If the tomato was once considered the poor man’s fruit, as some wrote of its poor fruitcake residue, so it has also been once thought that food banks are the savior of the food-insecure.
We’ve featured a good many of these stores on The Food Project before, and in some cases many of our stories are about helping people in need receive some basic nutrition. The organization operates 38 food banks nationwide and, like a food bank that is open 365 days a year, the Food Project is capable of providing everything from top-quality vegetarian meals to grocery store staples to homeless people who must otherwise find a place to eat.
What many food banks won’t do, though, is take the much bigger role in helping a person solve the problem of poverty. As I wrote in my 2011 piece for The Food Project, “Food banks don’t want to deal with the poverty and the government money they are supposed to fight.” They aren’t equipped to give people resources to turn themselves into full-fledged citizens, without barriers to a quality education or their own economic power. They’re services, which in some communities are arguably still barely enough, to get by.
So what, ultimately, has caused food banks to struggle with poverty? In many ways, it’s that long-overdue fix — good policy. Since the early 1980s, the way America funds its food-insecure population has shifted, and in the last few decades, it’s been with the welfare. In 1964, former President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized a farm bill that increased money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It was that legislation that led to the advancement of food stamps as part of the safety net for the poor. It was a clear “don’t collect welfare” moment, signaling the resolute intent of the country to support people, regardless of their ability to work. That cold political breakaway ended up making everyone feel better about food insecurity, and created an incredible foundation for the dozens of food banks that have sprung up over the last decades.
Today, the two biggest recipients of America’s generous donations are farm subsidies and SNAP. The food-insecure population has grown, especially since the economic crash of 2008. And food-bank programs, which, as Scott Winship (from The Food Project) pointed out last month, has not kept pace with these changes, are uniquely in need of a change. As the U.S. government copes with a growing budget deficit and an aging population, there are ways to shift the funding into a program that is more incentivized toward long-term asset-building and away from short-term cash transfers.
Read the full piece on The Food Project.