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Grant Bosse: The leftovers of American abundance

Grant Bosse

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Grant Bosse (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Christmas may display America’s wealth and consumer culture. New Year’s Eve celebrates excess indulgence. But no holiday epitomizes the abundance of modern America like Thanksgiving, the day we make a feast so big that we spend the rest of the weekend eating the leftovers. As we contemplate yet another turkey sandwich and polish off the last of the pumpkin pie, it seems like a good time to focus on making sure our neighbors don’t go to bed hungry.

Since 1984, New Hampshire Catholic Charities has run the New Hampshire Food Bank. This serves as a clearinghouse for more than 400 nonprofit groups across the state, distributing 8.5 million pounds of food a year to Granite State families in need. Food banks, of which NHFB is the largest, account for 44 percent of the food distributed through local food pantries, according to an exhaustive 2010 study. About half of the pantries get some food from federal programs, and almost all rely heavily on local churches, charity food drives by groups like the Boy Scouts, and donations from local stores and farmers. Seventy percent buy food directly using cash donations. Collectively, your canned goods and your checks add up to more than 19 million pounds of food going to low-income New Hampshire families every year.

New Horizons in Manchester is the Food Bank’s biggest customer, and also the largest soup kitchen, food pantry and homeless shelter in the state. Charlie Sherman has served as the executive director at New Horizons for the past three years. Every night, they serve a five-course meal to 250 to 300 people, no questions asked. You walk in, you eat, with no need to show where you live or how much money you make.

The New Horizons food pantry is limited to low-income Manchester residents, handing out $200 worth of groceries each month to about 900 families. Sherman says that wouldn’t happen without the program’s largest donor, Hannaford Supermarkets.

“We wouldn’t be here without Hannaford,” Sherman says. New Horizons sends three vans out every day to six area stores, collecting food that’s nearing its sell-by date. That food is turned around immediately at the pantry. Hannaford donated $400,000 worth of food last year to New Horizons.

The soup kitchen gets some donations from local restaurants, including Longhorn and Olive Garden, but relies mostly on food purchases. Sherman says fresh fruits and vegetables are the hardest to get and the most expensive, but a new 2,200-square-foot greenhouse should cut the kitchen’s groceries bill considerably.

“We spent $20,000 on vegetables through August,” Sherman adds. “We’re hoping to grow 18,000 pounds of our own vegetables every year.”

As the recession slowly turned into a tepid recovery, Sherman says more and more working families were turning to the soup kitchen and food pantry for help. He says the number of children eating there is up 63 percent this year.

“That’s one of the reasons we see so many families in our soup kitchen every night,” Sherman explains. “We serve a hot, healthy meal every night. It’s a cost factor, but also kids are getting a nutritious meal, which is healthier than if they’re going to a fast-food joint.”

Parents aren’t only looking for help buying food, but in getting a healthy meal on the table. As people get back to work, take a second job, or a second shift to make ends meet, there may not be anyone at home in time to cook supper for the kids.

“It’s discouraging when you hear the economy is getting better, and our numbers continue to grow,” Sherman says.

As we look for better ways to feed the hungry, it would help to accurately assess the problem. We don’t have a hunger problem in America. We have a distribution problem, and we have a nutrition problem, each of which require far different solutions than if we simply didn’t have enough food to go around.

The biggest problem for inner cities is lack of access to real grocery stores. Big city unions fight to keep Walmart, now America’s largest grocer, out of town. This leads to food deserts, where people without cars have to choose between fast food and convenience stores. If we can get people into the supermarket, food has never been cheaper.

Salt was once so valuable that the Romans used it to pay their legions, giving us the word salary. Raw ingredients like sugar, flour, rice, potatoes, onions, celery, carrots and bananas are cheap, and the start of a good pantry. Now, it’s too cheap to meter. Eggs, milk, chicken and beef are reasonably priced. Every supermarket offers fresh fruit, greens and seafood all year long. If you were to plot the cost of a calorie over the last hundred years, the line would be approaching zero.

Food is cheap. But meals are expensive. Prepared, packaged and preserved foods cost a lot because we’re not paying for the food. We’re buying time. It’s when we stop cooking that food prices soar. Naked DC writer Emily Zanotti took the SNAP Challenge, feeding two people on $63 a week, and managed to eat like a “full-blown foodie hipster.” Her first meal was “Chicken Milanese with frise salad and shredded parm, mushroom and herb risotto.”

The NH Food Bank offers the Cooking Matters course, a six-week program designed to teach low-income families how to shop for healthy, affordable food and turn it into nutritious meals. Now, I don’t want to turn us all into foodie hipsters. But basic cooking skills are as important to tackling hunger in America as federal spending on food stamps.

(Grant Bosse is Editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy, and a Senior Fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.)

Legacy Comments26

Exactly. And we all rant and rave against those that are. All the while forgetting that we ourselves are also.

Exactly. And we all rant and rave against those that are. All the while forgetting that we ourselves are also.

Off the charts blog??? LOL...off the charts...left??? Thanks for the laugh!!

You should feel free to dispute the accuracy of the facts presented at any time, rather than simply disparage the source.

......said the pot calling the kettle black

Funny...you must be forgetting all the corrections to errors of fact that your posts have received, nor all the gratuitous name-calling you've engaged in.

This is for sail as the reply doesn't seem to work correctly. Please show us where you received your information from. We would love to see it!

Oops the reply actually worked! My BAAAD

Great column Grant! Well written and well said. The issue IS that we have a distribution problem and that distribution often times, as we have read about throughout the years. It has turned from a culture of self responsibility to a culture of dependence and Obama and progressives have led the charge. With EBT's being cashed everywhere from Burger King to 7-11 convenience stores, it is no wonder why people are hungry. Prepared food costs much more and honestly without the control of how this money is spent, people will continue to depend on the government, on others. If every single check or EBT card was broken down into vouchers for instance "rent", "milk", "eggs", "whole grain bread", "orange juice", etc. people would be finding other places to get money for food. Now, progressives would say that would be limiting their "choices' yet they seem fine doing that with Obamacare. Curruption is the cornerstone of many of our social programs. I have a brother in law who has been on disability for over 20 years as he was diagnosed with vertigo and to this day he does not work, he collects a check and works under the table. The governmentr was reluctant to investigate this. That vertigo diagnosis? It took about 6 doctors until one went along and he got his disability at around 35 years old. Let's fix the corruption as well so that the food is distributed to the right people as well.

If your brother in law is working illegaly while collecting disability payments why not use some of that personal responsibility you speak so highly of and report him. You have a resposibility to report crime don't you. Or is this just a made up example.

Itsa - I'll agree with your post 98%. But let’s not stop there, let’s stop all the corporations like defense contractors from overcharging like selling hammers and toilet seats to the government for hundreds of dollars, hospitals that over charge and falsify claims for billions, doctors who have the revolving doors for prescriptions just to get the office visit paid, private business that over bill the city/state/federal government... Let’s hold each person responsible. "Corruption is the cornerstone of many of our social programs" it is not just the "social" programs, we have turned into a fundamentally corrupt society. How many of the business owners who post here can say they don't cheat on their taxes. A few examples: claim a personal item as a business expense, use company items for personal use outside the business, claim a spouse works for the business to shift money away from the business tax and the list goes on.

Jim I am glad that we agree. You are absolutely right that all corruption must end. I was a business owner once and I NEVER cheated on anything. It was simply not worth the hassle, as a business owner you are wide open to government at many levels, going after you. It is not worth it to play with fire, I never would. Never really made enough to worry about the BPT. But, I would say that I have heard many stories and people are basically corrupt when it comes to personal responsibility. At the end of the day many of us just want to put our heads on the pillow and know that we did the best we could to do the right things.

And you would be one of those people with their head on the pillow Itsa. When you know of someone who is committing fraud and possibly tax evasion it is your duty to society to let authorities know of these actions. By not doing so you are encouraging the action and contributing to the corruption of society.

Would you turn in a family member say what, knowing that by doing that you would most likely lose the relationship with your sister, and her kids, not to mention her husband might end up in jail for fraud. So he does not just pay, his whole family does. Just curious about who folks are willing to turn in.

You can't complain about people who cheat the system on one hand and then ignore the cheating in your own family. if you do then you are part of the problem. You have a choice to turn them in, or perhaps take the responsibility to help them out so they do not need to steal from the rest of the taxpayers. Or as most people would do. Do nothing and then complain about all those other people cheating the system claiming they need to be responsible. Beside an Anonymous tip can always be made.

My guess is that most of us know someone who cheats. The question is why are folks allowed to get on programs so easily, and the govt does not police those programs. In other words, you can cheat a system that is easy to cheat. Disability will be the next bubble to burst. Folks are signing up for it in droves. All you have to do is say your depressed. How can they prove you are not depressed or you do not have vertigo? Not easy. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. Poor character traits cannot be corrected for the most part. And if you try, and then report that person, guess what, they know it was you who did it. Most of us have someone we know or are related to that has bad character traits I am sure. But most folks do pause when they think about reporting them. Especially if their is kids involved.

Like I said above "we are fundamentally a corrupt society".

democrats are fighting the Responsible Republicans efforts to boost the Food Stamp program. Republicans have put food stamps as a stand alone program to free it from the democrat bureaucracies and cronyism found in the Agriculture dept. Needless to say the Responsible Republicans effort to improve a program is met with the democrats usual fact less demonizing rhetoric.

Show us the source you received that information from, I would love to see it!

what - your google thingy not work.

if you don't quote your source, then it is just an opinion. Virtually all the posters here, when giving "facts", produce the source of their information. So show us where you received the information from, or are you just making stuff up again as you have been shown to do in the past.

Republicans are making efforts to "boost the food stamp program"? That claim is a laugh, as is using the adjective "responsible" to describe the actions of Congressional Republicans in this matter. It may be alliterative, but it isn't accurate, no matter how often the poster repeats it. As for making the program a "stand-alone program", details can be found here. As with any claim from the Carper-in-Chief, the devil is in the details. "For several decades, legislation to reauthorize farm programs and SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) have moved together.  Now, the House Republican leadership has split the bills, passing a stand-alone farm bill now and planning to move a separate SNAP bill later.The reason is clear.  Even though the farm bill the House defeated a few weeks ago contained more than $20 billion in SNAP cuts (nearly all of them in food assistance benefits) as well as an unprecedented measure allowing states to cut families off SNAP if a parent wants to work but can’t find a job and letting state politicians take half of the resulting savings and use them for any purpose, that wasn’t enough for many of the most conservative House Republicans.  So the House leadership has dropped the SNAP provisions and plans to come back later with a still harsher SNAP bill designed to pass solely with Republican votes." http://www.offthechartsblog.org/house-should-vote-down-stand-alone-farm-bill/ More on the importance of the SNAP program to the poorest among us can be found here: http://www.offthechartsblog.org/new-research-shows-snap-facing-big-cuts-in-the-house-reduces-extreme-poverty/

Looks like Sail got caught with the " foot in the mouth syndrome" again!

This is a surprise. As for the concern shown by the ever so compassionate GOP, I can do is remember part of a quote from Bogey's movie Sahara - "Must I kiss the hand that beats me, lick the boot that kicks me, no!......." Just because a low information voter is poor doesn't mean that their stupid and can't see a slap for what it really is......

you do realize that the designation of "low information democrat voter" is a polite way of saying you are indeed not up to educational standards

This comment from one who proves that "low information voter" is, at the very least, bipartisan.

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