Protein is great. Our bodies are largely made of protein, and if you lift weights, I bet you already know that eating enough protein is important for building muscle. But what if you just want to be healthy in general? What if you don’t even care that much about being healthy, but want to avoid overeating? Protein is important for you too.
A new study has put the spotlight on a lack of protein as a potential driver of overeating. Its findings give more support to an existing concept called the “protein leverage hypothesis.” This is the idea that we will eat until we get enough protein, and so if our diet is made of low-protein foods, we may end up eating a lot of food, and thus a lot of calories, just to get our fill of protein. Sometimes people call this “protein hunger.”
Our bodies don’t just need protein to build new muscle tissue. We also need protein to heal and repair damage. Our bodies continually break tissues down and rebuild them, and we need protein for that task as well. Protein is also the building material for enzymes, which do everything from digesting food to detoxifying chemicals in our livers to helping our blood clot. Many hormones are made of protein; the receptors that receive hormonal messages are made of protein as well.
So we need a steady influx of protein just to keep our body functioning. And if we exercise—which is important for a healthy body—we need protein to support that as well. Without enough protein, we can actually lose muscle mass over time. Loss of muscle is one of the perils of aging, but we can reverse it with strength training and, yes, sufficient protein.
And if the protein leverage hypothesis is correct, we also need protein to keep us from overeating.
Put all that together, and it’s worth making sure to get enough protein in your diet. At an absolute minimum, we need 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (so, 72 grams for a 200-pound person). We’ve run the numbers for various body sizes and activity levels here.
If you’ve heard the average American eats “too much” protein, stay with me a minute. It’s true that, on average, we eat more than the minimum requirement of 0.36 grams per pound. But the minimum requirement is low; it’s meant to be the amount that will keep you from being protein-deficient. Athletes will eat more, up to a full 1 gram per pound of body weight. Most of us should be somewhere between those numbers, especially if we’re active. And protein isn’t something where “too much” is harmful, so it’s good to err on the side of getting more than the recommendation rather than less.
So what happens when we decide we want to eat healthy? Chances are, if you’re on a diet, some of the things you’ll cut out are good sources of protein: burgers, cheese, fatty red meat, processed meats like hot dogs and deli meat.
Maybe you’ll swap the burgers for chicken breast, which should be fine from a protein standpoint—but then you’re also eating smaller portions. A Big Mac has 26 grams of protein in those two little patties; this chicken-based American Heart Association certified Lean Cuisine meal only has 14 grams. If you’re going for plant-based meals instead, those tend to be even lower in protein. A salad with dressing usually has no protein unless you’re adding something like chicken, cheese, or nuts—and there usually isn’t much protein in a sprinkling of cheese or nuts.
The amount of protein you need when you’re eating in a calorie deficit is actually the same, or arguably more, than when you’re not trying to lose weight. It’s fine if you don’t want to eat a Big Mac, but a proper low-calorie replacement for that meal would be something that still gives you 26 grams of protein, but with fewer calories from fats and carbs.
To help you navigate this issue, let’s talk about which foods are high in protein, and which look like they should be, but aren’t.
Foods that are high in protein without being high in calories include:
Foods that may not be as high in protein as you think they are:
These are all still good foods to eat, but don’t mistake a two-egg omelet for a meal that gets you ahead of your protein requirement for the day. The 12 grams of protein in that omelet are far less than the 27 grams in a smallish chicken breast.
Especially if you’re trying to eat healthy, it’s worth looking up the nutrition information for a typical day’s meals and seeing how your protein intake adds up. And if you need ideas, we have a collection of cheap, easy, high-protein meals here.
The Biden administration has unveiled their national strategy on hunger, nutrition and health that includes proposals to move nutrition labels to the front of food packaging, expanded access to free school meals and food security research. NBC's Monica Alba reports.
Shocking new video captures for the first time officials from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) force-feeding a migrant in the midst of a hunger strike, a highly controversial practice condemned by medical and human rights groups as unethical and torturous.
ICE has used the practice since at least 2012, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, but the clip, obtained by The Intercept, shows the procedure in graphic detail for the first time to the public.
In the video, two nurses try three times before successfully inserting a feeding tube through the nose of Ajay Kumar, who left India in 2018 seeking political asylum.
Elsewhere in the footage, a guard offered Mr Kumar a final chance to drink a protein supplement, to which he replied, “You guys know the only thing I want: my freedom,” after which point armoured officers restrain the political activist, as he arches his back in pain and blood comes through his mouth and nose.
The migrant left India in June of 2018 and presented himself at the California border seeking asylum.
Though immigration detention is technically non-criminal, and some migrants are released into the US as their asylum cases proceed, Mr Kumar was held for about a year in ICE detention in California, where he says he was mistreated and retaliated against when he requested food that hadn’t been cross-contaminated with beef, which would’ve gone against his Hindu faith.
By July 2019, he and three other asylum-seekers went on a hunger strike that lasted over a month. Mr Kumar lost over 20 pounds.
As his condition deteriorated, he was moved to an ICE facility in El Paso where the force-feeding began, according to court records, a process that continued over the course of three weeks between August and September of 2019.
Eventually, both officials and outside observers began to criticise Mr Kumar’s treatment.
“It is the duty of the government to provide adequate medical care, not just to keep [Kumar] alive,” federal judge Frank Montalvo wrote of Mr Kumar’s care.
“Every professional society that has ever spoken on this issue has stated, clearly, that force-feeding is unethical,” Dr Parveen Parmar, a professor at the University of Southern California who reviewed Kumar’s medical records at the request of his attorneys, told Texas Monthly at the time.
“Second, my review of all of Mr Kumar’s care in ICE custody showed a consistent lack of adherence to a basic standard of care which was so shocking, it has haunted me since.”
ICE agreed to release Mr Kumar in September of 2019, following the 76-day hunger strike.
In 2018, there were at least 25 hunger strikes in ICE detention, six of which resulted in force-feeding, according to The Intercept. The following year, there were 40 strikes.
According to detention guidelines, ICE is required to videotape instances of “calculated use of force,” but the agency declined to turn over such tapes to The Intercept’s Freedom of Information Act request. The agency only relented once the outlet initiated a lawsuit, releasing a redacted video.
The Independent has contacted ICE for comment.
Force-feeding is considered an unethical response to a hunger strike.
“As ethical guidelines for medical professionals have long recognized, participation in a hunger strike is not a medical condition, but rather, a political decision by the hunger striker, and people contemplating or undertaking a hunger strike are entitled to a relationship of trust with the health professionals providing their care,” Physicians for Human Rights writes.
The United Nations has said that the US’s use of force-feeding in such situations could amount to a violation of the Convention Against Torture.
Force-feeding is used in ICE detention, federal prisons, state jails, as well as the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.
Alice Carter knows hunger hurts. An unemployed grandmother in Cheyenne, Wyo., she stepped in to raise her two grandchildren on her own without help. She told me recently about a time when she only had oranges someone had given her to feed them. Not just for one meal. But for several meals, and for days on end.&nbsp;
Carter is one of more than 25 million people in the United States who last month&nbsp;reported&nbsp;experiencing food insecurity — meaning they either sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.
Her story is far too common, and an example of a deeply troubling trend in our nation’s losing battle against hunger. More than 2.5 million children in the United States are being raised in “grandfamilies,” or households where the primary caregivers are not parents. Almost by default, these families — often led by grandparents, but also by aunts and uncles, cousins or even close family friends — need special care and additional support. But a disproportionate number of them are going hungry. With more than 250,000 children in the United States losing a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, the number of grandfamilies in our country will continue to increase. We must commit to ensuring that hunger does not grow with them.
My organization,&nbsp;Generations United, released our annual&nbsp;State of Grandfamilies report&nbsp;this month. This year’s report is focused exclusively on how and why hunger and grandfamilies are becoming so intertwined. Unfortunately, we had good reason for such focus.&nbsp;One-quarter&nbsp;of grandparent-headed households experienced food insecurity in 2019-2020, more than twice the&nbsp;national rate. Rates of food insecurity among older (age 60+) grandparent-headed households with grandchildren and no parents are&nbsp;three times higher&nbsp;than similar households with no children.&nbsp;
Let me be clear: Grandfamilies are the best option for children who can’t be raised by their parents. Research shows that, compared to children in foster care with non-relatives, children raised by relatives have better mental and behavioral health outcomes, greater stability and deeper roots. They feel loved.
Why, then, do so many grandfamilies not have enough to eat? Our report found that often it’s because the caregivers stepped into this role unexpectedly and did not plan for the cost of raising a child on top of their own medication or rent. Additionally, more than half of grandfamilies are in southern states, where rates of food insecurity are&nbsp;highest, and a large number reside in&nbsp;rural areas&nbsp;where food sources and transportation options can be scarce. Grandfamilies are also&nbsp;disproportionately people of color&nbsp;who suffer adverse health outcomes, including food insecurity, from systemic racism and discrimination.&nbsp;
In September, the Biden administration released the first-ever&nbsp;national strategy&nbsp;to address hunger, with a goal of completely eliminating it within a decade. We endorse a number of recommendations in that report — from expanding free school meals to reinstituting the more generous Child Tax Credit — that would help all families avoid the pitfalls of hunger. We were particularly pleased to see report recommendations tailored specifically to grandfamilies and children in “kinship care,” such as improving outreach to grandparents raising grandchildren to maximize enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits —&nbsp;less than half of grandparent-headed households that are eligible participate in SNAP (link)&nbsp;— and increasing funding for nutrition programs under the&nbsp;Older Americans Act.&nbsp;
Given the urgent and unique challenges grandfamilies face, we need to make changes now. Expanding “kinship navigator” programs would connect more grandfamilies to food and nutrition supports, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), that they might not know about or have trouble accessing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and state health agencies should prioritize making more grandfamilies eligible for these supports by creating a child-only SNAP benefit based on the needs of the child and not household income, and by ensuring automatic access to free school meals. Making sure outreach programs’ materials meet diversity, equity and inclusion standards would maximize their effect for those most in need.
As families across America prepare to enjoy their Thanksgiving bounties, it is incumbent upon all of us to remember the children whose grandparents can only afford to feed them oranges off someone else’s plate, if at all. A grandparent or other close relative who steps up to raise a child when a parent is unable to do so represents the best of humanity. We owe them our best in return, and it starts with ensuring that every grandfamily can put enough food on the table to help children grow and thrive.
Donna Butts is the executive director of Generations United. Twitter: @GensUnited.
The historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health was an invigorating experience full of innovative ideas and ambitious goals to end hunger in America by 2030. The White House unveiled a strategy and an impressive $8 billion in public-private commitments to help millions of people with food insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases.
Much hard work remains to translate these ideas and proposals into actions that Excellerate the health of individuals and families. But health professionals, primary care physicians in particular, may be wondering what this coordinated focus on nutrition will mean for their practices and how they can ensure that their patients experience the greatest benefits.
One recurring conference theme was the need to more effectively screen for food insecurity in medical encounters. Important food assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and even school lunch programs were initially focused primarily on eliminating sheer calorie deficit. While some of these programs have implemented nutrition standards, there remains room for improvement to the nutritional content of the food that these programs provide to better supply the nourishment humans need to help prevent and treat chronic disease. In other words, as a practicing provider, begin to discern differences between food insecurity and nutritional insecurity. Your patient may be experiencing one, neither, or both of these conditions.
As a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, I see this White House conference as an extremely promising sign that much-needed policy and regulatory changes are coming that will expand access to nutritional counseling and food as medicine. Some federal legislation has already been proposed that represents a first step. The Medical Nutrition Equity Act and the Medical Nutrition Therapy Act, for example, would significantly expand coverage of medical nutrition therapy services.
Expanded access to medically tailored meals or food packages and produce prescriptions, particularly in communities with high rates of diet-related disease, was also a course of conference discussion.
Changes won't happen overnight, but there are several ways that physicians can prepare to thrive in a health system that encourages and rewards the restoration of health through nutrition and food as medicine.
Writing a prescription for a medically tailored meal without understanding the science behind it is no better than a cardiologist prescribing a medication without understanding the drug's properties or benefits. Food as medicine is best prescribed by a clinician knowledgeable about nutrition and chronic disease. But few physicians receive sufficient nutrition education in medical school. We now face an opportunity for physicians to marry food-as-medicine prescriptions with fundamental knowledge of the "what and why" of those prescriptions.
In partnership with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) made a $22 million in-kind commitment to provide 5.5 hours of complimentary CME coursework to 100,000 physicians and other medical professionals treating patients in areas with a high prevalence of diet-related disease. It's easy to take advantage of this opportunity by registering here for the Lifestyle Medicine and Food as Medicine Essentials education bundle.
Become familiar with nonprofit or private organizations that may already be helping to meet hunger and nutrition needs in your community. The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative has an interactive map of teaching kitchens and medically tailored meal and produce prescription programs. The American Academy of Family Physicians has a good Neighborhood Navigator tool to identify resources by zip code.
Startup companies that deliver medically tailored meals to patients' homes are growing in number and attracting investor attention. By identifying and connecting with these organizations, physicians can form partnerships that synergize healthcare and nutritious food sources in the community. Saint Luke's Health System's REACHN (Resilience, Education, Activity, Community, Health, Nutrition) Program is an example of a dynamic community partnership. As you prescribe lifestyle modification and connect your patients to relevant resources, emphasize to them that a lifestyle medicine prescription delivers only positive side effects, focused on eradicating the root cause of disease with the goal of health restoration.
As more diagnoses become eligible for nutritional counseling, physicians will have increasing opportunities to collaborate with registered dietitians to whom you refer patients. It is vital that perspectives on nutrition interventions are aligned between the referring physician and the receiving dietitian. Know the style and methods of dietitians in your region so that recommendations are united and can be reinforced by members of the care team.
To promote effective collaboration, physicians and dietitians may want to participate in nutrition-related CE/CME activities together, share relevant journal articles, and review patient resources and group class topics. A good first step is for physicians to encourage dietitians to register for the free ACLM Lifestyle Medicine and Food as Medicine Essentials education bundle.
If you are passionate about nutrition, work within your health system to influence change. Highlight the national priorities around food as medicine as represented at the White House conference. Encourage the replication of successful, scalable nutrition and food-as-medicine delivery models, and educate fellow clinicians on the resources that already are available. Promote partnerships with organizations in the business of providing and delivering medically tailored meals, and organize activities that raise awareness in the community. Join the growing Health Systems Council, a collaborative learning community of almost 80 health systems that are integrating lifestyle medicine, and be on the lookout for opportunities to support advocacy efforts related to nutrition policy.
Clinicians who lead the integration of nutrition programming now will demonstrate their value as the US health system evolves into one that finally, at long last, recognizes the outsized role of poor nutrition in chronic disease.
More people in Minnesota are struggling to put food on the table.
Food shelves across the state are seeing more people than last year and compared to the months before the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools also are reporting more students running up school lunch debt.
Many families are having trouble making ends meet, some for the first time and even when adults are working. Inflation has pushed up the cost of groceries by 12 percent compared to a year ago. And, the extra money flowing to households from financial support programs that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic has now dried up, including the child tax credit, universal free school meals and expanded SNAP benefits.
Allison O’Toole, is the CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank that distributes food to about 400 food shelves in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Deisy De Leon Esqueda, is the manager of the ECHO Food Shelf in Mankato. Rob Williams is the founder and president of Every Meal, a nonprofit organization based in Roseville which works in schools to distribute food directly to students.
MPR News host Angela Davis led a conversation about rising food insecurity in Minnesota and possible solutions. Here are some highlights:
Allison O’Toole: Yes. Times are tougher than ever before right now. We know that grocery bills and everyday expenses are off the charts making them really hard, if not impossible, for families to afford. We're hearing about a 40 percent increase in food shelf visits across our state.
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Deisy De Leon Esqueda: Yes. We are seeing people that are coming in for the first time. Our numbers have actually increased from 2019 to now from 85 average households per day to 110, 120. Some families are coming in for the first time and then some have not been to the food shelf in years and are now finding themselves in this predicament and coming back.
Deisy De Leon Esqueda: Minnesota is becoming more diverse. Before we used to give food out and I would say, “Oh, you can make a hot dish out of this.” Well, not everybody likes hot dishes and that's not always their comfort food. We're trying to do the best that we can to be able to meet their needs by giving them food that they're actually going to consume. That way people feel excited and accepted.
Allison O’Toole: What also happened through the pandemic is the disparities and who is hungry has been revealed again. We call that the racial hunger divide, where communities of color experience at least twice the rates of food insecurity than their white neighbors. So we are investing millions of dollars in making sure people and communities have the food they know and love and will eat.
Allison O’Toole: We had the privilege of hosting the Governor and Lieutenant Governor on Monday this week at Second Harvest Heartland. So, we talked a lot about this, and the state has a more than $10 billion surplus sitting there. We need to put that to good use for Minnesota families: bolstering the funding for food shelves and food banks, making big bold changes, and investing in things like Universal School meals. Hungry kids cannot learn.
Deysi De Leon Esqueda: During the pandemic, we saw our numbers decrease by almost half and that was due to these programs being established and money going out as just checks. We saw those programs work and now about 39 percent of all our visits made to the Food Shelf are children under the age of 17.
Rob Williams: We have seen a huge increase, about a 34 to 35 percent increase in kids in our schools asking for food support. Thanksgiving, winter break and spring break are also significant food gaps, and we've actually had to eliminate our winter break program which typically involves about 120 different locations throughout the state where kids can go and access food, just due to the high demand in our weekend program.
The first phone call was from a disabled veteran that struggled with food insecurity six years ago when he and his family were living in Oklahoma. “There were weeks when we'd have only 20 dollars for food. We basically would be living off of oatmeal, cabbage and potatoes because those are the cheapest things you could buy, and I was too proud to ever go into a food,” he said.
After his family started to receive boxes of food from a food shelter, he educated himself, found a work opportunity in Minnesota, and moved to the state with his entire family. In Minnesota, he found out about the benefits he was entitled to being a disabled veteran. “I think that the state can keep reaching out to people because some are too proud to go into the food shelf. And there's a lot of people entitled to benefits that don't know it,” he said.
The second phone call was from a divorced mom that wanted to share how it was to be hungry. She used to work at a grocery store, but her paychecks were not enough to afford meals for herself and her kids. Within a year of demanding physical work, she ended up weighing 112 pounds. “I would have loved to sit down to dinner with my kids and I couldn't because the smallest food alone was enough,” she said.
Jessica also mentioned that she didn’t have time to go to food shelters or welfare. “I just needed a paycheck that covered my bills,” she said.
The final phone call was from a woman who recently moved from another state and highlighted the kindness of Minnesotans and how well caseworkers at SNAP and other benefits work compared to other states. “I was surprised by how much I qualified for here because I have been told in other states I did not,” she said.
Lane explained how her now adult kids couldn’t afford their own housing, or college and needed to stay home taking care of their younger siblings. “Not having the money for food or housing makes every bad situation imaginable work,” she said.
If you need a food shelf or want to donate, search for organizations in your region of Minnesota at Hunger Solutions. You can also donate directly to Second Harvest Heartland, ECHO Food Shelf and Every Meal.
Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
While schools have helped collect 40,000 pounds of food, there are still many people in need.
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis high schools have stepped up all season to help those in need.
Meeting on the football field, these teams also took on a challenge to collect the most nonperishable food for Operation Food Search.
These are some schools that stand out this season:
All schools involved have collected more than 40,000 pounds of food for people in need this year.
Tackle Hunger is sponsored by Neighbors Credit Union.
So far this season, Tackle Hunger and Neighbors Credit Union locations have collected 40,629 pounds of donated food. The total donations are valued at $72,088.75. This will provide quality nutrition to 11,145 people for one day.
President Joe Biden’s strategy for ending hunger in the U.S. by 2030 is being funded in part by companies whose own workers sometimes can’t afford to buy food.
The Biden administration’s national plan to eliminate hunger and reduce diet-related diseases includes $8 billion in “new commitments” from more than 30 businesses, nonprofits and philanthropies. The commitments include companies pledging to donate meals and cash to food banks and community groups, or promising to make the food they sell to Americans healthier, among other actions.
Some observers have questioned why the list of companies participating in the anti-hunger strategy includes some whose business practices, in their view, contribute to America’s hunger problem. Namely, three gig-economy companies — DoorDash, which delivers mainly restaurant meals; Shipt, an app for arranging home delivery of groceries and other items; and Instacart, another grocery-delivery service — are among those pledging assistance in the administration’s war on hunger.
“It is profoundly unsettling that companies like DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt, which refuse to pay their workers a minimum wage floor and overtime, [and] refuse to provide health insurance and workers’ compensation, get cover under an initiative like this,” said Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, a fellow at Stanford University and an advocate for gig workers. “They get to pretend they care about hunger and poverty when, in fact, their firm practices exacerbate hunger and poverty.”
Gig-economy companies say they provide flexibility and independence to workers, who can set their own schedules and work as little or as much as they want. But drivers for delivery apps like DoorDash Instacart and Target-owned Shipt are not classified as employees; they’re independent contractors. That means they don’t receive the protections and benefits that employees are legally required to have, like a guaranteed minimum wage, paid time off and unemployment insurance.‘It’s not right that I can’t afford the food I deliver’
There is evidence that gig workers are more likely than other service-sector workers to experience hunger firsthand. In spring 2020, nearly one in five (19%) gig workers went hungry, compared to 14% of other service-sector workers, according to a national study by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Twice the rate of gig workers (30%) as W-2 employees in the service sector (15%) relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the public benefit once known as food stamps — within a month of the survey, according to the study. (W-2 refers to the tax form employees use to report their income.)
Steady, an app that helps mostly low-income gig workers, self-employed individuals and part-time workers navigate work opportunities, compare pay rates and more, conducted a public-benefits survey among its users in early October. The survey, which had more than 3,500 respondents from across the country, found that about 42% of workers with at least one month of gig income receive SNAP benefits — slightly higher than the 40% of those who have only W-2, or employee, income.
Cardell Calloway, a 68-year-old DoorDash delivery worker from Lancaster, Calif., who said he has been living in his car for about a month after his RV was towed away, relies on SNAP benefits. When his church was offering food, he would also go there, he said.
Calloway does deliveries eight to 12 hours a day at least five days a week and makes about $500 a week, he said.
“It’s not right that I can’t afford the food I deliver,” Calloway said. Asked what he thinks about DoorDash partnering with the White House on the hunger initiative, he said, “I have to be skeptical about anything DoorDash comes up with.”
Dubal said her research showed that during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, gig workers had “no financial safety net” and were going to food banks. That jibes with a study by the UCLA Labor Center and the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which found in the summer of 2020 that one-third of California gig workers they surveyed did not have enough money to buy groceries, and that 39% came close to not having enough money for food.
Overall in the U.S., nearly 4% of households experienced “very low food security” in 2021, meaning they routinely skipped meals or cut their food intake because they could not afford more food, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report found. About one in 10 households experienced “food insecurity” that year, meaning they “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources.”Estimates of gig workers’ earnings vary widely
Estimates of how much income gig workers take home can range quite a bit. Spokespeople for DoorDash, Shipt and Instacart said their delivery workers make an average hourly wage of about $25 to $35.
But some studies suggest much lower wages because they take into account all the costs borne by gig workers. Drivers and delivery workers must use their own vehicles, pay for their own gas, in most cases buy their own healthcare coverage and more. A study from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center and a exact one backed by gig workers suggest hourly wages — which are based on the time when a worker is actively engaged on the app and do not include total working time — could be as low as under $10.
Gig companies have repeatedly pointed to their own studies and other research backed by gig companies that show much higher wages for gig workers, whom they say choose the work because of the flexibility it provides. Spokespeople for DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt did not respond directly to questions about studies suggesting gig workers are more likely to experience food insecurity than W-2 service-sector workers.
A DoorDash spokesperson said the company has launched financial literacy and financial coaching programs to help Dashers “save, invest and grow their supplemental earnings.” An Instacart spokesperson said the company is transparent with workers about how much they’ll earn from a given assignment, so workers can decide whether it’s worth taking.‘The top problem is low wages’
Livable wages, not donations to food banks, should be first on the list of remedies to solve hunger in the U.S., said Joel Berg, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Hunger Free America.
The public has a skewed vision of charity’s role in addressing food insecurity, he says, because “much of the way the media covers this is backwards, implying that the top problem is not enough charity and the top solution is more charity. The top problem is low wages and high cost of living, and then the second issue is the safety net,” Berg said.
“The countries of the planet that have far less hunger than the United States don’t have it because they have more charity; they have it because their economy functions better, they have higher wages and they have a more robust safety net, which in most places is basically cash,” Berg added.
Charities like food banks can and should fill in the gaps, Berg said, but in his view, expanding the number of people signed up for SNAP; WIC, a program that provides food benefits and nutrition education for low-income mothers and young children; and other benefits is the most effective solution to hunger. It’s a view he acknowledges is self-interested, because Hunger Free America exists in part to sign people up for these programs. (He also noted that Hunger Free America has received funding from two of the companies involved in the Biden administration effort, Albertsons and Chobani.)
It can seem to the public that food banks are on the front lines of solving hunger, Berg said, a view that was heightened early in the pandemic when thousands of cars lined up at food banks across the U.S. But in reality, the dollar amount of food distributed through public benefits like SNAP, WIC and other federal programs is at least 17 times the dollar amount of food distributed by every food charity in America, according to Berg’s calculations.
That’s because SNAP reaches millions of people — 38 million nationwide in 2019 — who use it regularly to buy their food, while food banks and soup kitchens serve people more episodically, often providing just one meal or a few days’ worth of food at a time, Berg said. Officials with food banks have made similar points.
“The only thing that’s a bigger impact than the safety net is wages and employment,” Berg said. “We see that the biggest correlation to hunger and food insecurity in America isn’t even the safety net, and it’s certainly not charity — it’s the state of the American economy.”
When Hunger Free America submitted recommendations to the Biden administration ahead of September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, the first one on the list was “creating living wage jobs.” But Berg doesn’t see an issue with the Biden administration accepting donations from companies whose wages fall below that standard.
“It’s entirely appropriate for the Biden administration to welcome commitments from any company that wants to do the right thing, at the same time as holding them accountable,” Berg said. “I don’t see it as a conflict whatsoever.”
He praised the Biden administration’s hunger strategy for striking a good balance, because the $8 billion in commitments from companies and other entities is just one part of a much broader strategy. “The way they framed this, as additive rather than a replacement, I think was just right,” he said.Walmart’s hunger-fighting milestone
There are other examples, apart from the Biden administration’s effort, of companies playing a significant role in hunger relief while also being criticized for low wages. The most prominent is probably Walmart which recently celebrated the milestone of donating 7 billion pounds of food to Feeding America’s food-bank network.
“To put that in perspective, the population of the U.S. is over 331 million people,” Walmart said on its website. “That means we donated enough food for every person in America to eat three meals a day for five days.” Walmart has also donated more than $145 million in grants to Feeding America since 2005, the nonprofit says.
At the same time, Walmart has long been criticized for not paying its associates higher wages. Average hourly pay as of March 2022 was $16.40 an hour, with some roles reaching $30 an hour in some areas, the company has said. Walmart was one of the top employers of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries in 11 states, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report from 2020 found. That report also found that in two states, Washington and Nebraska, DoorDash was among the top employers of SNAP recipients.
Walmart did not respond to a request for comment. The company isn’t on the list of those providing the $8 billion in new commitments for Biden’s hunger strategy, but it has pledged to address the White House hunger and nutrition goals.A ‘revolutionary’ step food-delivery apps could take
One “revolutionary” step that delivery apps like DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt could take would be to let their customers pay with SNAP, Berg says, and then deliver food to seniors with mobility issues or to neighborhoods that don’t have healthy food.
Some of the delivery apps appear to be moving in that direction with their commitments to the Biden administration. Shipt says it will work with retailers to expand the use of SNAP and other public benefits on its platform, among other actions. Shipt customers can already use SNAP and EBT (the Electronic Benefits Transfer card that stores government assistance money) to pay for same-day delivery orders through Meijer, the Midwestern chain grocer. Shipt is piloting SNAP/EBT payments “with another large retail partner right now,” a spokesperson said.
“Shipt’s new initiatives to reduce food insecurity and expand access to healthy foods are an integral part of our ongoing commitment to put people first and make a meaningful impact in parts of our country that have been historically underserved,” Shipt spokesperson Evangeline George said.
Instacart currently enables 70 retailers across more than 8,000 stores to accept EBT SNAP payments online via Instacart, a spokesperson said. As part of the Biden anti-hunger strategy, it will work with the USDA to incorporate SNAP and the government-assistance program Temporary Aid to Needy Families into its online platform “with a goal of expanding these benefits to all grocery partners by 2030.” It’s also launching new technology called Fresh Funds that will allow companies and other entities to provide stipends to employees or other individuals to buy “fresh, nutritious foods” on Instacart, among other actions.
DoorDash does not accept SNAP; the program doesn’t typically pay for restaurant food, though some states are starting to allow SNAP benefits to cover restaurant meals. DoorDash did not respond to an inquiry about whether it plans to accept SNAP or other public benefits, but the company said in a white paper on reducing food insecurity that it supports increasing SNAP benefits and expanding eligibility.
DoorDash’s role in the Biden plan will involve directly delivering food to hungry people. The company is donating $1 million in “Community Credits” to pay for charitable food deliveries in 18 cities with which it is “partnering.” DoorDash will also give hunger-relief groups in those cities access to Project Dash, a way for nonprofit and government groups to arrange food deliveries to people in need using the same DoorDash technology that restaurants use. The company did not respond to a question about how long its partnerships with the cities will last.The role of companies in addressing hunger
The $8 billion in “new commitments” is just one piece of Biden’s overall hunger strategy, unveiled at September’s White House conference on hunger. The plan also includes expanding access to SNAP; increasing children’s access to free meals at school; and changing food labels so it’s easier for shoppers to pick out healthy food. “It calls for a whole-of-government and whole-of-America approach to addressing the challenges we face,” the White House said of the national strategy.
The companies’ pledges raise questions about what role food-industry businesses should play in solving hunger in the U.S. Some experts welcome companies’ involvement in the national effort; others say the pledges miss the mark because they don’t address systemic issues that lead to hunger and diet-related illness.
“The White House conference really made a strong effort to include industry and partner with industry, and while that’s laudable, I don’t think it’s going to be particularly effective,” said Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America. Many of the pledges seem to be one-time donations to the charitable food system, he said, and fail to address underlying factors that contribute to food insecurity and poor diet quality.
To be sure, some of the corporate pledges do involve attempts to Excellerate Americans’ diets. The National Restaurant Association, for example, says it will expand a program under which restaurants voluntarily make their children’s menus healthier.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Other hunger experts say corporations must be at the table when solutions to hunger are crafted.
“If we are going to solve this massive problem in our entire food ecosystem, we are going to need all sectors to come to the table — including industry,” said Hilary Seligman, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco who served on a task force that advised the White House hunger conference. “But we have to be realistic in understanding that the incentives of a corporation (i.e. profit) are not aligned with what the nation needs right now to combat nutrition insecurity, as well as other problems such as climate change and rampant levels of diabetes.”
As for companies paying low wages, she said, “They should do better; I’m just not sure I’m ready to blame the companies for it, because I think fundamentally the problem is our government allows it. Assuring a livable wage needs to be part of our all-of-government response to food and nutrition insecurity.”
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