Farmers’ Markets Receive Federal Aid to Accept Food Stamps

In an effort to expand buyers’ access to fresh, local produce, the federal government has contributed $4 million to aid low-income consumers in purchasing food from farmers’ markets. The federal Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) food stamp program, officially renamed as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in October 2008, provides food aid to about 44.2 million Americans – just over 14 percent of the country’s total population. Food stamp usage is highest in the South, where as much as 20 percent of the region’s population participates in SNAP.

The money will be allocated to farmers’ markets in various states, and will enable farmers’ markets to install electronic point-of-sale technology at cash registers that will allow farmers to accept and process food stamps. Eleven farmers’ markets in Delaware will receive a total of about $5,000, while 687 California markets will receive the largest grant, totaling nearly $427,000. The federal government’s decision will stimulate local economies nationwide and encourage people to visit farmers’ markets to try new foods and adopt nourishing eating habits.

By accepting food stamps, farmers’ markets will promote healthy eating and provide nutritious food to people who would not otherwise have access to a diverse array of locally-grown fruits and vegetables. More than 11 million low-income Americans live in so-called “food deserts,” meaning that they do not have easy or convenient access to large grocery stores carrying healthy food – and do not have access to reliable transportation – within a 10- or even 20-mile radius of their homes in rural areas, or within a one-mile radius in urban areas. Because supermarkets’ prices are typically lower than prices at convenience stores, Americans without convenient access to supermarkets have to shop at smaller stores for a higher price. In addition, Americans who struggle to afford food often purchase the cheapest foods they can find, which are usually loaded with sugar, fat, sodium, preservatives, and chemicals. Food deserts primarily affect low-income Americans without the financial means to purchase fresh and healthy food, which is often more expensive than junk food.

In a statement published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), agriculture deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “Our country’s 7,100 operating farmers markets offer opportunities to our children and their families to access healthy food across the country. SNAP participation at farmers’ markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers — a win-win for agriculture and local communities.”

Of the 7,100 farmers’ markets in operation across the country, more than 1,500 farmers’ markets currently accept food stamps through SNAP. Merrigan expects farmers’ markets to grow in popularity as a result of the $4 million in aid, as more customers take advantage of increased access to fresh and healthy produce. “When we couple this approach with strategies like the education, cooking demonstrations, and community support often found at farmers markets, consumption of healthy foods should rise even more,” she said.

States whose residents rely most heavily on food stamps include Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, New Mexico, Michigan, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, and South Carolina. The use of food stamps has risen considerably following the economic recession, which hit in 2008. In 2006, SNAP had 26.5 million users; by 2009, that number had risen to 33 million and had climbed even higher to the current 44.2 million by 2011. A growing number of Americans who rely on federal aid to purchase food translates to higher costs incurred by the federal government: in 2010, food stamps cost the government a total of $64 billion. 

To find a farmers’ market near you, enter your zip code at the online USDA National Farmers Market Directory.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2539937014 

Southern California Fish: A Tale of Mistaken Identity

Attention Southern California seafood aficionados: a recent report carried out by environmental advocacy group Oceana sheds light on a trend of mislabeling fish being bought and sold at restaurants and grocery stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties.  In the course of the study that began last year, Oceana collected and tested DNA from 119 fish samples taken from merchants who remained unnamed in the report.  Focusing on species most commonly misrepresented—soles, yellow tail, wild salmon, red snapper, and white tuna—the goal of the study was to determine just how often the wrong fish made it to California plates.

In all, the study found that the majority of seafood tested was mislabeled; and sushi restaurants proved to be the guiltiest of parties.  Eighty-seven percent of fish that were tested from sushi restaurants turned out to be falsely classified.  Snapper turned out to be the most commonly mislabeled fish species, with every sample being incorrectly labeled.  In “snapper” cases, tilapia had been substituted at least half of the time.   And snapper was not the only example: Japanese amberjack was found to be often sold as yellowtail, halibut as flounder, and sea bream as sea bass. 

In 89% of cases, white tuna was switched out for the snake mackerel, escolar—a species known for its diarrheal effects.  Which brings up another important point, the health of the consumer.  According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food imported from other countries is one of the leading causes of outbreaks in disease in the United States. Dr. Hannah Gould, of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, explains in an article on the agency’s website: “As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too.”  Furthermore, “We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks.”

In addition to the mislabeling of fish species, the country of the animal’s origin is often times left out as well.  And under federal regulation, species substation is illegal as it is fraud.  For the time being, plans for a future investigation is pending to decide when and where the swapping of fish takes place; if not in the restaurant and grocery store level, than when in the buyer/seller chain?

For California State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), this mislabeling is a serious issue and the reason behind Senate Bill 1486, a new legislation that he drafted and introduced to the California Senate in February of this year.  “I was very surprised at the scale of how much this was going on,” Lieu expressed his concern over the newest Oceana report.  “A consumer would be paying for a more expensive kind of fish when in fact they’re getting a cheaper kind of fish, and it could be from a foreign country, which means they might have a higher chance of getting sick from eating it.”

With concerns of fraud and consumer safety set aside, this is a problem that is entirely fixable.  Under SB 1486, California restaurants would be required to not only label fish species properly, but also to disclose the animal’s country of origin. The next step is urging California State representatives to approve SB 1486, and you could do that by signing the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: publications.nigms.nih.gov/findings/sept11/images/sushi.jpg

Eco Friendly Restaurants in the United States

Food-RestaurantDining out at restaurants is a popular way for Americans across the country to spend some leisure time while enjoying tasty and delicious food. With thousands of options in major cities around the United States, it can be hard to find eco friendly, sustainable restaurants that serve mouth watering food. Restaurants in all corners of the country have taken on the green lifestyle approach by sourcing their food from local farms, cooking with organic ingredients, using recycled packaging, and decreasing the amount of waste production. Enjoying a meal at a local restaurant can be both fulfilling for your appetite while consciously taking steps to help the environment.

San Francisco can be considered one of the pioneer cities in the United States to take on the environmentally friendly lifestyle. Implemented in the cuisine throughout the Bay Area, green restaurants have been popping up for decades. Opened in 1971 by Alice Waters, Chez Panisse is an eco conscious Berkley establishment that promotes the healthy choices of eating organically. The restaurant strongly believes that the best food created comes from farmers harvesting organic food, on land that is well maintained. Chez Panisse is considered a fine dining option, with prix fix dinner menus starting from $65-85 a person.

If budget is a factor, Mixt Greens is a wallet and eco friendly restaurant with many locations around San Francisco. Like many other establishments, Mixt Greens believes in serving the freshest organic foods that are locally sourced and good for the environment. Aside from the sustainable food, Mixt Greens is a restaurant that has gone green throughout the whole structure of the building. All Mixt Greens buildings have been created by using recycled products and materials that are good for the environment.  All the packaging in the restaurants is 100% biodegradable, including everything from cups, plates, to utensils. Mixt Greens is one of only a small group of five restaurants in the San Francisco area to be a Certified Bay Area Green Business, mainly due to their ongoing efforts for green dining and educational outreach to the community.

Over on the east coast, eco friendly restaurants have been attracting diners for years. ABC Kitchen in the heart of New York City is an environmentally conscious option for people who want exceptional food. Also creating dishes with locally sourced, organic food, the chefs take pride in making sure none of their food has had exposure to pesticides, and comes from the freshest, most humanely treated farms in the region. ABC Kitchen’s globally diverse menu allows diners to experience tastes from around the world without burning a hole in their wallets, all while being kind to the environment.

Sustainability is a popular idea in a Miami hotspot named for being just that. Sustain, a restaurant and bar in the tropical city of Miami is an eco friendly option to a night out on the town. Seasonal ingredients and presented to diners in delicious dishes. The food at Sustain is modern American, while the décor is dramatic and resembles a wooden ribcage. All aspects of the restaurant have been created based on the simple idea of keeping everything good for the environment. Grass-fed beef options are on the menu, along with their popular “50 Mile Salad”, which is created from vegetables sourced no more than 50 miles away from the restaurant. The interior decorations have also been made with sustainable furnishings, including reclaimed materials, LED lights, and green-guard certified fabrics.  

For those who are consciously aware of eating green while in Sin City, Las Vegas has fine dining cuisine right on the strip. The Venetian and Palazzo Hotels, located right in the middle of all the Las Vegas action, boast three restaurants that are certified Green Restaurants. From celebrity chef Mario Batali, along with Joe Bastianich, comes Enoteca San Marco, B&B Ristorante at the Venetian, and Carnevino at the Palazzo. All take fresh ingredients and masterfully create Italian dishes for diners. The three different restaurants take into account reducing their carbon footprint by conserving water and paper, removing the use of bottled water within the establishments, and recycling. Healthy and sustainable food has gone mainstream at these centrally located Las Vegas restaurants.

Green living has become easily accessible for millions of people across the country through restaurants that cater to eco friendly needs. A top priority for these restaurants have been to use organic food that has been locally sourced in the region, by farmers who take care of their environment to the best of their abilities. The buildings and décor have also played a key role in creating attractive spaces while using sustainable materials. Eco friendly restaurants in the United States have taken the green lifestyle and implemented into their food and dining experience, giving diners the best products while still making sure the environment receives the best care.

Photo credit: greenvillesc.gov/Culture/images/Dining_outdoor.jpg