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In February, food prices rose more than they have in any month since 2011, and forecasters expect the trend to continue. Factors ranging from drought to rising demand are driving the increase, which is hitting staples including meat, vegetables and coffee. We consider the variety of local and global factors behind the numbers and learn how to stretch food budget dollars while maintaining a healthy diet.
- Jerry Hagstrom columnist, National Journal; writer and publisher, The Hagstrom Report
- JuJu Harris Culinary Educator and SNAP Outreach Coordinator, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture
- Gus Schumacher Vice President of Policy, Wholesome Wave Foundation; Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ( 1997-2001)
Recipe: Swiss Chard And Lentil Soup
Photo By Molly M. Peterson
From “The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook” by JuJu Harris
1 cup lentils, rinsed
6 cups water
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound Swiss chard, washed and sliced thinly
1 lemon, wedged
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot add the lentils, 6 cups of water, bay leaf and thyme. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until lentils are tender.
In a skillet over medium-low, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens. Then add the garlic, coriander, cayenne and Swiss chard. Cook for 5 minutes, until the Swiss chard wilts.
Add the Swiss chard mixture to the lentils and stir to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in each bowl.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on Food Wednesday. Making your way through grocery store aisles, it's easy to fall into a kind of auto pilot, tossing the staples, milk, some meat, coffee and vegetables, perhaps, that keep your family fueled into a basket or cart.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFood prices have remained pretty steady for the last three years but recently prices have begun to rise and forecasters anticipate those groceries will soon cost us up to three and a half percent more than they do now. For families who have limited budgets and rely on food assistance programs, this increase will likely mean that they will have to make some difficult choices.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us understand what's causing prices to rise and how to make the most of our food budgets is Jerry Hagstrom. He is a columnist at National Journal and the found and executive director of The Hagstrom Report, which covers national and international agriculture news. Juju Harris is a culinary educator and SNAP Outreach Coordinator at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She's also author of the "Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook." Juju Harris, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. JUJU HARRISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Gus Schumacher, he is Executive Vice President of Policy and co-founder of Wholesome Wave. He served as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1997-2001. Gus, good to see you again.
MR. GUS SCHUMACHERGood to see you.
NNAMDIYou can call us too on this Food Wednesday with your questions or comments at 800-433-8850, you can send us email to email@example.com. How do you make the most of your grocery budget. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website kojoshow.org and make a comment or ask a question there.
NNAMDIGus Schumacher, I'll start with you. We're talking about a four percent increase in February, point-four percent increase in February in food prices. It doesn't sound like a lot but it's a bigger jump then we've seen since 2011. When we talk about food price inflation, what do we need to know about the rates at which food prices typically rise.
SCHUMACHERWell, usually it's been a bit lower, the last few years. But now, now we have three things that are occurring. I think, you mentioned three and a half percent, that's a little higher then it's been in the past. I think, it's due to three things, milk prices are going up and China is beginning to have a big influence on our -- on our dairy, we'll come back to that. Beef is now going up and then with the drought in California we're going to see some increases in vegetable prices. So for -- for dairy, milk and cheese, for our beef and some cases pork and we expect vegetable prices go up as well.
SCHUMACHERThose will be the drivers, I think, this spring and summer, we'll just have to watch what's really happen. That will certainly, as you mentioned, have an impact on people who have very tight food budgets.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom, before groceries get to supermarket shelves, there are a lot of factors that fuel their price. Can you give us an idea of just how many dynamics influence how much we pay for staples like vegetables and meat.
MR. JERRY HAGSTROMWell, of course, there are -- there are -- there are many dynamics that -- that -- that play -- that play into this. But at the moment, I think, we're really dealing with the basics. And that is, that because of the drought, we've had a decline in the cattle population because of the drought. The fruits and vegetables are just fewer of them and then the -- and then the price -- the price goes up.
MR. JERRY HAGSTROMBut, of course, they go through lots of middle men, too. And that's why people often recommend that, if you can, to shop in a farmers market, especially during the season in which the fruits and vegetables are available because they may be -- they may be cheaper there. And, of course, also very fresh quality.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom is joining us by -- via phone from Buenos Aires, Argentina. You too can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. How do you make the most of your grocery budget? Do you keep a close eye on prices at the market? Tell us why or why not. Juju Harris, canned goods and packaged meals have long been donated to food pantries but often need help to build a truly balanced diet. How much of your work is about getting fresh, whole foods to people and educating consumers about how to use them?
HARRISA hundred percent of our work is about getting food out to the people, fresh produce, locally grown, sustainably grown produce. Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture has a farm down in Alexandria, Va. And we're starting a new farm out in Middleburg. We also source from other local farmers within about 150 mile radius of D.C.
NNAMDIYou've said that a lot of people -- a lot of food assistance programs -- and I imagine the people who run them are well intentioned but if they haven't been in the position of receiving SNAP and WIC benefits, they just don't understand. What, in your mind, is the biggest disconnect?
HARRISI think, there is a disconnect in that people don't understand, it's extremely stressful being broke or being poor. I've -- I've been there. And just the day to day, it's just very, very wearing. So sometimes what someone from the outside can see as apathy or just a lack of knowledge is actually -- it's depression. I think, a big part of it just -- it's wearing because that constant worry about, you know, am I going to make rent? If you're buying diapers, do I have diaper money? Do I have money for transportation? Those are all things that just impact you and just that constant where, it's so grinding.
NNAMDIJerry, the farm bill that passed recently was a political hot potato. What effect does partisan wrangling have on the prices we pay at stores and the services that are offered to low income citizens?
HAGSTROMWell, I don't think that the -- that -- that the wrangling is actually having any impact on the prices. But the delay of the bill means a delay in getting services to low income people. And also for the kind of research that can go on that will improve fruits and vegetables, maybe -- maybe, bring down the price. But the main thing with the farm bill is that it does contain provisions, for example, for what are called, Double Bucks Coupons, that will make it cheaper for low income people, people on food stamps to go to farmers markets and -- and buy them.
HAGSTROMSo I'd say that the delay is the major -- was a major negative on this. But as a reporter whose been covering this for several years, I'm just so glad that bill finally passed and these programs can go into effect.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom is a columnist at National Journal and the Founder and Executive Director of the Hagstrom Report which covers national and international agriculture news. He joins us for this conversation on rising food prices and how to cope with them and still have a nutritional diet, along with Juju Harris, culinary educator and SNAP Outreach Coordinator at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She's also author of the "Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook." Also with us in studio is Gus Schumacher, executive Vice President of Policy and co-founder of Wholesome Wave.
NNAMDIHe served as Under Secretary of Agriculture Farm and Foreign Agriculture projects -- for Foreign Agriculture Services at USDA from 1997-2001. Are there (word?) fueling food prices that you think producers or regulators could stem? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Which brings my next question to you, Gus. Given the vast number of factors that go into food prices, how do government agencies like the ones you've worked for in the past help to mitigate the effect? What's within their power and what's not?
SCHUMACHERYes, well, I think, that as -- as Jerry Hagstrom said, that the new farm bill that Senator Stabenow and Chairman Lucas put together, does have a number of initiatives in there to really improve a local and regional food system along the lines that Juju has articulated and, for example, they -- now, 10,000 of small I-tunnels that are being -- being given to -- provided to farmers. In the Northeast, this cold weather, you're not going to -- lot of strawberries today here in D.C. at 32 degrees. But a lot of the farmers, for example, have these greenhouses and those are being supported by the -- by the -- by the USDA.
SCHUMACHERThen they -- then Senator Stabenow and her team put together the $100 million for nutrition incentives and that's what double bucks that Mr. Hagstrom referred to. Where if you come into one of Juju's farmers markets and swipe your SNAP card or provide your WIC, you get twice as much for fruits and vegetables. So you have USDA providing a variety of support. We at Wholesome Wave started those programs and we're so pleased that Congress added this and USDA will shortly be rolling those programs out so that the impact that Mr. Hagstrom said on drought, people are producing food here.
SCHUMACHERFor example, I was at Dupont Farmers Market on Sunday, cold, 32 degrees and I just walked up to the booth where they were -- had an EBT machine, 26 SNAP families had come in that morning, in the cold to swipe their card for $10 and get $15. So they get $25 in the middle of winter because farmers had greenhouses helped by USDA to grow spinach and to grow greens and chard in the middle of winter. So I was quite impressed.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this, Juju Harris, there's a perception in some circles that low income shoppers are apathetic or don't care about their diets, have you found that to be the case when talking with shoppers who frequent the mobile market about their options?
HARRISNot at all. Our customers are excited about seeing the vegetables there. We have a large community of seniors who grow up in the South and said, oh, this reminds me of being a kid, you know, I snapped, you know, 17 bushels of beans or I was out in the fields picking beets until, you know, the cows came home.
HARRISSo their -- those people who already know the food, there are people who are interested in changing their diets and they say, well, I've heard about this but I haven't been able to find it in our neighborhood. But since the Mobile Market is there, well here it is. And so now I'm able to eat healthier. So by all means, I don't believe that there is an apathy towards diet. People are eating crumby food, terrible food because that's largely what's available in their neighborhoods.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Kelly in Ashton, Md. Kelly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELLYYes. I was wondering if any part of the SNAP program involves trying to put families who might be, you know, a stone's throw away from each other in the same community, together so that they could possibly shop together, buy in bulk and then divvy it up to try and make their dollars go a little bit farther?
NNAMDIAre you aware of any such programs, Gus Schumacher or you Juju Harris?
SCHUMACHERWell, I've seen it at the Columbia Heights Farmers Market here in D.C., where seniors, who are not -- some of them not mobile will -- will combine and then one senior who is -- goes to the market and brings their senior vouchers together. And then they -- they buy as a -- as a small -- they'll bring them back for three or four families there. I've seen it also in Fredericksburg, Va., where they'll bulk up their SNAP and then negotiate to -- with the farmers. Say, listen, that bushel, you know, you had it for $40, how about $30 and -- and they'll do a negotiation. But Juju has some experience as well, I think, in that area.
HARRISI -- there's not a program that's -- that's a government owned or -- for a program that's specific to that. I recently did a workshop called Eating Well on a Budget in D.C., and I did talk about people forming buying clubs and buying things in bulk. Also, that -- it promotes community. You do save money but also you're -- you're reaching out, you're touching people, you're sharing recipes, you're sharing ideas. And I think that's one of the things that food does, it brings people together. So, by all means, find a buying club and buy stuff in bulk.
NNAMDIKelly, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Which items are you likely to stop buying first if prices rise too high? And are there any you'd never give up? 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. It's Food Wednesday, we're discussing rising food prices and how you can maintain a nutritional diet in spite of that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on rising food prices. We're talking with Juju Harris, culinary educator and SNAP outreach coordinator at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Juju is also the author of the book "The Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook." She joins us in our studio along with Gus Schumacher, executive vice-president of policy and cofounder of Wholesome Wave. He served as undersecretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA.
NNAMDIJoining us by phones from Buenos Aires, Argentina is Jerry Hagstrom. He's a columnist at National Journal and the founder and the executor of The Hagstrom Report which covers national and international agriculture news. Gus, tell us a little bit more about what Wholesome Wave is and does.
SCHUMACHERWe are basically founded -- Michelle, John and I pro-founded this some few years ago. We basically do three things but relevant to this discussion are two. We double -- we provide grants to farmers markets and, for example, including Arcadia and many others in D.C. and around the country, about 24 states and about 305 farmers markets. We double food stamps when you bring your food stamps card in. So we're trying to make fresh fruits and vegetables affordable and accessible but also provide the revenue to small farmers.
SCHUMACHERAnd that's worked out very well and I'm very pleased that D.C. city council has put in $200,000 this year for D.C. to match our programs here in D.C. Secondly, and one of the most popular ones now that we're doing is something called the veggie prescription. And we're working with about seven hospitals in eight states to look at how doctors can prescribe a food and vegetable prescription so that families are diet impacted can go to the Columbia Heights farmers market or other markets around D.C. and get fresh fruits and vegetables, $50, sometimes $70 a week.
SCHUMACHERAnd doctors, when they have pneumonia, will prescribe a V pack of -- sorry, a Z pack of penicillin or doctors at Unity Health Care, Louie Padilla, is prescribing a V pack of fruit and vegetables. And it's worked out very well. We're getting a 38 percent improvement in the basic body index of young children. And Juju and I discussed that this morning.
SCHUMACHERSo doubling food stamps around the country where, you know, people coming in with their SNAP and their programs and WIC and then expanding very rapidly our veggie prescription to improve health. So it's gone very, very well. And again, as I said, we're pleased that the congress has provided $100 million to take this more nationally.
NNAMDISpeaking of government let's talk with Darryl in Silver Spring, Md. Darryl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DARRYLThank you so much for taking my call, my question. We've been listening to the show and there's a lot of discussion about what government can do to address the high cost of food. There's hasn't been any conversation so far about what government policies are actually exasperating the cost of food. Right now, you know, we have ethanol that's made from corn in our gasoline. Right now, you know, organic farmers are protesting many of the regulations that FDA has been asking of them in the Food Safety Modernization Act.
DARRYLAnd, you know, if we like the cost, the safety and the choice in our pharmaceutical industry, I'm not sure why we put FDA now in charge of our farms. So we'd like for the guests (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Jerry Hagstrom respond to that. Jerry Hagstrom, do you think government policies are driving up the price of food in the way that our caller Darryl suggests?
HAGSTROMWell, I guess I'd have to say that I do think that ethanol may contribute some to this, not a lot but some to the cost of food. But remember that just -- you know, that involves corn, not so much the other things. I certainly don't think it has anything to do with the increased cost of food due to the drought. I mean, these fruits and vegetables that are coming out of California are going to be more high priced because of the drought.
HAGSTROMNow one way to deal with this issue of the fruits and vegetables is to expand the production in other parts of the country. Because after World War II the fruit and vegetable production essentially shifted to California, Florida and Texas. It used to be produced everywhere but it became so efficient to product them in those warm-weather places that we don't have much in the other parts of the country anymore. But because of the local food movement I think there's increasing production and we need more of it. It would probably help with prices too. Now that's sort of on ethanol and these drought issues.
HAGSTROMNow on the food safety regulations for the small producers, I don't know, I think that's a hard call because people want safe food too. And you can have an outbreak on an organic farm just as much as you can on another kind of farm. I don't think they're necessarily any safer when it comes to food safety. But some of these are rather difficult calls. And on the FDA and where the food safety is located, that's such a big issue. You'd have to have a real campaign to get that moved somewhere else.
NNAMDIAnd we would have to have an entire discussion on this show about that issue alone, which is something we might actually do at some point. But Darryl, thank you very much for your call. Jerry, the Obama Administration, largely through initiatives helmed by the first lady, has been aggressive in efforts to change the way we eat. What kind of effect is that already having on the industry and how might we further see that influence reshape the current system?
HAGSTROMI think it has had quite an effect on the industry. Now some people would say of course that the first lady's power is only informal. She doesn't run a federal agency. But you have a lot of different companies that are reformulating foods. And some of this can -- you know, they're trying to make -- take out the sugar, take out the sodium, promote leaner meat, leaner dairy products -- excuse me, low-fat dairy products. And I think it has had an impact.
HAGSTROMBut just to bring up what we're talking about today, the first lady is about to start a promotion that I think could actually also help people with their food costs. And that is she is going to promote cooking. And why is that so important? Because people have stopped cooking the more complicated things like roast beef. You know, they just want steak or they want hamburger. So some cuts of meat are actually cheaper than that. And if people would go back to cooking them, learning how to cook them, then their cost of eating meat would go down.
NNAMDIDid I mention that Juju Harris is the author of "The Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook?" Juju, as initiatives like the first lady's and movement like meatless Monday that aimed to promote a healthier lifestyle take off, hoe much influence do you find them having on your customers?
HARRISWell, that's a relatively -- well, with the first lady's campaign that's relatively new. But most of our customers who -- they're interested in cooking, a lot of them come and they say, well I've just been eating frozen stuff or I've been eating takeout. But people are more aware of what they can do to improve their health. And that was cook their own meals. Also they're seeing the benefit of cooking at home because they're saving money.
HARRISBut one of the things that I feel is really important is, if you're going to encourage people to cook, you have to teach them to cook. My sort of little platform at the mobile market is that we bring food that's accessible because we take it to neighborhoods where there are no stores. It's affordable because of the double bucks program. But you have to teach people how to cook stuff. Because if it's there in front of their faces and it's a good price but they're not familiar with it, they won't purchase it.
HARRISSo I think culinary education is a huge piece that can just be applied, some people have said in high schools. I think start it in kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, elementary school.
SCHUMACHERWell, I think I absolutely confer with Juju. And one of the things that she's doing that's really brilliant is looking at the recipe. Boy that's brilliant. It's a great book. I recommend that people write into Amazon and get copies of it. It's beautiful pictures. And -- but one of the things that I think we need to do more -- and Juju and I were talking about this -- what is the role of our health care system? We spend billions of (sic) health care but I don't know many doctors that advise on nutrition.
SCHUMACHERWhen I go to my doctor -- love him dearly -- very rarely does he talk about diet or nutrition. And I think that's going to be the next big step. And that's why I'm so proud of our veggie prescription program where the doctors are prescribing and then they have nutritionists working with people like Juju to say, here are the recipes.
SCHUMACHERWe'd like to see her book in all the hospitals here. So when you come into an emergency room and your BMI is 34 or you're diabetic or pre-diabetic, you can get a copy of Juju's book. And the doctors will basically say, here's a veggie prescription to take home when you're leaving an emergency room or you're getting your bypass, whatever, to reduce your blood pressure, to reduce your BMI and improve your diabetes. I think that's going to be the next big one. So I'm hoping that more hospitals will have residencies -- the residents will start getting training in nutrition and will use Juju's book.
NNAMDIMary in Arlington, Va. Mary, you're on the air. Mary wants to talk about healthy eating. Go ahead, Mary.
MARYYes. It's more than that because I've had my own experience of almost being hungry and had to rely on a food pantry this -- this wasn't even a food pantry. This was many, many years ago in Pennsylvania when we would get substances from the government, like bags of rice, dried milk and so forth. And it was either to survive on that or go hungry. And so I quickly learned how to adapt those various things to make healthy meals for myself. And even though...
NNAMDIHow did you learn how to do that? How did you learn how to do that, Mary?
MARYOkay. One of the things I did is I did some reading. I went to the library, got out some recipe books and did that. And also I did some experiments. But let me tell you how that has progressed, because now I'm not in that situation, but it's carried over to this form of my life. And basically I think that there are different ways you can go about educating as I see it.
MARYFirst of all, there are things that the government provides. I was pulling out, as I was waiting for you, for instance, the Department of Agriculture has different publications. I don't know if they're still available but they talk about how to make low-cost family meals that are tasty using a limited amount of ingredients. That is one of the things they can do.
MARYThe library has a lot of resources. One of the best books I ever got down was at the Martin Luther King Library. And it was called "The Protein Twins," and it was using peas and lentils in cooking. And these are really tasty recipes. I'm just trying to look up...
NNAMDIWell, I think we've got your point. I'd just like to have our panelists expand on that.
MARYOkay. One other thing I would like to say...
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Mary.
MARY...and that would be the community, if they could have an education program where they took people into the grocery store with an ad from various grocery stores, show them how to read the ad and how to take advantage of -- at the -- on the specials to make healthy meals. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Gus Schumacher, first the Agriculture Department publications.
SCHUMACHERWell, I think they are expanding quite a bit under the SNAP nutrition education. I've seen a number of people were sitting right across from University of D.C., UDC. And I know they have a team that goes out to the markets and does a lot of education, a lot of bulletins. The other one I think is also so fascinating to me is that USDA now with the new farm bill will be promoting more of these type of programs, with the kind of books that -- and recipe books that Juju described to well today.
SCHUMACHERBut in the -- but I'm also finding the cities are getting much more involved. And I was very pleased -- amazed to see on Monday a hearing at D.C. City Council by Councilwoman Shay who really is pushing the city to come up with a policy, a city food policy and having a director of city food policy, which many cities are now doing. And then to look at the $200,000, maybe eventually expand it to 4 or 500,000, so more people have, exactly what Juju is describing, accessible, affordable, healthy foods in all the neighborhoods here in D.C. in all wards.
NNAMDIAs outreach coordinator, Juju Harris, for Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, what role does education play in what you do?
HARRISOh, at the market I do a lot of cooking demonstrations because people were coming to the market and not recognizing the food. Or they'd ask me, well if I take this home how do I store it? Do I keep it in the refrigerator, on The counter? Can I boil it, can I bake it? So every week -- just about every week I was doing cooking demonstrations to show people that it's possible to make good healthy food in a short amount of time with low-cost ingredients.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom, beef prices are especially high. These -- we've seen moves to encourage less consumption in recent years. Any sense of whether those moves have been effective and what's driving the amount of demand that we're seeing?
HAGSTROMWell, the major factor in the beef prices is the fact that we had a drought in Texas. Now we have a drought in California and the size of the herd has gone down. Nutritionists have also recommended smaller portion sizes. And that may have also caused some decline in consumption, although I think the consumption of poultry has gone up, so people are buying a cheaper meat.
HAGSTROMBut one point I wanted to be sure to make today is that one of the things the first lady is also going to promote and Sam Kass, her director of Let's Move, is a revival of Home Ec. And we're talking about, you know, people knowing how to cook. But so often these days the parents are so busy they don't have time to teach the kids how to cook or they may not know themselves. And they're talking about reviving Home Ec., only this time it will be for boys as well as for girls. And there's modern ways of cooking so that it's healthier food.
NNAMDILet's hear what Hassan in Washington, D.C. has to say about this. Hassan, thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hassan, are you there? Hassan, one more time. Can you hear me, Hassan? Okay. Hassan seems to have left the building for the time being. One challenge, Juju, that few faces making sure people know that they qualify for food assistance. Are there any groups that you think are especially apt to be unaware of their eligibility?
HARRISI found that a lot of seniors don't know that they may be -- excuse me, they may be eligible for SNAP or the senior commodity's program, which some people refer to as Senior WIC. Some of the seniors I've met, they came from I guess what would be considered sort of old school raising, like we don't take handouts. You know, we fend for ourselves. But I believe that seniors, in a large part, are sort of an invisible part of the population that's food insecure.
HARRISSo when I come to -- when I have customers come to the market, I always ask them -- well, if they're paying cash I ask them, well have you applied for SNAP? Did you know that -- are you raising your grandchild? You may be eligible for WIC. Another thing is that some of the seniors, for whatever reason, may be dementia or frailty. They're just not very cognizant. So we have a lot of seniors come with their children or their grandchildren -- their grown children or their grandchildren.
HARRISSo I've started talking more so to the kids. You know, is your -- does your mom -- does your grandma have enough to eat? So doing more outreach to the other family members, not just directly to the seniors.
NNAMDIGus, I'll start with you on this one, but you can all chime in. Families are often especially hard hit by milk prices. What are we seeing on that front and how does it affect the way people feed their kids?
SCHUMACHERWell, this is, I think, a major concern now. I think that -- I looked at -- I used to, when I was at USDA, do a lot of work with the foreign ag. service. And I talked to my friends in China who work with the foreign ag. service. And they're saying that the middle class in China is just buying billions of dollars of milk powder and baby formula because they don't trust the milk supply. So we've had a huge increase in imports of whole milk powder and skim milk powder from this country, which is having a substantial effect on the price of dairy products here in this country.
SCHUMACHERAnd that's certainly affecting people on SNAP when they go to the store and they're paying $3.69. Okay, so I went to the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood this morning and the price of milk now at 7-Eleven -- that's a corner store, it's a neighborhood store. I don't know in -- Juju -- in all of -- but it was $4.69 a gallon. That's pretty chunky. So we're getting -- China is becoming a major driver in our milk prices. And we'll see how this is going to change.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom, same question to you.
HAGSTROMYou know, I wish I had an answer for what people could do to reduce their cost of milk. You know, it's been a long time since I've had any powdered milk so I'm not sure that I would want to go try that again. And when I drank it, it was when I was traveling overseas and it was considered safer in some developing countries than, you know, to get fresh milk. I think that is one of the hardest issues because I can't really think of a substitute for milk.
HARRISCan I speak to that?
NNAMDIPlease do, Juju.
HARRISAs far as the milk thing goes, when I was a WIC mother I was getting gobs and gobs of milk. And I'm not a milk drinker. So I would use that to actually make cheese out of it or use it as a basis for baking. When I had a larger family my stepchildren and my nephew lived with us, then my children consumed that milk. But I breastfed for a long period of time and I see the encouragement of women breastfeeding for longer periods of time as a way to reduce that impact and that need for dairy milk.
HARRISAlso when I was talking to a nurse about weaning my son, she said, well what are you going to do for dairy if you're not feeding him cow's milk? And I said, well he doesn't necessarily need dairy. What he needs is calcium. And he can get calcium from other means through green vegetables for example.
NNAMDIEducation, education, education. We do have to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. If you've been on food assistance, tell us how the experience changed your approach to what you eat, 800-433-8850? Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Gus Schumacher, executive vice-president of policy and cofounder of Wholesome Wave. We're talking about rising food prices also with Juju Harris, culinary educator and SNAP outreach coordinator at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She's also author of "The Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook." And Jerry Hagstrom joins us by phone from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He's a columnist at National Journal and the founder and executive director of The Hagstrom Report which covers national and international agriculture news.
NNAMDII'll go directly to the phones where Mary on the eastern shore in Maryland awaits us. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYGood afternoon. What a fascinating show. I wondered what the impact of imported food is having on the price in supermarkets for (unintelligible) available to buy. I've seen such an increase over the years. And my 8th grade economics education tells me the farther the food comes from the more it's going to cost.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom, you have been talking about California struggling with drought conditions. And as popular as it has become to eat local in recent years, there's only so much supply in most places. Following up on Mary's question, does a year alike this just drive home how dependent we are on a few key regions that produce our food and on imported foods?
HAGSTROMWell, yes. It of course depends on which food we're talking about, but I think it does drive home the dependence on a few regions for fruits and vegetables, and also on imported food. In general I'd have to say that imported food reduces the price. At least that is what the farmers often complain about, the American farmers. It's true that imported food has to be transported but often production conditions in developing countries are cheaper, particularly the labor is cheaper.
HAGSTROMAnd those foods would not be coming here if they were not competitive or that they're so special that they can charge a higher price. So in general I think the consumer has to be thankful for the imports in terms of pricing.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on now to Grace in McLean, Va. Grace, your turn.
GRACEYes, hi. Fascinating show, as is always you are. So to your panel's earlier point -- I believe it was Jerry's point -- I'm adopted so by default I do a little too much reading about nutritional habits and, you know, how I can -- everyone's wired differently so based on how I'm wired I'm trying to kind of stack the odds in my favor. However, I thought it was interesting the point about GPs or, you know, family doctors.
GRACEI have a friend who suffered from, like, deep clinical depression. And he literally saw the world's most, you know, astute (unintelligible) in this area. And they never once told the poor man, like, cut out sugar because that will tremendously exacerbate your depression. And so, like I said, I do a lot of reading in this area but it just blew my mind that the world's most astute, like, medical doctors did not -- and I see this happen time and time again with, you know, arthritis or what have you, but just some more ubiquitous kinds of common everyday diseases. Folks don't know about this stuff from a nutritional perspective.
NNAMDIGus, that underscores the point that you were making earlier.
SCHUMACHERYes. I think that we doctors, to our speaker, just aren't trained to deal with nutrition. And that's why I think that the Affordable Health Care Act now specifies if you are sick and leave the hospital and then return on Medicare, the -- because of a diet issue or other issues, that hospitals have to pay for that. So hospitals are really beginning to think about it. They have a long ways to go. So I hope more doctors will be trained in nutrition so when we leave the hospital, leave the emergency room we'll get Juju's book.
NNAMDIJuju, as we look at the possibility of a significant rise in some staples, one big concern is that wages are not rising along with these prices. SNAP benefits were controversial this session. What kinds of choices do people face when that happens?
HARRISOne of the first things that gets impacted is what they eat. So some people will cut out meat, cut it down to once or twice a week. Some people cut out transportation. Some people cut out entertainment. Those are the main things that I see.
NNAMDIAnd when they cut out those things, they do those things in order to try to maintain their nutritional priorities?
HARRISSometimes it's a nutritional priority but one of the things I've heard and one of the things I know from my own experience is that sometimes you're willing to be a little bit hungry or to maintain a roof over your head. So money can go towards rent or transportation just so that you can have a place to be and you're willing to eat less food or a lower-quality food to save money.
NNAMDIGus, those are the choices that people face, and when they're operating on limited budgets and when they're getting either SNAP or WIC.
SCHUMACHERWell, that's what's so crucial with the -- as Jerry Hagstrom said, the farm bill that finally just passed does -- has limited some of the food stamps, you know, previously. But they basically overcame some of the objections by some of them in congress to provide as much as we can for SNAP decisively for that reason. And I think we can do more.
NNAMDIHere's Eric in Kensington, Md.. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICHi. It's a great show. I'm really interested especially because this morning I just went and saw a speech by Lauren Biel who's the head of D.C. Greens. And that's -- in D.C. they do a lot of the different things you were talking about including the prescription program. And they do school vegetables gardens. And they also have a couple other things that weren't mentioned that I thought were really innovative.
ERICOne was that they have the kids having a little farm stand after school where they buy wholesale vegetables and they sell them in a little -- it's like a bake sale at the school but for vegetables. And when the parents pick up the kids, they can buy vegetables. I thought that was really great. And it goes -- and the money they make goes back to support the gardens at the schools.
ERICAnd the other one they had, it's -- they're educating the teachers in particular. And I think they're starting a new program this year on Friday, tomorrow, where they educate teachers from all the schools around the district on how to run these programs.
NNAMDIYou know, Gus...
ERICI think it's really key to the whole thing. So...
NNAMDI...Gus Schumacher talked earlier about some of the programs the District of Columbia's having, but we didn't talk a great deal about some of the people in the District of Columbia like Laura, like Juju and the kind of things that they're doing also that makes this city one that a lot of people are looking for initiatives, Gus.
SCHUMACHERWell, there's so much going on here and I think the hearing on Monday that Lauren Biel spoke at, and she was a lead testifier, show the innovation that's going throughout the city, 41 farmers markets. And that' why Councilwoman Shay's efforts to have a city food policy director to pull this altogether -- we have food trucks, we have this innovative program that Lauren is doing. Lauren is a partner of Wholesome Wave. I'm very proud of what she and Arcadia in Columbia Heights, this enormous amount of innovation. It's a food city. I think we need to have a city food policy director.
NNAMDIJerry Hagstrom, we got an email from Magauly in Burke, Va. who says, "My understanding is that meat and dairy cost more to produce than fruits and vegetables. I'm also hearing that Americans should be eating more fruits and vegetables than we do. Are animal products and produce subsidized differently? Does that affect people's dietary choices?"
HAGSTROMWell, they're definitely subsidized differently. Meat and fruits and vegetables are not subsidized directly, but the feed grains that go into the meat are subsidized. And there are programs for the fruit and vegetable industry to serve fruits and vegetables in the schools. And this reminds me that one thing we have not talked about on this show is one way for low-income people to save money on food is to make sure that their children are signed up for school lunch and school breakfast.
HAGSTROMAnd if they're low-income they can either get reduced price or free lunch. And this is very important both for them for getting food and for exposing them to the healthier vegetables that they may not have known. For these wonderful stories now, these low-income kids coming home to their parents and saying, I want you do cook this. And then the mother can go to the farmers market and ask, what are the cheapest vegetables you've got? And maybe get some instruction on how to cook them if they don't know how.
NNAMDISpeaking of instruction on how to cook them, we got an email from Carolyn in Virginia who said, "Could Juju share one or two of the low-cost recipes that you referred to earlier in the program, particularly for veggies?" Juju, I know that you have a few favorite ingredients that you encourage people to try, so you might want to talk about your kale salad.
HARRISOh gosh. The kale salad -- it's the kale salad tour actually. I've taken that to a bunch of different events around D.C. and it's really people's favorites. So I want to talk about what I did when I had -- at one point I had a family...
NNAMDIOh, by the way, you can find some of Juju's recipes on our website, kojoshow.org. Go right ahead, please.
HARRISYes. And also on the ArcadiaFood.org website there's a blog that has some recipes. One of the things I did when I -- at one point we had a family of nine. We had our two kids, four stepchildren, my nephew and my husband and I and we had one income. My husband was working as a home renovator. And I had about a $400 a month cash budget for food. So in addition to that I was getting WIC for my youngest son who was just about ten months old.
HARRISSo I figured out what my family liked to eat, what the best value were for vegetables at the market. And we had meat once a month -- or once a week. My husband's from Paraguay which is a very meat-heavy culinary tradition but with nine people I can't feed everyone roast beef and turkey and all of that stuff every day. So it's like, look kids, we're eating veg. So I found kind of always potatoes, carrots, onions were very inexpensive. I would shop in bulk.
HARRISOne place I like to promote is down around the Florida Avenue Market where you can buy 50 pounds of carrots or 50 pounds of potatoes or onions for about $15. It goes back to starting a buyer's club. But, like, if I got potatoes I could make Spanish potato tort with some stir-fried greens, either kale or collards, Swiss chard that I got from my garden or the farmer's market.
HARRISI could make -- we like having breakfast for dinner so we'd have home fries with onions. The kids would get a little bit of sausage and we'd make carrot juice. For carrots I could make carrot ginger soup. Since I had WIC I was getting oatmeal so I'd make oatmeal bread. For dessert we'd have oatmeal cookies, healthy cookies. So I was always trying to find different ways to make things that were inexpensive that I could make in a big batch. Because, you know, if you're nursing and trying to run a household with all those people, there's not a lot of time to cook.
HARRISBut I feel like I really did -- I got on top of it. Our family ate very healthy because I thought it was important. It was imperative for me to eat well since I was taking care of the family.
NNAMDIHere's Kelly, speaking of that, in Bark, Va. Kelly, your turn.
KELLYYes. I was just thrilled to hear the topic that you were going to be covering today. We have -- I have actually found -- well, an earlier call, the lady that was talking about SNAP and recipes, I just Googled up SNAP recipes and it took me right to the USDA's website where it even has, like, an ingredient search and you can put what you're looking for in. And I have, over the years, 'cause I want to use my resources, I don't want to put my -- I'd rather use my resources in a way I want to use them. So I just Googled up cheap recipes, frugal recipes. Gone on YouTube and found pretty entertaining people and different ways.
KELLYAnd I just realized, you know, with people -- there are a lot of people that have lived through the depression and we have much to learn from them. So I like going on YouTube and then depression era cooking, which is a lovely series. And I found that my family creatively using up your leftovers -- just to using them in whatever way, anything (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, Kelly. But what you seem to be saying is that during the course of the last hour or so you have learned a whole lot about cooking on a budget.
KELLYRight, right. And just the way to use the internet for a resource.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. As I said, we're almost out of time but I wanted to get Christiana in Rockville, Md. And Christiana, you only have about 30 seconds but go ahead, please.
CHRISTIANAWell, thank you so much. But I want to let you know about Montgomery County University of Maryland Extensions. This Saturday we are having a Grow-It-Eat-It spring open house on March 29 from 8:30 in the morning until 1:00 pm. And you can learn how to start seeds, basic veggie gardening, all about squashes, growing food. We have a children's garden idea and a veggie cooking demo. So that's -- you can find it online but it's at the Agricultural History Farm Park, 18410 Moncasto Road in Durwood. And it's a great way for the start of the gardening season.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're just about out of time. Jerry Hagstrom is a columnist at National Journal and the founder and executive director of The Hagstrom Report which covers national and international agriculture news. Juju Harris is culinary educator and SNAP outreach coordinator at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She's also author of "The Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook." Juju, thank you for joining us.
HARRISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Gus Schumacher is executive vice-president of policy and cofounder of Wholesome Wave. He served as undersecretary of agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gus, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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