Friday, October 28, 2011

Starving for Fat: a look at the nutritional debate in the US

Contributed by Katie Powell 

While countries such as Denmark are imposing a “fat tax,” which consumers will face with the purchase of foods containing saturated fats, American companies such as Yum! Brand are lobbying to make fast food accessible with SNAP (food stamps). While some believe this is a huge step backwards for current nutrition efforts, others feel it is a necessary step towards food accessibility. Is access to unhealthy food among a population that is already at a statistically higher risk for diet-related diseases truly a liberating force? 

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “17 Million, nearly one in four children in the U.S., are food insecure." A recent study conducted by the nonprofit Wholesome Wave found that while food insecurity is rampant, obesity is plaguing approximately 2/3 of the US population. While these two facts seem to contradict one another (can a large percentage of our population really be hungry and obese?), this is the current reality in the United States. In order to examine this debate one must ask who benefits from SNAP usage at fast food restaurants. Studies by Wholesome Wave have shown that $5 of SNAP can generate $9.20 in total economic activity when spent in the conventional global food distribution system. It seems Yum! Brand and other companies could considerably benefit from this policy change. Though policy has a profound effect on how all Americans eat, what other factors contribute to food choices among Americans, especially SNAP recipients? Some of these factors include time, culture, and expense.

It has become conventional wisdom that healthy food is more expensive than alternative choices, such as fast food. It seems price, or assumed price, of food has come to be the greatest factor in food choices. Mark Bittman of the New York Times refutes this idea by giving an example of a typical order for a family of four at McDonalds. If a family orders two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas, the cost would be $28. However, this same family of four could serve an at-home meal of a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14. While cost seems to be the first assumption people make about healthy food choices, it is clear that it is practical to eat healthy at home. Therefore, it cannot simply be price that influences food choices. Another factor that must be considered is access. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than two million Americans in low-income rural areas live 10 miles or more from a supermarket. Seeing as many of these households have no access to a car, it becomes difficult if not impossible to purchase healthy food.  

Many of these barriers to healthy eating are beginning to be addressed by initiatives across the United States. The USDA began the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, to help bring access to fresh and healthy foods to communities in food deserts. The Let’s Move Campaign, started by First Lady Michelle Obama, addresses children’s health. Many nonprofits, including Catalyst Miami, have brought "double-value coupon programs" to farmers markets. This means that when a SNAP recipient uses food stamps at a participating farmers markets, their purchase will be doubled. In other words, if they spend $10 worth of SNAP they will receive $10 in coupons for further purchases. The amount you can double varies from market to market, but the goal is the same: to make healthier food more accessible and affordable and increase sales for local farmers. With the launch of the new Catalyst Miami website, we hope to include an interactive map that will provide dates, times and locations of farmers markets in Miami with double-value coupon programs. During my time at Catalyst Miami, I will be working to create other outreach efforts to inform our community about these healthy food opportunities.

Sometimes it Takes a Martyr to Sustain a Movement

Contributed by Amber Walker

"You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." –Troy Davis

The Troy Davis case touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Folks rallied around his story, signing petitions, holding demonstrations, and orchestrating campaigns to urge decision makers to re-evaluate sentencing Davis’ to the ultimate punishment. Unfortunately, their efforts were not enough to save Davis’ life. On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was executed by the Georgia Bureau of Prisons.

The morning before his death, Troy issued a statement to his supporters thanking them for their persistent dedication to his plight and urging them to keep up the work if he was not spared: “There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.”

Although Davis’ execution was thought, by many, to be a tragic misstep by our criminal justice system, his supporters must not forget what his story represents to the overall battle to reform the criminal justice system. Troy constantly reinforced the mantra that this struggle does not end with him. Although his death was a setback, it must be used to strengthen and reenergize the cause and serve as a reminder of what the fight is all about.

The campaign to save Troy Davis spanned nearly two decades. Somewhere in the back of his mind, I imagine Davis knew his appeals might be in vain. Despite it all, he continued to use his story as a means to rally support for an issue that he knew was much bigger than he was. Even though Troy is gone, we must heed his words and remember that there are, indeed, “so many more Troy Davis’”.

Sometimes it takes a martyr to sustain a movement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ReServe: How to stay connected to community

Contributed by Luke Soto

Hey Everyone!

I work here at Catalyst Miami for a program called ReServe Miami.  ReServe takes 55 and older retirees (ReServists) and connects them with part-time job opportunities at local nonprofits that need the help of an experienced professional.  At the same time, the ReServists get to stay in touch with the needs of Miami and the communities therein. 

 You may be asking yourself why a recently retired professional would not only want to continue to work but do so for part-time pay. We are coming to a new era where what it means to be a retiree is
very different from what it meant before.  Every day there are on average 7,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age. This generation of retirees does not conform to the prior mold of what a retiree is “supposed” to do in society for many reasons. Some are economic concerns but for the most part, this generation has been at the head of some of the most important movements and events in American history (Civil Rights, Wood Stock, Cold War). As such, I highly doubt they would be content to just sit back and ignore the current events happening around them for 20 or so years just because it’s the status quo. These people don’t want to sit back and knit scarves, they don’t want to spend all day golfing, and they most certainly don’t want to be sitting in a retirement community playing bingo.

So what does this mean for the services that we provide for these people in America? Are we adequately prepared for this influx of socially active Boomers? I do not think we are prepared. That being the case, I strongly believe in what ReServe Miami is doing for this Boomer generation and this city. Not being a Boomer myself, I’ll let Vicki tell you her experience with ReServe.

Becoming a ReServist is the best thing I’ve done for myself since I retired from the retail business a few months ago!   Though I had been thrilled to have more time to myself to visit family and just kick back, I was beginning to worry about disconnecting from my community and just getting “stale.”  A friend told me about ReServe and it sounded like a perfect fit.  I’m currently working a few days a week as a ReServist and I love it!  I’m meeting new people, learning new skills and growing more passionate about this program each day.  ReServe is a win-win for the community and it certainly has worked for me, too!
Vicki Simons
ReServe Miami

Catalyst Contributors: Luke Soto

Hi everyone! My name is Luke Soto. I was born and raised here in Miami in Coconut Grove and I must admit that I love this city. I spent four years in New York City for my undergraduate studies at Columbia University. My major was Hispanic Studies with a minor in Anthropology so you could say that people are my passion I guess. Some issues in Miami that I find I really care about are homelessness (especially now that many of the kitchens that would feed these people are being shut down or limited in their capacity) and education (need I say more?). This is why I thoroughly enjoy the placement I have been given in Catalyst Miami.  I am working with ReServe Miami, a program that helps 55+ year old retirees continue to use the skills they have built up throughout their careers with part-time job opportunities that serve people in Miami. Some of these retirees (we call them ReServists) are placed at public schools as College Counselors for students, while others help with adult literacy programs in public libraries all over Miami. I hope to be able to learn a lot about what it takes to get a young program like ReServe up and running, and to continue to use those skills later in life to help those who need it. Maybe one day I’ll be a ReServist.

            However, before then I plan to attend a graduate school for social work and will be doing all the applications and tests that are, as a result, unfortunately required during this year. Either way I hope to give you all a good glimpse of what goes on here at Catalyst on the daily.

Catalyst Contributors: Amber Walker

Hi! My name is Amber C. Walker. I am a recent grad of Oberlin College where I double majored in African American Studies and Gender/Sexuality/Feminist Studies. I am originally from Chicago, IL but moved to Miami in August to start my term as an Americorps  “Volunteer in Service to America” (VISTA) here at Catalyst. My interest in the nonprofit sector stems from my desire to end the disparities that exist between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” I come from a low-income/working-class background and I’ve experienced firsthand the effects that poverty can have on a community. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to schools and extra-curricular activities that enriched my development, but my experience was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the young people in my neighborhood deal with underperforming schools and a lack of access to safe spaces and other basic needs that so many of us take for granted. Witnessing this disparity, I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to eradicate it. I want to use my education and my privilege to raise awareness about the issues of poverty that millions of Americans live with on a daily basis.

As a VISTA this year at Catalyst Miami I’m co-facilitating our first cohort of “SoundOut,” a program aimed at increasing civic engagement and leadership skills among high school students. I’m excited to interact with students and hear their stories, passions and hopes for the future. I remember during high school how important my mentors were in helping me to achieve my goals and I hope that I can serve the students in a similar way through my participation in “SoundOut.” I also expect to learn some things from them along the way!