Should I Donate Unhealthy Food to a Food Drive?
I stopped at a rack of large empty paper sacks with lists of food items stapled to them in the church lobby. I reached for one, I hesitated. “Do you want to donate to the food drive?” my husband asked. “I do, but I feel conflicted”, I said. You see I really believe that most of the food on the list of things being asked for are unhealthy, cereal (most are full of sugar and artificial colors, white flour with only token whole grains) pancake mix (from white flour), peanut butter (inexpensive brands are made with transfat and sugar), canned pasta (Chef Boyardee has high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring-among other objectionable ingredients), Hamburger Helper (made with sugar, msg, artificial color: yellows # 5 & 6,, silicon dioxide), Macaroni and cheese (made with ingredients in the US that are banned in Europe), canned soups with MSG and sugar, etc.
I used to feed these same foods to my family but no more. As I continue learn more about food production and processing I have radically changed what I feed my own family. Does that mean we never eat anything processed or non-organic. No, it doesn’t, but we rarely eat out and buy or grow as much chemical free food as we can. We still have a few things now and then that wouldn’t be considered “healthy”. Donated food isn’t food for my family but I struggle with the idea that I would give something to another family that I wouldn’t feed my family (with exception of broccoli). The other side of the argument is that when people are going hungry, wouldn’t they rather have peanut butter with transfat and sugar than no peanut butter at all? Yes, I would eat that if the choice was between eating this unhealthy food and going hungry. Or, is it about what the recipient would choose, not about what I would choose for them even if I believe those choices are damaging to their health in the long run? If given a choice, would someone receiving donated peanut butter rather have the peanut butter with transfat and sugar or the organic peanut butter? No kid wants a box of All-Bran for breakfast. Oh wait, all-Bran has aspartame, never mind. My head is spinning! If providing cheap food is just putting a band aid on the problem, you still put on a band aid until you can find a better solution, right?
Another issue is whether I could donate more if I bought the cheap processed food? I do believe that you can feed your family good food, even organic food, on a budget. (In fact I have a 6 part post on that topic that begins here.) But that takes a period of time to watch for specials, take advantage of sales, maybe shop multiple stores and cook from scratch at home. When it comes to donating food, it needs to be non-perishable food that we obtain within a week or so for the food drive. Various solutions ran through my head. I could increase the amount I would spend and buy food that is less processed (not sure if there is a less processed version of Hamburger Helper). Wait, no matter what amount I decided to spend, I would always have the issue of the same amount of money buying more of the cheap food.
This is one issue at the heart of the debate over current food production methods. One side says that the current methods are perfectly safe, help feed the world and that our current level of food production is the only way to produce what is needed. The other side says that alternative methods can produce as much and that current methods have unintended consequences to human health and the environment. This is perhaps a gross oversimplification but, I don’t want to go down that road in this post. It is a very complex issue. In my opinion, the “experts” all agree that we should be eating less “processed” food. By that I mean food that has many added ingredients beyond what you would add if you made that food at home. By the way, that includes some fast food. It is incredibly processed with many extra ingredients. KFC cornbread has 38 ingredients, click here to see the label. My homemade cornbread has 8 ingredients. It makes you wonder why the other 30 ingredients are included. Here is an article that just came across my desk today on the dangers of getting too much phosphorus as it is used “as preservatives, anti-caking agents, stabilizers, leavening agents and acidifiers” in packaged foods. But I digress…..
I could donate food that is already purchased and in my pantry but I have nothing in my pantry from that list. (I’m even down to less than half a jar of peanut butter in the refrigerator because I’ve been trying out recipes for homemade protein bars.)
I could donate cash and let the food choices be someone else’s responsibility. I think I know though that the cash would be used to buy Hamburger Helper.
I could donate something that is not on the list. Probably the only thing I could find without food additives would be canned vegetables and fruits.
I’ve been thinking about this for about two weeks and have come up with an answer that I’ll share with you in my next post. If you believe that these processed foods are unhealthy and wouldn’t buy them for your own family, what would you do?