Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 30, 2008

Host: Ted Simons

Closing the Food Gap

  • Mark Winne, author of �Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty,� talks about current shortages and rising prices of food and how our nation�s food policy impacts low income families across America.
  • Mark Winne - Author
Category: Sustainability

View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
As food prices rise, it becomes especially difficult for low income families to put healthy food on their tables. The book "Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty" examines a variety of strategies for ending hunger. The author, Mark Winne, talks about his book tomorrow night at the Phoenix Public Library. I spoke with him yesterday.

>>Ted Simons:
Mark Winne, thank you for joining us on "Horizon".

>>Mark Winne:
Thank you, Ted.

>>Ted Simons:
Let's start with the basics here: what is the "Food Gap"?

>>Mark Winne:
"Food Gap" is people not having enough food. And in this country, we have about 35 million Americans that are considered hungry or "food-Insecure". Another aspect of the Food Gap, however, which is that a large number of Americans, particularly those living in lower income urban and rural areas, don't have sufficient access to a good, affordable supermarket like most of us are accustomed to. And then I'd say what the third aspect of it is that many of us are now gravitating toward more healthy and organically produced food. Locally produced food. And again, that food is often too expensive for low income people. So that's another feature of the Food Gap.

>>Ted Simons:
And you write that Food Gap has actually gotten worse since the 1960s.

>>Mark Winne:
Absolutely. Right. I mean, we have increased the number of Food Banks in this country from almost zero in the 1970s to over 200 today. It's one of the largest charitable institutions in the country. And we're unique among Developed Nations in that we actually rely so heavily on Food Banks to feed our people.

>>Ted Simons:
But I would think people would be surprised to hear anyone say anything negative about a Food Bank.

>>Mark Winne:
Well, I think in the richest country in the world, that we rely so heavily on food that has been donated - oftentimes surplus, oftentimes just simply wasted food, that we have - you know, they'd be surprised that we have sort of our safety net, the fact that we don't provide enough money for people to buy food, that they don't earn enough from their jobs in order to buy food, I think they'd be surprised to think that we have become so dependent on a form of charity to actually feed ourselves.

>>Ted Simons:
And yet, some would say: at least we're feeding ourselves. It may be an imperfect model, but something's getting done.

>>Mark Winne:
That's right. No, it is, and I think it's an important way that we, as a community, come together and try to solve a problem. But I would say that we have to stop and think about what we've been doing, and if this is really the best way to take care of people who are in need.

>>Ted Simons:
Now, I know you've been very much involved in things like Inner-City Garden and Inner-City Farmers' Markets and Community Gardens and these sorts of things. Is that a direction to go, instead of Food Banks?

>>Mark Winne:
It's not instead of Food Banks at all. I think it's important, again, for communities to come together to work with farmers to bring food into areas that aren't well-served, to take vacant land that can be turned into Community Gardens, and allow people to be able to produce their own food. That's a direction that's made a lot of sense. But I think that it's time for the public sector - and by that, I mean Government, the Local Government, State Government and Federal Government - to step up again and say, we're going to take responsibility, and make sure that everybody in this country has enough - not just enough to eat, but they have enough healthy food to eat, and that they can afford to buy good, healthy food. We don't have that commitment right now in this country.

>>Ted Simons:
Underlying what I'm hearing you say is not so much we don't have enough food, we don't have the right food, it sounds like more of a "War on Poverty" than a war on a Food Gap.

>>Mark Winne:
Exactly. I mean, we have spent so much of our effort, in terms of our approach to poverty, to conserve the social welfare of this country from the aspect of food - that we are going to actually address or manage poverty. That's the way I put it in my book. We're actually managing poverty by relying so heavily on food. Because we, as a nation, are compassionate, we're not going to let somebody starve to death. However, we're not going to go after the root causes of hunger, namely poverty. And that's what I think is unfortunate, that we have backed away from this commitment to ending poverty, and instead are simply deciding, we're going to give people enough so they don't starve to death.

>>Ted Simons:
Your involvement with the Hartford Food System: what is that, and why did it work, and how did it not work?

>>Mark Winne:
Well [chuckles], I was involved for 24 years in Hartford, Connecticut, and I did everything, I think, that anyone's ever done, with respect to food. And some of it did not work, and some of it did. But again, it was that kind of rallying together that communities often do so well, and we found that Farmers' Markets were a great way to help people. I started a Food Bank in Hartford. I started Community Gardens. We tried to bring supermarkets back into a city that had been virtually abandoned by supermarkets over the course of 20 years. We didn't succeed at that. That was a very difficult task. Again, I think what we learned is that the more we could engage the public sector, in this case, it was the City, oftentimes the State of Connecticut in working with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, sometimes the supermarket industry itself, we could solve problems together that we could never solve alone.

>>Ted Simons:
How do you answer those critics that would say it's all fine and dandy that we all eat whole foods, and we all eat holistic foods, and everything is picked from a Backyard Garden. But for folks who are hungry and need food, any port in a storm. They got their food. Why can't we be happy with that, as opposed to something that's holistic and organic, etc, etc?

>>Mark Winne:
Well, I think the question here is how important and how healthy and how necessary is organic food? And again, I would say that if most of us actually believe that organic food is better for you than conventionally-produced food, then I think that everybody ought to be entitled to having the best food available. Now, the "any port in the storm" approach often suggests that we eat food that has way too many calories in it, and not enough nutrients. So, if we have to make a choice, let's go for healthy food. Let's forget the organic. But let's at least find healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products. These are the things that often are the most expensive.

>>Ted Simons:
And you talk about expense, last question. Rising food prices right now. A big concern are here around the world. How does that factor into all this?

>>Mark Winne:
It's a huge problem. It's affecting everybody in all income groups. But it's affecting the poor the most.

>>Ted Simons:
Alright. Mark, thank you so much for joining us. "Closing the Food Gap." interesting stuff.

>>Mark Winne:
Thank you.

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