Food Bank of Westchester
Hunger Heroes Third Annual Breakfast
June 11, 2008
Missy Chase Lapine, The Sneaky Chef
When I told my kids I was speaking at a superheroes breakfast this morning, my youngest asked me if I wanted to borrow her Spiderman costume! When I further explained that these were not comic characters, but rather heroes because of their ongoing support of The Food Bank for Westchester, she remarked that she had no idea what kind of costumes those heroes wear. I promised her a picture when I got home. From up here, even without your costumes, you all look like heroes to me.
I would like to thank Christina Ro-hay-tinski, Judy Matson, Marie Rossi, and the other leaders of the The Food Bank for Westchester for this privilege. I would also like to recognize the sponsors and award winners of the Food Bank here today, without whose dedication and vision The Food Bank would not have the success it has to date in combating the hunger around us. Supporters such as you all have come together to move mountains — mountains of food that is, to make sure the hungry get fed.
To be able to participate in an event this important – so close to my home – is both an honor and a stark reality. When I spoke with friends about the event and the organization, it was met with a response that I am certain the Food Bank has heard more than a few times. “You mean that there are actually hungry people in Westchester County, one of the most affluent counties in the country?” People were stunned to learn of such an organization right in the middle of our comfortable neighborhood.
Certainly many of us grew up hearing the line, “eat your veggies, there are starving children in Africa,” How about eat your veggies there are starving children in Westchester County? From the outside it would seem this is a problem that can be solved by throwing bags of overproduced or undersold food products at it.
However, as I studied more about the organization, I realized that the problem runs much deeper than just a bag of groceries for those who cannot afford to buy them, and that hunger is not just lack of food. In more cases that not, it is a lack of the right foods — the ones that fuel health, growth, and energy needed by all of us to simply keep up with the demands of our daily lives.
I personally struggled with the request of being the guest speaker today. My main work to date, including two books published, with a third on the way, is dealing with the opposite of what we are here today to support.
The Sneaky Chef deals with children who are overfed, yet undernourished – who are literally fighting to keep the good stuff off their plates. What credential do I have to stand up here and talk about children that don’t have such options? As I came to understand this process more clearly, I ultimately realized the common denominator in both cases is children who are undernourished. Whether in abundance or scarcity, far too many children, and many adults are undernourished today in our modern and plentiful world.
The Sneaky Chef work has been so focused on good nutrition that it is easy to forget that feeding the hungry is a primary need, even when the nutrition must be subordinated to satisfying that hunger. But can we do both? Can we help advance the cause of not only feeding the hungry, but also making that food more nutritious and more palatable?
My first focus in The Sneaky Chef is on children who are our future. Good nutrition is the must-have-ticket to think straight, grow straight and stay on the straight and narrow. We want to raise children whose brains are functioning at a level that helps them to be creative, honest, productive members of society. It’s easy to think that drugs and alcohol are the evils that lead our kids astray, but lack of good nutrition fails to fuel the growth that children need to make the proper choices later in life.
A study was done by Oxford University in the late 1990’s. They studied prisoners in England where half were given fish oil and vitamins and the other half placebos. The group given the fish oil showed a marked reduction in violence, specifically 35% fewer violent incidents than the group that was fed placebos. Could proper feeding of the hungry have that much impact on health and behavior? Absolutely.
Research has shown time again, that children who eat a good breakfast have better standardized test scores, better behavior, and are less hyperactive than children who skip breakfast.
Fast forward that into adult lives and understand this basic rule never changes. Even if we can supply foods for breakfast to the hungry, our work cannot be done until we have also helped the hungry understand how to maximize the food they receive. And it’s not just empty stomachs equal empty brains. The wrong food can often have even more devastating life effects. For example, obesity and a lifetime of health issues associated with it, comes more times than not from a lack of good nutrition, as opposed to overabundance of food. Simply put, eating without proper balance is a prescription for so many problems and challenges to everyone, not just the underfed.
I have devoted myself to simplifying this seemingly daunting task of implementing nutrition in every meal. Let’s do our own experiment today. Under normal banquet conditions the bread basket in front of you would contain just enough carbs, sugar and fat to make you feel satisfied as you listen to the speeches and awards. Today’s basket, however, is an example that good nutrition can happen anywhere, at any time. The chocolate, blueberry and banana muffins were prepared with the Sneaky Chef method, which substitutes blueberries, spinach, white beans, yams, carrots, wheat germ and oat bran. You didn’t realize you have been eating a salad of healthy ingredients hidden in a bread basket.
Feeding the hungry and teaching good nutrition simultaneously is not an easy task, but with knowledge you can help people turn every meal in one worth eating.
My dear friend is a chef whose tag line is “never waste a meal.” Well I say never waste a chance to make a meal as beneficial and as nurturing as it can be. I believe you will see from your bread basket indulgences this morning that the protein and fiber from the whole grains and veggies will keep you satisfied until lunchtime, or at least awake throughout my speech!
On the contrary, giving your children, or feeding the hungry for that matter, sugary breakfast cereal or white flour pancakes with syrup, will leave them hungry, tired and foggy thinking by mid morning. With the Sneaky Chef method you can take those most fundamental of American foods and use ingredients – basic every day ones, not just expensive ones, and enhance the results for child and adult alike. High glycemic sugary foods leave people hungrier – and this is not the result a family whose cupboards are bare needs after a meal.
For example, a simple can of beans, one of the most commonly donated foods the warehouse receives, can be hidden into a multitude of simple meals, and increase the value and results of every bite. You need simply mash them with the back of a fork and mix them into the tomato sauce that goes on the pasta, or into the mac ‘n cheese, and you have complemented the protein of a carbohydrate meal, giving it twice the normal staying power as well as twice the nutrients. With this kind of awareness, we have the chance to prove that food supplies and knowledge are critical partners to eradicating hunger and undernourishment.
My message is about teaching people that a can of beans for .69 cents is worth a great deal more to a life than a bag of potato chips that costs three dollars. It is not abundance that will stamp out hunger and malnutrition, it is balance that can have a lasting impact on the undernourished in our county, and in our world.
The problem is that empty foods are cheaper, more accessible and seemingly more filling. But that destructive cycle of malnourishment and lower enrichment, is met with quicker hunger after a meal and the loop never ends. This is what we have to combat. It is not enough just to fill their bellies. It is our job to help create a healthier population, can by can, box by box.
This education is already being addressed here with the successful Steps Program and Kids Café. We need to teach people how to fish, and not just give them fish. Let’s teach our beneficiaries how to use what’s being given to improve and enhance every opportunity they have.
I had the opportunity to volunteer with my husband and daughters this past Saturday in the Food Bank warehouse, helping sort and repack individual donations. I had the chance to work side-by-side with several other families who brought nothing with them into the room but the understanding of the urgency of keeping this organization and the people it serves moving. And that is how you come into the picture today.
You are either here to be recognized for your contribution to this most worthy and urgent of causes, or have indicated support, and today are being encouraged to step up the level of your game.
So let’s take the next step together. Let’s help those who can’t acquire the food on their own not only have access to the proper foods needed to promote health and well being, but also to use them in a way that will increase the yield of vitamins and fibers, and increase the chances of the next day in their lives being one step healthier and wiser.
We have an obligation not just to give them that bag of food, but also the education to go along with it. Let’s add that knowledge in the most accessible form possible, to the cartons and bags of food we provide, so even a grade-schooler can understand. My challenge is to make the most of every single can and every single meal.
Let’s teach healthy recipes using simple cooking techniques and a few basic ingredients like brown rice, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, and leafy greens.
And for those parents who work all day and oftentimes into the evening, let’s teach them how to leave snacks and meals for their loved ones that will enrich their lives, not just convenience foods that can rob them of the good nutrition they deserve to have. One of the main themes of my books is how easy it is to compete with the convenience foods. Let’s pass that message around.
What is happening in this organization, and in sister organizations around the country, is crucial and special. And looking out at a room filled with passionate people like you makes me believe anything we dream is possible.
It is a privilege for me to be invited to talk with people at your level of intellect and success. I am proud to join with you in support of this organization devoted to such a high calling as the care of the needy in our own community. Whether it is Westchester or the world, the drive must be in all of us to care for the hungry as we care for ourselves.
The Sneaky Chef