BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
By Stephanie Alvarado
One day more than seven years ago, just before I began studying to become a nutritionist, a former co-worker excitedly offered me some carrots from her local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In simple terms, a CSA enables people in urban areas to buy a "share" of produce grown by local farmers. I thought her enthusiasm was a little strange. "A carrot is a carrot," I told her. "Who cares if it's from a CSA?" Eager for me to try them she said, "No! It is so not the same, Stephanie." When I saw the bunch of carrots I said "Ew, what a mess. All that green stuff sticking out of it." In my experience, carrots were always cute, bright, orange baby carrots in a bag. When I learned that this is how carrots actually looked when picked from the ground I was surprised. That is not how you find carrots in our hometown of the Bronx.
I wondered where she'd bought her produce, since there surely weren't any farms in our neighborhood. I realized that if I wanted to study nutrition, I'd have a lot to learn. I didn't even know what real produce looked like, much less how it benefits the body. I needed a better connection with food, and thinking about that began to bring up some childhood memories.
Sunday dinners at my grandmother's house were memorable not only because the food was delicious, but also because it was a bonding experience--with both family and food. My grandmother prepared her meals attentively. She understood the ingredients she was using and instinctively knew how to cook them. She connected with food. My grandmother grew up in small mountain town in Puerto Rico, and she cooked with produce and herbs grown in her own backyard and locally in town. She brought this relationship with food to the United States in the 1940s and maintained the traditions because it was all she knew.
My relationship with food was the exact opposite. A product of my environment, food translated to value menus, drive-thrus or anything quick and cheap. There was a clear disconnect. Reminiscing about those Sunday dinners made me realize that I was missing out. So I slowly began to try different fruits, vegetables and herbs at farmers' markets, and I've become more comfortable using them. I've learned to bond with food--literally. Slowing down and taking the time to pick the best tomato or variety of basil is enlightening, and for me at least, also therapeutic.
Today, as a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City, I am grateful to now share this knowledge with my fellow New Yorkers who struggle with the same challenges, lack of knowledge and access to fresh produce as I once did. Our JSY workshop participants learn about the benefits of local produce and taste low-cost recipes using various vegetables. They also learn about farmers' market locations in their neighborhood, where they can find local produce. This past year we were also able to give folks Health Bucks, $2 vouchers provided by the NYC Department of Health that are redeemable for fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets. The most rewarding part for me has been the positive reaction when someone tries a new vegetable for the first time and says, "This is delicious; I'm going to try it for dinner tonight." Now that's inspiring!
The good news is that urban farms are sprouting up all over the Bronx. The next step on this journey for me is gardening. In a concrete jungle, picking your own produce is not really common. But as a foodie, growing my own fruits and veggies is the ultimate goal. And, of course, sharing the knowledge with my fellow New Yorkers.
Stephanie Alvarado is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetable Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
By Caitlin Fitzpatrick
Food Bank For New York City's signature nutrition education program, CookShop, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year! On Saturday, November 2, nearly 800 teachers, parent coordinators and school staff new to the program helped us celebrate the milestone at our CookShop Training Conference. Their enthusiasm for healthy eating was contagious, and it was great to see how eager they all were to learn about CookShop's nutrition education curriculum.
Margarette Purvis, Food Bank President and CEO, got things off to exciting start by introducing a video about CookShop that helped bring the program's mission to life. Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, kept the enthusiasm going with a warm welcome address that primed the crowd for the day's activities.
Through workshops, hands-on cooking demos, and one-on-one interaction with their peers, attendees gained the tools they'll need to bring the CookShop program to their schools, and help children and families learn about nutrition. These teachers are joining 1,000 other teachers in more than 1,800 other classrooms across all five boroughs who will give their students the knowledge and skills necessary to make healthy food choices.
We would like to thank all our CookShop teachers, leaders and coordinators--old and new alike--and wish everyone a fun and successful CookShop year!
Caitlin Fitzpatrick is Nutrition and Health Services Associate at Food Bank For New York City.
by Stephanie Alvarado
When I read in a New York Times article that the Bronx, my hometown, was rated as the unhealthiest county in New York State my heart sank. While the news was extremely unsettling for me, it intensified the fire in me to continue my journey of providing nutrition education to my fellow Bronxites.
Growing up in the Bronx with a single mom and two sisters, my family and I struggled financially. For the most part we relied on food stamps and WIC for food. Our meals consisted of mainly rice and beans or plantains; they were cheap and kept us full. My mother juggled two jobs, so she also relied on fast-food restaurants to keep us fed since they were inexpensive and convenient. As a teen, I struggled with weight issues and my neighborhood didn't help. It actually made things worse. I was bombarded with corner-store bodegas and fast-food places all serving unhealthy food. I asked my doctor what I could do to lose weight and he recommended a book that introduced me to nutrition. I began researching food and how it affects your health. I was eager to learn more and wanted to share all my newfound information with everyone I knew. The correlation between a lack of healthy food in low-income areas and a high incidence of diet-related diseases suddenly made sense and it troubled me. I'd found my calling and decided to study Community Health and Nutrition in college.
Nutrition education is imperative in communities like the Bronx that lack resources. People need to know that they have nutritional options; they don't have to succumb to the unhealthy food choices surrounding them. Working for Food Bank For New York City as a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) nutritionist is truly a privilege because I'm able to deliver this vital information in low-income areas where it is most needed. Addressing hunger and nutrition education go hand in hand. As a JSY nutritionist, I conduct nutrition workshops and healthy cooking demonstrations at Food Bank's network of food pantries and soup kitchens. Because I have been confronted with the same issues as the people I teach, I'm able to relate to the obstacles they may face in trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. That makes hearing a warm "Thank you" or "I learned something new today" at the end of a workshop all the more rewarding.
In retrospect, I wonder if I, my family and my Bronx neighbors would have made healthier food choices if we'd been educated on nutrition and had healthy options readily available? It's my belief that we should at least have the right to make an educated choice. The Bronx has a long road ahead in terms of becoming a healthy place to live; nevertheless, I have happily witnessed improvements! When I began studying Nutrition at Bronx Community College, I recall walking up Burnside Avenue daily and seeing kids coming in and out of the countless fast-food chain restaurants that line the street, as I once did as a child. Fast forward six years: on that same avenue now sits a NYC Green cart stand that offers low-cost produce and accepts SNAP benefits (food stamps). A few blocks away, a Farmer's Market now runs from July through November, providing local seasonal produce and cooking demonstrations--right on the same street where I have started a JSY nutrition education series at the Davidson Community Center Food Pantry. Someone is listening! I am honored to be a part of this food movement and will continue my responsibility of reviving the Bronx, one workshop at a time.
Stephanie Alvarado is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.
By Bonnie Averbuch
Photo Credit: Tim Reiter
One of the things I appreciate most about being a nutrition intern at Food Bank For New York City is knowing that I have a hand in improving the health of people in the Harlem community. For the past several weeks I've been developing nutrition education and providing nutrition workshops at Food Bank's new senior center, which opened at our Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem in November 2012. The more time I spend talking to the seniors, the clearer it becomes to me that this program is definitely adding some spice to their lives.
Each day starts off with a hot breakfast at 9am and finishes with supper at 2pm. But it's the hours in between that add oomph to seniors' daily routines. They get to enjoy a variety of fun, engaging activities and every day is different. When seniors walk in the door, they might find Zumba, yoga or aerobics on the schedule to help them stay physically active. Or it could be an arts-and-crafts session. Perhaps they'll learn how to eat healthier in the nutrition class I provide that day or go on an outing to a museum. There's plenty of unstructured time too, when seniors can relax and read the paper, play cards and dominos, or simply sit and chat.
From what I can tell, they enjoy all of it--from the planned activities to the free time. When I talked to Alan, a 66-year-old regular at the center who loves writing poetry, he said that the artistic activities were his favorite way to spend the day. "It helps broaden my creativity," he told me. "I'm blessed to be able to come to a place that's an outlet for senior citizens with creative minds to sing, dance, and make art." There's even an upcoming art show where clients can display their work. Another senior I met recently, Katherine, is so excited for her friends' "oohs and aahs" that she's leaving her artwork at home until the day of the show so that she can surprise everyone.
Although some of the seniors have ideas for additional activities--Betty would like a movie night--it's obvious that they appreciate having a special place to spend their days. Everyone I talked to said it again and again. "It gives retirees something to do," Edith told me. "And that's important," her friend Christine chimed in. But the center is more than just a place to go--it's a place where elderly members of the community can learn, have fun, meet new people and make new friends. "We enjoy socializing," Alan told me. "We get to know each other. We're on a first name basis." One of his new friends, Katherine, couldn't agree more: "I can't wait to get here every day," she told me with smile. I could have guessed that just by looking at her. The excitement and happiness on her face said it all.
Food Bank's Neighborhood Center for Adults 60+ is open Monday through Friday, 9am – 3pm.
Bonnie Averbuch is a Community Nutrition Intern at Food Bank Bank For New York City. She is currently pursuing her M.S. in Nutrition and Public Health at Columbia University.
by Triada Stampas
The "Fiscal Cliff" deal struck by Congress at the start of 2013 made a number of changes to the tax code – many of them beneficial for residents with low household income, especially low-income families. With Food Bank research finding 70 percent of low-income families in New York City struggling to afford food, this comes as positive news for the New Year. Regrettably, alongside these gains, Congress enacted immediate and dramatic funding cuts to nutrition education programming for these same families, including our own CookShop and Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables programs. Significantly, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), as it was called, extended several important provisions that were set to expire, including expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, a higher credit rate for the Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families pay for college. In addition, ATRA prevented an increase in taxes from kicking in for individuals earning less than $400,000 (and married couples filing jointly earning less than $450,000). Although some of these gains may be offset by the two-point increase in the payroll tax deduction, combined, these changes mean low-income tax filers will not see their tax rates increase or their available tax credits drop. In a surprise move, however, Congress decided to make an immediate 48 percent cut to this year's remaining funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) – a loss of more than $4.8 million for New York State's nutrition education programs that provide SNAP (food stamp)-eligible New Yorkers with the knowledge, resources and skills to make healthy food choices on a limited budget. While Food Bank will make every effort to minimize the impact of this loss on the more than 100,000 New Yorkers our nutrition education programs reach, a mid-year funding cut of this magnitude can't help but be felt. Worse yet, if Congress does not act, more cuts are on the horizon: WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) is scheduled for an eight percent cut on March 1, and SNAP benefits (food stamps) are threatened in the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. If these benefits are slashed, more New Yorkers struggling to keep food on the table will be forced to turn to our city's already overwhelmed food pantries and soup kitchens. Your advocacy can help. Please contact your Representatives today and tell them to restore SNAP-Ed funding in the next fiscal cliff deal, and protect WIC and SNAP from cuts!
Triada Stampas is Senior Director of Government Relations at Food Bank For New York City
By Justin Crum, Youth Development Manager
Perhaps you saw it on ABC 7 or News 12, or maybe you read about it in the Amsterdam News, AM New York or The New York Times. Word was out over the summer about the Food Bank’s Change One Thing food truck, which was on the streets of New York City for nearly 8 weeks during the summer.
The truck is part of our Change One Thing social marketing campaign, now in its third year. “Change One Thing” is a simple message for teens that emphasizes the ease of making healthy decisions. One small step each day is enough to make a difference. Each year, we’ve tried to cut through the barrage of unhealthy messages aimed at teens in New York, beginning with graffiti murals and radio-sponsored events. This summer, we decided to take another step, bringing an interactive message to teens where they hang out: pools, parks and summer events. The truck distributes small food items to taste, including low-calorie fruit pops, fresh fruit and water, as well as recipe books. It also houses a video game, designed specifically for this campaign. The game, a mix of nutrition-related trivia and quick food decisions, was a hit at all of our stops this summer, especially amongst those that won prizes for their skills!
I was always excited to visit the truck. We’re so used to seeing questionable representations of teens on the media, it’s nice to see real NYC teens gathered and engaged around something positive. The first day the truck was out in the city this year was in Brownsville, at the Betsy Head pool. As I showed up on the elevated 3 train, I was able to see a crowd gathering in front of the truck. Walking from the station to the park, I saw a steady stream of kids and teens walking away from the park with big smiles on their faces, and healthy snacks in hand. Our first day was an unmitigated success. Maybe you saw the truck at a community event, park or pool over the summer and were convinced to Change One Thing!
by Katy Mitchell-Gilroy
It seems normal that a large soda at a restaurant might be 44 ounces (for reference, a quart is 32 ounces!), a muffin might be as large as a grapefruit or pancakes might be as large as a dinner plate!
But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, looking at how much meals have increased in size over the years, I would say we’re in a full-blown era of “Portion Distortion”!
I’m not the only one who thinks this. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently launched a new subway ad campaign to bring attention to the impact this trend has had on our general health.
|Portions have grown - Cut your portions and reduce your risk of obesity.
Soda sizes (in the news recently due to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal of a 16-ounce maximum size for sugar-sweetened beverages at food service establishments) used to be much smaller. A large cola used to be 16 ounces and approximately 200 calories. If you’re extra thirsty and want to order a large cola today, be prepared for 32 ounces and a whopping 400 calories! And what is today’s “small” cola? Yesteryear’s large! 16 ounces and 200 calories Surely some of our readers are in the camp that try to avoid sugary drinks overall, but this is just one example of increased portion sizes, and it impacts much more than sugar sweetened beverages. Are you try to eat healthfully and having a Chicken Caesar salad for lunch? 20 year ago, a Chicken Caesar salad was approximately 1 ½ cups and provided 390 calories. That same Chicken Caesar Salad today is 3 cups but it has 790 calories.
Why does this matter? If someone isn’t aware of proper portion sizes (and many of us aren’t), they will consume more calories while underestimating the amount of food they’ve actually eaten. This is a perfect recipe for weight gain and other obesity related illness. With so many people overweight already, this increase in portion size is a real health concern – which is why teaching people how to recognize the right portion size is part of all of our nutrition education work.
In fact, recent Centers for Disease Control obesity statistics for New York City indicate that 58 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese (BMI 25+). In 2009, a data brief from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that child obesity rates in the five boroughs are higher than the national average - 22 percent are obese and 19 percent are overweight in contrast to 17 and 14 percent nationwide.
So just how good are you at spotting “Portion Distortion”? Check out this interactive quiz from the National Institutes of Health, and see how you score – then try to watch out for portion sizes in your daily life. We’d love to hear what you find – let us know in the comments!
Katy Mitchell-Gilroy, Nutrition Resource Manager with Food Bank for New York City, is a Registered Dietitian as well as a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and has experience working in the public health nutrition field. When she’s not working she enjoys singing, cooking, and spending time with her husband and daughter.
By Russell Gee
As you know if you have been reading this blog over the spring, the Food Bank’s EATWISE nutrition education interns completed a project to raise awareness for healthy breakfasts at our high schools this year – with in-class presentations, marketing materials, social media efforts and more. We wanted this project to make a real difference on our peers’ health and diets, but how would we define success and know that we were actually influencing our peers?
To me, if my peers could demonstrate that they learned something and thought the information was useful, then this would be a successful spring project. I realized the spring project made a difference when I talked to my friend Ryan. He was excited to try and make one of the healthful breakfast recipes we presented. My other friend, Kaitlin, even told me that she was eating breakfast more often and was careful to make healthier breakfast choices. To see my friends actually learn something and make changes to how they eat because of what we presented was very rewarding.
The presentation itself was also an interesting experience for me. It was different than just presenting a paper . Our EATWISE breakfast project included full-fledged presentations - with scripts, a slideshow, games and information used to educate others about breakfast. The experience itself was like viewing a kaleidoscope, as I was able to experience what it is like to be a teacher and having to expect that anything could occur.
For me, one of the most memorable parts of the presentation was when we informed a class that skipping breakfast could actually cause you to gain weight rather than lose weight. (That’s because …) Seeing the surprise and intrigue on their faces was priceless. Overall, being able to reach more than 900 of our peers, through in-class presentations, school announcements, marketing materials and social media content – all of which we created ourselves - gives me and my fellow interns a great sense of accomplishment. Our project showed how one can change their perspective so slightly and get something worthwhile in exchange.
By Russell Gee, Kamilah Newton, Elif Ajredini and Aditi Rai
As our friends in the deliverables group wrote a couple weeks ago, the Food Bank’s EATWISE nutrition education interns are running on a project to educate our peers on the importance of eating a balanced breakfast. Changing just one thing in your diet can make a big difference and is super simple. We’ve done it and they can do it too – and when our project reminds our peers that eating breakfast can have a real impact on their energy, productivity and overall focus, we’ll be working hard to make sure they listen up!
As the marketing group, we want to capture our peers’ attention and connect breakfast to situations that teens actually experience, like studying for a test. We’ve produced our own flyers, with fun fonts and great images, and even a marketing script for our peers to use when conducting classroom announcements to promote our Twitter and Tumblr pages. At the very end of our presentations our peers will make a pledge to Change One Thing in their diet, and we will create a pledge wall with all of their responses. This will definitely be exciting and we can’t wait until we can share it with all of you!
We want our peers to have fun learning! If they ask a lot of questions, then we’ll know they’re engaged, fully captivated and want to learn more! We want to convince them to Change One Thing and let them know that it’s not hard to make minor changes to their eating habits. No change is too small!
Personally, I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, and the power of consideration. Our group has open discussions and we all share our opinions. We’re not always on the same page, but we make compromises and our work looks great because we’re working together. It feels good knowing that everyone has contributed to the project and we are producing something that makes us proud!
By Rachael Cusick, Serena Rivera, Celin Conception and Nafisatou Cisse
Do you ever wonder what people really know or think about nutrition? So do we! As part of the Food Bank’s EATWISE internship , we kicked off this school year by designing a survey to find out exactly what our peers know, or want to know, about nutrition. After reviewing student feedback from the 9 EATWISE high schools our team members attend , we noticed that a high number of teens don’t know enough about what types of food to eat in the morning. Based on that information, it was clear to everyone in EATWISE that our Spring 2012 school outreach project should be to raise awareness about the benefits of eating a healthful breakfast, with a focus on the importance of portion sizes.
To conquer our goal, we divided into four groups: Social Media, Presentation, Marketing and – our group – Deliverables. Our group’s role is to put together nutrition materials that students at our high schools can take home with them. So far, we have developed a Breakfast in Your Pocket recipe book and a guide to fruit food map to provide our peers with an easy way to access healthful, quick, and super tasty recipes. Just a few of the exciting things the other groups are working on are writing and delivering morning announcements in our schools, building social networking pages and designing fun, interactive classroom activities like MyPlate relay races.. By the end of March, we will have put the final touches on our project and will get the chance to present it in our schools throughout New York City.
We're really excited to show off all of our hard work and promote our healthful breakfast campaign to other teens – and even teachers. To keep up with our progress, watch out for the blog entries we will be posting every other week!