bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Don’t do the crime if you can’t stand the cold food in the kitchen

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In the news last week was an exposé of prison food in British Colombia. Allegedly, prisoners have become ill after eating food distributed to prisons from a central kitchen. Sometimes prisons have run out of food before all of the prisoners have been served, leaving inmates to go hungry. Based on the comments, it seems that most people believe that prisoners should suck it up. After all, they’re criminals and are lucky that they’re getting food from our tax dollars. How dare they ask for food that’s safe or even nutritious. Just a taste of some of the comments:

Just looked at their menus they eat better than I do! Ohh and I work and pay taxes! These bums have a lot of nerve complaining. Try working for a living, try feeding your children and being a good parent. They blame society inequality and drugs for all their problems… The reality is there’s only one person to blame the one in the mirror! Do inmates children on the outside have enough to eat? Are they warm at night? Theses looser bring children into the world and forgo their responsibility…

Don’t like the food? Don’t put yourself in a position where you may go there.

Cry me a river. A murderer complaining that his prison food is not to his liking.

I know, I know “never read the comments”… I did it for you!

I think that many people are missing the point. Everyone deserves access to safe and nutritious food. If our prisons are intended to rehabilitate people who have committed crimes (which they ostensibly are) then nutritious food is an important component of that process. A number of studies have shown that nutrition affects cognition and behaviour (1, 2, 3). I’m sure that most of us have anecdotal experiences of the effects of poor (or good) nutrition on mood and behaviour. I know that I felt pretty crappy after the weekend I survived on primarily poutine, coffee, and beer. And that was one weekend! Imagine the effect that long-term malnutrition can have on mood and behaviour. I’m not saying that prisoners should be eating gourmet meals every day. However, if we want to rehabilitate inmates and have more of them re-enter society as contributing members then we need to provide them with the tools they need to do so. Good nutrition, and the ability to prepare nutritious meals upon release, is one of these tools.


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Follow Friday: Good and Cheap

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A friend and regular reader shared a link to the cookbook Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown with me last week. The book was created as part of her Master’s Thesis and is available for free under a Creative Commons licence. According to Brown, the cookbook was designed to be affordable for people using  SNAP (formerly food stamps) in the US. However, I’m sure that most of the recipes would be equally affordable for Canadians on a budget. In addition to being affordable, the recipes are nutritious and appealing. Even if you’re not on a tight budget there’s likely something in here you’d like to try: pumpkin oatmeal, broccoli apple salad, or brussels sprouts hash and eggs perhaps.


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Follow Friday: @EconomicPolicy

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Check-out this really neat interactive site on income inequality. I’m earning more than $17, 000 less than the average person like myself. I’m also earning more than $22, 000 less than what I could be if wages had grown with productivity (based on American figures). I’d love to see a Canadian counterpart to this site!

If you’re wondering what this has to do with nutrition… Did you know that income is the number one factor affecting food security? Healthy food tends to be one of the first expenses to go to the way-side when money is tight.


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Follow Friday: Community Carrot Co-op @CarrotHFX

Everyone deserves the right to have access to affordable and healthy food. Unfortunately, many people for many reasons (e.g. lack of transportation, lack of income, lack of time, etc.) do not have easy access to nutritious food. A group of people in the North end of Halifax are competing for an Aviva Community Grant to support a food co-op in their community. Competing ventures win based on votes from the community. Anyone can vote up to 15 times. If you want to vote for this worthy venture click here. The Aviva profile will tell you more about the Community Carrot Co-op and also provides a link to their facebook page for those of you who are into facebook. For those of you, like me, who don’t do facebook but are addicted to twitter, don’t worry they’re on there too: @CarrotHFX. If you’re not on twitter or facebook (what? Do those people even exist??) you can visit their website: http://www.communitycarrot.coop/

 


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Food insecurity is not simple math

A recent study showed that healthy food is actually less expensive than “junk” food. This study eschewed the usual caloric comparison of foods for a portion-based comparison. Based on this comparison the researchers found that many healthy foods are, in fact, cheaper than their less nutritious counterparts. For example, a serving of carrots was found to be less expensive than a serving of potato chips. I agree that healthy food is not necessarily all that expensive and some options (e.g. beans, legumes, and root vegetables) can be quite economical. However, I have several major issues with this study.

Having worked with people experiencing food insecurity I know that the first concern of most of them is getting enough calories into their family members and keeping them as full as possible. So, even if this study is showing that by portion size and by edible weight, healthy foods are less expensive than unhealthy foods this is not how the majority of people who are suffering from food insecurity are thinking. They’re trying to get caloric bang for their buck. Sadly, carrots are not going to give them as many calories for their dollar as pop and hot dogs are.

Even if we accept what the study is telling us, there is a lot more to consider beyond the face-value of these foods. Many of these healthy food items are not ready to eat as is. Do you know anyone who’s going to eat onions straight-up? How about dried chickpeas? These foods require cooking skills, equipment, and additional ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, oils, etc. to make them palatable). Many people, be they food insecure or not, are lacking in the food skills department and may not have the confidence or knowledge to cook a rutabaga. Do they have a stove to use? What about pots? Knives? Vegetable peelers? All of the additional ingredients and supplies can add a considerable amount of cost to the meal.

Another major issue when it comes to food insecurity is oral health. If your teeth are sore or missing it’s going to be mighty difficult to chow down on raw carrots and apples. Potato chips and spam are much easier to manage when you’re lacking quality teeth.

So, sure, serving for serving some fresh vegetables may be less expensive than “junk” food but food insecurity is not simple math.