives – do go to Church where they essentially preach “let them eat cake”.

    Here’s what I recommend. That you visit a food bank where food is gathered from various retailers then distributed throughout the community through pantries. Then go to one of the pantries when they distribute food. Spend a day doing this .. ask lots of questions.. especially the ones about why people are needing food… look into the USDA program and the Food for Life program as well as Catholic Charities.. find out why companies like WalMart and Food Lion and others ship enormous quantities of meat, produce and canned/boxed food to the Food Bank… (and I suspect, write it off), then once you actually do have that insight, then come back and discuss it.

    It so happens I agree with you in some respects .. if you hand out food, people will expect it.. yes.. agree… people who get food from pantries – should also volunteer to staff them… yes.. should there be a master registry so that people who get food from one pantry don’t double dip.. or at least we know they do… and need it.

    there is much to learn and know – not the least of why kids on reduced lunch some are overweight!

  2. Maybe I’m missing something here but I thought a “food desert” referred to a large residential area that was not served by a supermarket with lots of food choices, and instead had few if any businesses and those vendors had few if any choices. If you depend on the 7-11 for your groceries, and Mickey D is your only restaurant choice, that is a food desert. If you can get to a Kroger or a Food Lion easily, that is not.

    So the existence of SNAP (food stamps) or WIC benefits is of little value if you have no place to use the vouchers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, etc. Pay close attention around the Kroger on Lombardy and you will realize many of its customers are walking a great distance, carrying only the amount of food they can get in a couple of bags. You see the carts blocks away, again because of customers on foot. And I assume the neighborhood around there is NOT considered a food desert because of that store.

    Persuading the grocery store chains to serve more low income neighborhoods is a business issue, and might require business-related incentives. Special zoning, special taxing treatment. I doubt the Lombardy Kroger would be there but for nearby VCU housing. It does not seem to be the problem you are addressing, Jim. This particular problem has more to do with your other favorite topic, urban planning and economic stratification. But perhaps I’m missing something.

    • 19 cents a pound is what is paid for food at the Fredericksburg Food Bank.

      a 15 pound bag of groceries can be provided for $2.85

      what does it take to set up a pantry in a neighborhood that has no local market?

      it takes a building – often a church…or a community center, someone to put up a little money and some volunteers to go transport out-of-date canned and boxed goods from the Food Bank to the Pantry site and distribute on pantry days.

      I’m sorry – but this is not rocket science.

      why we have to blame the poor for being poor and tell them to learn how to garden – just does not make sense.

      the poor and vulnerable do not need lectures from pompous asses or do-gooders, … they need a little earnest leadership in setting up and operating food pantries – with their own labor.. 40% of food is lost in the US at the same time we have folks blathering about food deserts… jeeze

      http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/22/40-of-u-s-food-wasted-report-says/

      • I’m not “blaming poor people for being poor,” but I do think they have some responsibility to better their own lot. Are you an advocate of the “paternalism” that Mr. Duron Chavis says it is important to avoid?

        • I never thought it in terms of paternalism but rather what needs to happen to address the situation – and I DO believe it SHOULD involve the community served to be volunteers for the effort.

          there are ALL KINDS OF THINGs that happen in all kinds of communities that require some level of leadership to move things forward. I do not see that as paternalism… whether the community is rich – or poor.

          Nobody feels paternalistic as the pantry I work in.. it’s just a simple act of wanting to help .. when help is needed…

          I do revolt against the do-gooder – “you need to garden to feed yourself” stuff. that IS paternalistic.

    • I touched upon that question in early draft of the post but deleted it for purposes of economy. The people who worry about food for the poor typically conflate the issues of “food insecurity” and “food deserts.” They are distinct issues but related. Here’s the connection that’s often made. If people don’t have enough money to spend on food, they’ll spend it on crappy stuff that has a lot of calories rather than on healthy, nutritious stuff that costs a lot and doesn’t taste as good.

      • re: ” If people don’t have enough money to spend on food, they’ll spend it on crappy stuff that has a lot of calories rather than on healthy, nutritious stuff that costs a lot and doesn’t taste as good.”

        you wouldn’t be making a blanket statement about a whole segment of society would you….

        geeze ….

        • It is a fair statement which is evidenced by our nation’s increasing obesity rates–many Americans (not just the poor) are overfed and undernourished.

      • Jim – here’s a statement to ponder:

        “The U.S. is No. 2 for child poverty among developed countries”

        http://goo.gl/uEnLDF

        • How much do you think alcohol and drug abuse is a major cause of child poverty? Not judging here. Just looking for root causes.

          • all of it? I doubt it but folks who have terrible educations and cannot get employment tend to not have a whole lot of ways to bootstrap and conversely a whole lot of ways to lose hope and devolve into the kinds of activities that people do who have run out of options.

            I’m not giving sympathy here. I’m being brutally honest.

            do we really want to know the truth and then try to deal with it or do we just want some easy and convenient ways to blame it on folks who really never had much of a chance if they got a crappy education?

            what do we expect?

            here is a question. how did they end up with a crappy education to start with?

            are we going to blame it on a parent that also had a miserable education or the kid because he needed more educational help that the schools were willing to provide?

            TMT – did you see this:

            ” US Has Second-Highest Rate Of Childhood Poverty In Developed World, Only Romania Is Worse”

            http://www.ibtimes.com/us-has-second-highest-rate-childhood-poverty-developed-world-only-romania-worse-700758

            does this explain why we have so many kids on reduced/free lunch?

            do we think this is the case because our poor do drugs and alcohol and other countries do not?

          • TooManyTaxes

            I think the evidence shows alcohol and drug abuse are major contributors to poverty and dysfunctional households. We’ve spend billions on anti-poverty programs and have little to show except for a bunch of workers dependent on taxes – the professional caring class.

            Fairfax County goes beyond what is required by federal and state law to provide extra resources to lower-income kids and those that don’t speak English. FCPS currently has over 1,000 elementary school general education classes with 20 or fewer students, excluding Level 2 special education students. Uncle Sam provides $16.6 M for Title I. Virginia provides $4.8 M for smaller K-3 classes. Fairfax County taxpayers add an additional $43 M to the mix and expands coverage to kids receiving reduced price lunches who are not covered by state or federal requirements. We add $65 Min local funds to ESOL funding provided by federal money and an additional $4.3 in local money for something called priority schools.

            What more should be done? Especially as class size in wealthier areas often tops 30 students per class. Don’t families receiving these additional resources have an obligation to see that their kids get an education? There is good evidence in Fairfax County that the so-called at risk community is not keeping its part of the social contract. At least in Fairfax County, Obama’s world view is flat out wrong.

  3. To my way of thinking, it would be reasonable for a city or county to provide some real estate tax relief to encourage full-service grocery and drug stores to locate in “food deserts,” hopefully on a bus line that provides more than AM/PM rush service.

    Interestingly, a common criticism of Fairfax County’s plan to allow SRO apartments damn near anywhere that was made by community groups is that low-income housing needs to be near dependable public transit and some reasonable level of neighborhood shopping. Several staff members were so interested in allowing SRO housing anywhere, they failed to develop a plan that would locate such housing in locations where it would actually work. Fortunately, the BoS realized the staff plan was not ready for prime time and tabled it.

    • Food stores LOVE food banks – because they are provided with a way to dispose of out of date goods as well as overstocks and discontinued AND they get to write it off !

      so why not set up pantries or for that matter non-profit cooperatives that also operate pantries?

      the food is already available. Many stores will sell the basic staples at their cost if you need something like rice or mac and cheese.

      when you go shopping and see markdowns – the remaining items that do not get sold go to one of two places – a food bank if one exists or the dumpster.

      if we spent 1/10th the time on this that we do on things like Smart Growth – and college loans and subsidized flood insurance for million dollar vacation homes.. we’d not be engaging in these periodic self-flagellations.. that ultimately conclude it’s the poors’ fault… for being too lazy to garden!

      😉

  4. “Food stores LOVE food banks – because they are provided with a way to dispose of out of date goods as well as overstocks and discontinued AND they get to write it off !”

    larryg seems to be most upset about this fact.

    So, nutritional food should be freely available to a segment of population robbed of good education and meaningful employment?

    Using an empty city lot for a “community garden” is “paternalistic”? How is it so, if the beneficiaries of the product work it themselves?

    • not sure where you got “upset” because I believe in solutions that work and are symbiotic between govt, the community and the private sector.

      the thing about the garden idea is really ignorance plain and simple.

      even people with huge backyard gardens cannot feed themselves without basic staples they get from grocery stores. Gardens are not solutions and coming from folks who have no clue that they are not is worse than paternalistic – it’s condescending coming from those who don’t even put their time towards the garden concept – so they actually know some of the issues

      Have you ever considered how a community garden would actually operate in terms of where you plant and how you get to keep the food you grow without others taking it? where you keep your tools and fertilizer that you keep instead of others taking ..???

      have you every thought of it? Nope. of course not.

      re: ” So, nutritional food should be freely available to a segment of population robbed of good education and meaningful employment?”

      you should stop. You’re truly embarrassing yourself and revealing the kind of person you really seem to be. Virtually all of the SNAP and similar goes to kids and their moms. you apparently don’t like it like a lot of your similar-thinking right wing types. Have you got an alternative?

      • ‘Even people with huge backyard gardens cannot feed themselves without basic staples they get from grocery stores. Gardens are not solutions.”

        Larry, do you mean to imply here that I think poor people should feed themselves entirely by means of vegetable gardens? That’s beyond insane.

        Let me lay out the logic so even a 5th grader can understand. Many poor people suffer poor nutrition because they cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables. Poor people could *supplement* their high carb/high fat diets by planting their own squash, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, peppers, corn, etc. etc.

        Is that really hard to understand?

        • “Larry, do you mean to imply here that I think poor people should feed themselves entirely by means of vegetable gardens? That’s beyond insane.”

          then why is it suggested at all?

          “Let me lay out the logic so even a 5th grader can understand. Many poor people suffer poor nutrition because they cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables. Poor people could *supplement* their high carb/high fat diets by planting their own squash, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, peppers, corn, etc. etc.”

          that’s 100% grade A bull hockey and it’s arrogant and condescending for you to think that poor people don’t have enough coins to buy bad snacks like the rest of us do. you’re using a different standards for poor folks and it smells.

          “Is that really hard to understand?”

          what’s hard to understand is that folks think the poor have to eat vegetables to get nutritious food. Have you acquainted yourself with a 50 cent can of vegetables , corn, beans, hominy, etc. Why would someone try to raise their own beans for “nutritious” food when it can be provided via a food pantry or even available at corner market that has no produce?

          this whole thing is just loony and down your nose condescending towards the poor whom you assume are not like other people for some reason or can’t be because they’re not allowed because they are poor.

          here’s something for you to do. Go volunteer at a food pantry. do it a few times and then come back and write about it – and I’m betting it will be different than now.

          go now – go learn.

      • People with backyard gardens can and do provide a significant proportion of their own food. People who live in the country or the exurbs do it routinely – it’s the norm out here, and also for many people from other countries that have a farming tradition.

        When did growing your own food become something unusual?

        • re: ” When did growing your own food become something unusual?”

          it’s not – unless it’s purported to be the primary way which is how it comes across when the rest of the “food desert” needs are ignored in terms of how they are obtained?

          that’s one problem.

          the other is how you maintain community garden plots.

          have you ever seen how that works?

          it’s not very practical. it’s vulnerable to theft and vandalism.

          people can work their butts off and come back and someone has taken their harvest or just stomped on it .. etc.. and where would these folks keep their implements and fertilizer, etc (and where would they get them to start with?)

          this is one of those “concepts” that when you look harder at it – it falls apart .

          and don’t get me wrong: read on:

          we have a rural food pantry and they come by car. they are older cars in crappy condition and they’re carpooling.. neighbors carrying neighbors.

          they actually have land to grow a garden – and some of them actually do – but they gotta eat in the winter and even in the summer – there’s a lot more stuff you need to survive besides just what is in the garden. things like flour, pasta, canned tuna, canned soup, cereal, etc.

          so all across Virginia – there are real Food Banks that distribute to regional pantries in their zone. They distribute virtually everything any full feature grocery store carries from canned soup to frozen meat to expired dairy – you name it – whatever has been pulled from store shelves and sent to the food bank. Today’s consumers won’t buy out-of-date stuff any more so it either goes to the Food Bank or to the dumpster. It’s dumb
          not to get it to people who need it and that’s the same in inner cities.

          so – in the middle of February – we’ll find ourselves distributing tomatoes, radishes, potatoes and asparagus to clients and even though they are past prime – there are no complaints, just thanks.

          where, in the middle of February are “poor” folks going to be able to grow tomatoes and asparagus? Certainly not in downtown Richmond – and yet – if you have a food bank/pantry setup – the “poor” can still eat “good food” whereas “gardens” only feed in the summer.

          so my question is – if you have to set up a pantry in the first place – why not, in areas of food insecurity and it can operate year round and provide, in addition to garden stuff – other needed staples and canned goods then why would you not do that and instead try to do “gardens”?

          why not start out saying you need the pantries first and gardens are a nice add on but certainly not the primary solution?

          how about it?

  5. I cringe when I think of a privileged, well-educated white man lecturing “the poor” on how they need to pull them up by their bootstraps.

    If you are working several marginal jobs and trying to raise a family, doubtful you are going to start a nice little garden at your public housing complex.

    And, food desert means a shortage of real grocery stores that can offer healthy basics rather than Ding Dongs and energy drinks at the local 7-Eleven.

    Jim, you need to get out of your basement and drive to Gilpin Court or somewhere. Locate the first real grocery store. How far away is it? Is it on a public transit line? Try buying a week’s worth of low-price groceries and carry them a few miles in the rain, ice and snow.

    But be careful where you park your Mercedes, however.

    • I cringe when I think of a privileged, well-educated white man assuaging his privileged white guilt by peddling nostrums that keep the poor in a state of dependence and poverty.

      If someone is working several marginal jobs and trying to raise a family, then no one would fault them for not working a public garden. But what percentage of the poor population is doing that?

      When I was researching the food desert, I profiled the food pantry program and community garden of an African-American church in Church Hill. The parishioners were very giving of their time and energy — very impressive. But when they tried to recruit some of the beneficiaries of their generosity to volunteer time in the gardens…. not much luck. And the problem wasn’t that the non-volunteers were overworked. The problem was that they didn’t want to make the effort.

      Time to get real, Peter.

      • re: ” But when they tried to recruit some of the beneficiaries of their generosity to volunteer time in the gardens…. not much luck. And the problem wasn’t that they were overworked. The problem was that they didn’t want to make the effort.”

        that’s true. but why do you focus on that instead of the ones that are working and success? There are lazy and undisciplined throughout society. Take Bernie Maddoff or Bob and Maureen McDonnell.

        why focus on the human traits of the poor as if that is the reason all of them are poor ? Every class of society has those who are not so wonderful.

        why do you write off all of the poor because some have morals like the McDonnells?

    • Peter is exactly right. The problems of the poor are none of Jim Bacon’s business. Let’s not waste time listening to well educated people try to solve problems. Let’s leave the problem to those poorly educated people living in the food deserts. Brilliant!

      What … I beg your pardon Peter …. Oh you want Bacon’s money to expand the immense government which had failed to solve this problem after 50 years of trying but you don’t want his opinion. Interesting.

      However, the opinion of an overfed, over educated, lilly white college professor would be sacrosanct. Or, a crony capitalist, milk white privileged presidential nominee named Hillary – well that would be an opinion worth hearing. But not you Bacon. Just get out you wallet and hand over the miney you EARNED to the liberal aristocracy for redistribution (after they take their personal skim of course).

      Liberalism is a mental disorder.

      • Food Deserts are loony lefty concepts that the “blame someone” folks on the right have exploited as a proxy to show that the poor are lazy and not willing to take care of their own needs.

        It has nothing to do with “liberalism” except for those who want to wallow in willful ignorance and pretend otherwise.

        the folks who suggest community gardens for the poor have no solutions for the rest of the food they need – especially in the winter.

        where is that solution that should accompany the “garden” advocacy?

        you know why? Because the point was never to deal with the real issue in the first place. The “garden” concept is a proxy for more blame of the poor for being responsible for their own plights.

        never-mind that “good fresh produce” won’t, by itself, keep you alive and that you do need other food – the “garden” folks offer no accompanying ideas to go along with the “garden” to provide the other food needed.

        how do you make available the other needed food that gardens can’t provide?

        where is that idea?

        it’s not there – why?

        if someone truly cares about the food plight of the poor – then they’d offer real solutions beyond the “let them eat salad” foolishness.

        • Do you get paid by the word?

          Why is Bacon not entitled to an opinion?

          Because he is well educated?

          Because he is white?

          Defend Peter’s indefensible comment.

          That is the challenge.

          • I think JIm and you are certainly entitled to opinions – I just wish you both would get off this “liberal” kick and do more than partisan platitudes when it comes to real issues. gardens don’t solve the problem. Give me a solution instead of the “it’s the liberals” pablum.

        • Why is a garden – that can provide large quantities of healthy food at very low cost – a bad idea? Why would you expect it to provide all of the food? Is something helpful bad because it isn’t everything?

          And since when did growing a garden become “salad”? Have you every actually grown any food?

  6. larrg-
    What is your solution? (Besides replacing crappy education and providing folks with good jobs).
    Here is an interesting documentary-
    Can Food Deserts Become Oases? | Independent Lens Blog
    http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/can-food-deserts-become-oases
    PBS
    Jan 9, 2013 – In one short but memorable scene in the documentary Soul Food … Sanchez lives in a food desert — a low-income community with little or no … But this proximity also brings potential solutions: Cities are helping create urban gardens in … seniors, minors, disabled who are over represented in poverty.

    • the concept of “food deserts” is misguided in concept and loony in implementation.

      food pantries do 10 times more for less dollars and you need them anyhow because “gardens” do not replace “food deserts” to start with.

  7. re: ” I think the evidence shows alcohol and drug abuse are major contributors to poverty and dysfunctional households. We’ve spend billions on anti-poverty programs and have little to show except for a bunch of workers dependent on taxes – the professional caring class.”

    TMT – have you seen the alcohol and prescription drug and Cocaine stats for the more well off folks?

    people who do not have decent educations tend to end up unemployed and get involved in whatever activities they can to make a living – some of those activities – illegal or questionable at best.

    I do not agree that anti-poverty programs have not worked. They’ve worked. Take Medicare – how many older people would lose their assets including their homes and end up destitute if not for Medicare?

    How many folks would be able to get health insurance at all if it were not for the govt rules that enable employer-provided?

    our problem is that we have successful programs if your gage is how much better – rather than eradicate and when we blame the poor for their bad educations – we absolve ourselves of how they got bad educations.

    there is a kernel of truth in the idea that some poor do not help themselves when they can – I can agree with a little of that but most poor grew up without enough education – to actually qualify for even minimal jobs that require basic reading and writing ability and without that – the cycle continues.

    Don’t mistake my views as “liberal” because they’re not. I end up with this – what is the cost-effective answer? And that answer includes – the idea that we should abandon our efforts because they do not “work”. That’s a vote for 3rd world conditions in my view and it’s not an answer that most Americans are going to like once they see real 3rd world conditions in our cities.

    so the real question is not what you don’t want to do – but what do you want to do and that’s the problem with Conservatives these days. They know what they don’t like but they have no real alternatives because all of them sound “liberal”.

    • If society makes educational resources available, and Fairfax County does to the pain of taxpayers and parents with higher incomes, don’t the beneficiaries of these tax dollars have an obligation to ensure their kids take best advantage of the resources? Fairfax County makes the resources available for poor kids and non-English speakers to get a high-quality education. If these students and their parents/guardians don’t take advantage of the opportunity, whose fault is it? Why must they be shielded from blame in your eyes?
      And perhaps we have 3rd world situations because the current and last president opened the doors to the third world.

      • TMT – you do not “make educational resources – ‘available’ ” to kids in elementary school. You educate them. and you provide the additional resources some of them need if the vanilla instruction does not work.

        what’s the alternative to not doing this?

        is it okay with you that those kids grow up to receive entitlements or get incarcerated? It sounds like you are willing to pay for the entitlement and incarceration costs rather than the costs to insure they get educated.

        that’s why I asked what you really wanted and were you willing to pay for it.

        we don’t have the option of not picking A or B because we don’t like either option.. pick your option.

        • Adult males receive very little in entitlements. An adult female without kids receives very little in entitlements. And even TANF has limits. I don’t see it as an either or question. Most people without skills or education fall through the crack and live day to day. Those who chose not to make their best effort to get an education are deciding to live on the margins. You can lead a horse to water.

          What I’d like to see is the establishment and community leaders speaking out that, when taxpayers provide extra resources for poorer or non-English speaking students, the families have an obligation to make the best use of what is being made available. A little preaching is in order. A little shame goes a long way.

          • “Adult males receive very little in entitlements. An adult female without kids receives very little in entitlements.”

            are you counting health care and prisons?

            ” And even TANF has limits. I don’t see it as an either or question. Most people without skills or education fall through the crack and live day to day. ”

            they do – on your and my dime.

            “Those who chose not to make their best effort to get an education are deciding to live on the margins. You can lead a horse to water.”

            are you talking about 6yr olds?

            “What I’d like to see is the establishment and community leaders speaking out that, when taxpayers provide extra resources for poorer or non-English speaking students, the families have an obligation to make the best use of what is being made available. A little preaching is in order. A little shame goes a long way.”

            are you saying we don’t have poor without counting immigration?

            you guys kills me – you run away from the problem. when we talk about the poor and entitlements and education – you then want to talk about illegals instead and not about the problem – without illegals.

            you want to say that “adults” don’t get entitlements. ever hear of Section 8 housing or charity care at the hospital?

            5-years olds who get what they deserve when they don’t make good use of education? 5yr olds grow up – and we pay .. if not entitlements, prisons.

      • I went to high school in Fairfax County sleeping on the couch of my Dad’s one bedroom apartment at Hunting Towers. Destitute? No. Priveleged? No.

        Thank God for Fairfax County Publuc Schools.

        They say you can lead a horse to water but not make him drink. Of course, in plenty of cases, the damn horse will drink when led to water. It just had to be thirsty.

        TMT is right. Fairfax County provides a cornucopia of opportunity.

        • re: ” I went to high school in Fairfax County sleeping on the couch of my Dad’s one bedroom apartment at Hunting Towers. Destitute? No. Priveleged? No.

          Thank God for Fairfax County Publuc Schools.

          They say you can lead a horse to water but not make him drink. Of course, in plenty of cases, the damn horse will drink when led to water. It just had to be thirsty.

          TMT is right. Fairfax County provides a cornucopia of opportunity.”

          I totally agree with both of you – and you should note also : 1. – Fairfax County KNOWS that education is the key to escaping poverty and 2. – Fairfax county is Democratic and “liberal” and does indeed believe in spending great gobs of money especially on early childhood education – and it shows – they have among the best if not the best SOL scores in the state.

          so we KNOW that 1. and 2. work and are key.

          and yes – you cannot save every child – I admit that.. but Fairfax saves a hell of a lot more than many places in Virginia.

          Finally – tell me that Fairfax County has a community garden program so that the poor can stop sitting on their lazy butts and help feed themselves.

          Got community gardens?

          • When I was going to school Fairfax County was not liberal and Democratic. It was largely Republican. For example, from 1976 until 1988 a Republican, Jack Herrity, was the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Herrity was succeeded by a Democrat (Audrey Moore) who was succeeded by a Republican (Tom Davis).

            Pursuing excellence in education in Fairfax County has long transcended political parties.

          • au contraire Don.

            the GOP – USED to be pro-education but no more.

            what world are you living in today? Do you not pay attention to what
            most of the GOP is saying about public education? You too, as I recall.

            Man up Don.

            Admit that the GOP has moved far, far to the right on things like Education.

            the loons have taken over… and anyone to their left – even GOP are “liberals”.

            you play in that sandbox yourself these days.

  8. let me make clear as the resident “liberal”. I’m in favor of what works I define that in terms of what is cost-effective.

    I do not think we should “help” people for moral reasons. I leave that up to voters and I certainly am not in favor of throwing money down a rat hole to “help” people in ways that are not fiscally sustainable and/or don’t really result in better outcomes.

    However – I totally disagree with those who would just run away from the problem and blame it on the folks with the problem if running away results in more costs to everyone – beyond just budget.

    as far as I know – most of us don’t want to have a 3rd world type stratification of our society with more homeless living among us

    we need two things: 1. to be honest about what stopping these programs
    means – are we serious about that option?

    2. – if you really admit that abandonment is not an option – then what is your alternative?

    we have too many that won’t do 1. or 2.

  9. An excellent documentary on the subject:
    Can Food Deserts Become Oases? | Independent Lens Blog
    http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/can-food-deserts-become-oases
    PBS
    Jan 9, 2013 – 6 on its list of the worst urban food deserts in the United States. … create urban gardens in empty lots, cultivating an appetite for healthy food and the … “Once people get into that mold of eating bad food, their first taste of really …

    • what would you expect from a liberal channel El? This is one of the things I find totally useless about liberal “ideas”.

      I’m ALL FOR “good foods” but again why does the rest of our fat butt society think the poor should also not have fat butts just because they are poor? It sounds like some sort of moralistic kabuki theatre – penitence for “lazy” or some such. so if you’re gainfully employed and make enough money you’re entitled to be a fat butt but if you’re poor .. you’re not allowed.

      😉

  10. It’s true poor people have trouble finding time and energy to grow their own food. But how are they different from the rest of us? Instead of chastising the poor for not being superhuman, could we maybe encourage the population in general to grow some of their own? What they can’t grow they may be able to buy from their neighbors. It’s called the local food economy, and when enough of us participate actively in it, we may be able to feed ourselves. Even on a poverty budget.

    https://thevirginiaplanner.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/fresh-food-with-edna-lewis-in-mind/

    • we have a garden but I have to say – we’d starve to death if we had no grocery store and money.

      We give away groceries at a local food pantry – it’s things like canned soups, vegetables, fruit, tomato sauce, cereal, pasta, tuna, cereal, peanut butter, frozen out of date meat, bread and “salvage” produce (when available). We encourage gardening. we actually have a garden from which we give away the produce but when I think about what parts of what we give away could be grown in a garden instead – …. well.. it’s ludicrous.

      it’s a “nice to have” in addition to the other but the other is what sustains life and the kids for the meals they don’t get at school.

      that 15lbs of grocery bag, stale bread, wilted produce and old meat – is two weeks worth of food – in theory. At this time of the year – I bet the only thing coming of a theoretical garden might be pretty slim.

      this whole idea reeks of “liberal” do-gooding.. can’t imagine why Jim likes it.

      • We grow some but obviously not all of our food. If we had to, yes, I could grow enough food to feed my family (although obviously without sugar, coffee, black pepper, and so on it would be healthy but not fun.) It would be a somewhat different diet and of course I am in a position where I can keep chickens (or other livestock, although that’s not on the table at the moment) legally.

        However, I don’t’ think anyone was suggesting a post-apocalyptic survivor style diet with no bought supplies at all. I took the suggestion as, here’s a way to save money and eat better.

        In the winter, a garden does leave you with food available – the limiting factor is storage. Things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, winter squash will keep, but depend on your situation – they are are not practical to store in bulk in an apartment. A shared storage facility could be very helpful for city folks without a basement. Traditionally these are kept over the winter in a root cellar. Some fresh vegetables and greens can be grown year-round, especially if you have a cold frame. Many green vegetables are best in colder weather.

        Many country people I know who have extensive gardens can their own vegetables and fruits, and use those home canned goods year round.

        The cost of growing your own food is extremely low, so I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea of a higher cost from them.

        I realize you probably have never done this, but you can make your own peanut butter, make your own tomato sauce, grow and keep your own dry beans for winter, and so on, and save money doing it. Those might not be the most efficient things to focus on from the garden, as they’re low cost and readily available elsewhere, and it makes more sense to grow the higher cost items one might not be able to otherwise afford – but it is easily do-able if you wanted to.

        I garden as a hobby (not trying to save $ but rather because I like doing it) but done properly it can save a good bit of money and many poor country people use this strategy to eat very well.

        • vagal – ” However, I don’t’ think anyone was suggesting a post-apocalyptic survivor style diet with no bought supplies at all. I took the suggestion as, here’s a way to save money and eat better.”

          now apply that to the poor in the inner city and tell me how you do that…

          that’s my problem with “gardens” being suggested as a solution to food insecurity.

          what’s the primary solution? it ain’t gardens.

  11. “this whole idea reeks of “liberal” do-gooding.. can’t imagine why Jim likes it.”

    “Liberal do-gooding”- an oxymoron?
    There are all kinds of individuals who give to charity, serve their community, because they care about the community and their neighbors. And many of these folks have what you might call Conservative values.
    Why do the Lefties freak out??
    Why is “caring ” solely a Liberal virtue?

    • You nailed it, El Sidd!

      Liberals think they have a monopoly on compassion. They think that their eagerness to spend other peoples’ money makes them morally superior to conservatives, who believe in expressing their compassion by spending their own time and money!

      • it’s not about compassion at all.. it’s about loony blame-game politics that do not seriously address the issues.

        you ARE GOING TO SPEND OTHER PEOPLE’s money no matter how dumb your policies – you cannot stop that – what your goal should be is to do it in the most cost effective way you can – a Conservative ethic that you boys deny when you don’t like what the money is spent for to start with and delusionally believe that you can – for instance – just get rid of entitlements.

        it’s a continuing wacko-bird wet dream that continues to go on like a nightmare.

        it’s _not_ compassion to propose hair-brained, cockamamie solutions to real problems – which is the Conservative behavior these days whether it it education, immigration, health care, the poor, you name it.

        ya’ll all have this delusional view that you can just get rid of what you do’t like and not have to come up with a workable replacement.

        don’t like the poor? no problem – let’s just get rid of their entitlements and make them grow their own food. that’s the quality of the right’s thinking these days – in so many things.

        Conservatives have moved to the 6yr old school of solving problems. Got 3 choices and none are nirvana? no problem. we choose none! they say it like it’s a proud declaration when instead it’s ignorance on steroids and screws things up even worse than before!

        let me state again -once and for all – I do NOT believe in throwing dollars at problems but if you want a 3rd world society – that’s what you get when you back out of these issues. That’s the Conservative’s main premise these days. It’s broke, stop funding it – move on. Let the poor eat salad, we’re tired of feeding them.

    • let me tell you who shows up at the Food Bank to ferry food to the pantries…

      it ain’t Conservatives… they’re complaining about free & reduced

      let me tell you who volunteers at the schools to help tutor kids –

      it ain’t Conservatives – they’re complaining about “indoctrination”

      let me tell you who runs the homeless shelters

      oh never mind

      Most Conservatives have the view that these folks should not need help to start with – that they are largely lazy and shiftless and do not even help themselves. Further – they’re opposed to the govt doing much of anything from Head Start to free and reduced lunches or low cost transit to Title 1 for at risk kids.

      listen to the dialogue right here in BR –

      again – I am OPPOSED to programs that are not effective – no matter who advocates them but I’m also opposed to using that as an excuse to do nothing at all. If something don’t work – we need to find a better way.

      but that’s exactly why I’m a serious skeptic of the food insecurity, let them eat salad narrative. I don’t care who favors it – lefty loons or right wing wack jobs – it’s not an effective answer – and left and right seem to have their own agendas for supporting it – but it’s just wrong. it does not solve the larger problem and to advocate for the “garden” while ignoring the rest of the problem – the much larger problem – it’s not problem solving.. at all – it’s really an impediment to getting to the real problem.

  12. I am still mystified by the economics of the food desert. There are plenty of places to eat in low income neighborhoods. There are plenty of overweight people living in low income neighborhoods. Food is being bought and eaten and somebody is turning a profit.

    A pound of ground beef costs about $4. 12 hamburger buns cost about $6. Therefore, a quarter pound of ground beef and a single hamburger bun cost $1.50. A McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese costs $3.79. Why isn’t it cheaper to buy ground beef and hamburger buns and cook your own burger than to buy a quarter pounder with cheese?

    One would think that people short on money would try to economize. Cooking raw food is cheaper than buying fast food. People in low income neighborhoods have enough money to buy fast food so they must have enough money to buy raw food (since it’s cheaper).

    Stores locate where they can make a profit. If there’s enough money to support a fast food diet then there’s enough money ti support a raw food diet. Why don’t supermarkets locate in low income neighborhoods?

    If people in low income neighborhoods were too poor to afford food they would be starving. I don’t see that. In fact, I see a lot of people who seem very overfed.

    Why do fast food outlets make a profit in low income neighborhoods but supermarkets do not?

    I am not getting the economics of this.

    • “I am still mystified by the economics of the food desert. There are plenty of places to eat in low income neighborhoods. There are plenty of overweight people living in low income neighborhoods. Food is being bought and eaten and somebody is turning a profit.”

      totally, 100% true!

      “One would think that people short on money would try to economize. Cooking raw food is cheaper than buying fast food. People in low income neighborhoods have enough money to buy fast food so they must have enough money to buy raw food (since it’s cheaper).”

      folks who lack a decent education do not necessarily reason very well.. and sometimes even those WITH a decent education do just as bad.

      “Stores locate where they can make a profit. If there’s enough money to support a fast food diet then there’s enough money ti support a raw food diet. Why don’t supermarkets locate in low income neighborhoods?”

      because they can’t make a profit and crime I suspect.

      “If people in low income neighborhoods were too poor to afford food they would be starving. I don’t see that. In fact, I see a lot of people who seem very overfed.”

      agree

      “Why do fast food outlets make a profit in low income neighborhoods but supermarkets do not?”

      the truth FINALLY emerges!

      I am not getting the economics of this.

      that’s because none of this is really about economics – it’s about racism, classism and politics.

      poor people don’t know how to eat apparently and we have to teach them and what better way to teach them than to make them grow their own food…..

      let their fat lazy butts eat salad…they have to grow.. themselves… we’re tired of
      trying to help them..

    • You are asking politically incorrect questions. They are the same questions that I ask.

      When I was writing more about food deserts in East Richmond, I did try to run down the fast food angle. My interesting finding: the inner city actually does *not* have a lot of fast food outlets (despite what you hear about McDonalds preying on poor people). There are only a handful of fast food places, and they are all on the periphery, usually near Interstate interchanges. (McDonalds’s P.R. department never responded.)

      Now, it may be that poor people find a way to get to these fast food places — perhaps by carpooling. But if they can carpool to McDonalds, surely they can carpool to Kroger.

      I don’t pretend to know what’s going on. But I agree with you that the conventional wisdom about food deserts doesn’t add up.

      • food deserts are one of those left loon concepts that the right has apparently seized on to make a point.

        it makes no economic sense what-so-ever and it’s virtually unworkable in a shared community garden without fencing, padlocked places for tools and even then – I know this is shocking but people will take other folks veggies.. unless they cannot get at them.

        beyond that – it’ s not enough food.. you still need staples and where is the plan for the staples that are also needed?

        we just returned from the Food Bank today where we picked up about 400 pounds of produce – produce that does not exist in gardens this time of year around here – but we got potatoes, peppers, radishes, grapefruit, and tomatoes – all of them donated by local food stores because they were in excess of what they knew they’d sell so they called the food bank to come get it and then we went and got it and will hand it out in the next few days to people who need it.

        that’s how you get produce to the poor – not gardens..and especially so not gardens in winter.

        this is one of these “feel-good” ideas that is not worth anything. It’s misplaced do-gooderism. If you REALLY want to REALLY do something constructive -you need to put aside your feel-good ideas and deal with some fundamental realities… so that you actually end up – on the other side – with something that really achieves an actual goal.

        so the rule is – produce when it is available – and otherwise – canned beans, corn, soups, canned meat, pasta, tomato sauce, cereal, peanut butter, canned fruit. All of them are nutritious and available 100% of the time and the only real issue is getting it to the folks who need it.

        why do we have to make these kinds of issues into political Kabuki Theater?

        • Larry, potatoes are stored over the winter. Radishes keep a while (I don’t like them much so can’t vouch for how long) and they are a winter coldframe vegetable.

          People who grow their own food often can it, so it’s available year-round.

          This is what actual poor country people that I know do so that they eat well. It’s also what my grandparents did. It’s not particularly pie in the sky.

  13. larryg,
    I would love to tag along, under your tutelage- to a food pantry excursion. Spend the day, ask questions etc.

    We have yet to define “food security” , obviously “food insecurity” is the other side, which gave to the foundation of the “food desert” idea. See below.

    Agenda 21 – United States
    http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/usa/natur.htm
    In early 1999, The US released a National Action Plan on Food Security: ….. established in 1992 in an area of the western Sonoran desert that includes a cluster …

    • re: food security

      I actually agree and if you look at little harder at food insecurity -it’s a flabby concept also weighted down by perceived stereotypes about the poor, their access to “good” food and mobility.

      well.. I don’t see the phrase “food insecurity” in that agenda 21 doc but I’m curious why you are reading it to start with…

      why not use this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_security

      I’ll take the self-invite to tag alone under advisement.

      you don’t really need to do much on your own – just go to the Food Bank website which has a list of food pantries – pick one – and show up to help an one day and I guarantee you -you’ll gain more knowledge to bounce off your current philosophy.

      you’ll find that the pantries themselves are unique to each site in how they operate. In the one I participate in – we get food from the food bank then put it on shelves then pack grocery bags that we hand out on pantry day. Other pantry’s allow clients to take a bag and fill it themselves. I do not claim to know all about how it is done – other than the Food Bank itself is a heavy duty operation in a large warehouse with many trucks donated from corporations and fork lifts moving pallets.. and “shoppers” who come to pick up orders and then walk among the aisles of stuff that is available putting it
      in boxes on carts and taking it to be weighed then put in one’s vehicle and carried back to the pantry.

      The clients are verified on a social services print-out for eligibility for USDA and Food for Life ( as in Hare Krishna Food for Life).

      it operates year around – and in the summer – it has a garden and it has arrangements from local farmers to take their excess …

      come winter – the produce still comes but it’s not consistent .. basically they get what the stores have ordered and has not sold – past prime but not yet dead… some culling has to occur.. at the pantry level..

      there’s lots to like about the entire operation – and not a whole lot to dislike.

      it’s got a simple symmetry – excess food that cycles to those that need it..

      sounds easy – but it takes a significant enterprise to make it work.

  14. El Sidd – I thought you might appreciate this:

    ” Retired Nurse Uses Pension Money To Help Provide Meals To 7,000 Hungry People Each Month”

    http://goo.gl/Q4oQbm

    and I’m betting that you’ll not soon, if ever, see a headline like this:

    “Koch Industries teams up with ALEC and Heritage Action To Provide Food Banks and Pantries and Community Gardens To thousands of Hungry, Food Insecure People to specifically demonstrate that private charity is the proper and correct way to help those in need and to clearly demonstrate that government is not needed because charity works better.”

    do you think Koch and ALEC could pick a couple of areas for pilot programs and actually provide a real example of what can be done?

    so where is that headline El Sidd?

    would you not agree that that would be a much better approach than the “let them eat salad” idea?

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