In my personal life, I eat a high-protein, low-carb diet because it helps me keep my weight down but also because I know that it makes me feel better, have more energy, and stay stronger. In my role at Feeding America, leading the Manufacturing Product Sourcing team, I recently was struck by how challenging it must be for the people we serve to make sure that they are eating enough protein. And how that must impact their lives.
It’s a fact that animal protein products and other grocery items high in protein are donated less frequently than other items like snacks and cereal. During the holidays, the people we serve are often more likely to get protein as special effort is put towards donating holiday meals. But it is important that people facing hunger get a balanced diet all year round.
While Americans consume over 326 billion pounds of protein each year, food banks only receive enough protein to represent 1 percent of their total distribution. Sure, I realize that the people we serve don’t only rely on food banks and can use their own money to buy protein to supplement the food bank’s food, but I also know from shopping for groceries, that if I had a limited budget each month it would be hard buy enough meat, eggs and dairy – given how expensive those items are.
The expense of these items also explain why they are seldom donated and when they are, why they are offered at smaller quantities. All forms of animal protein are expensive, so the industry gets the most out of every animal produced. Sausage uses scraps, pet food uses trimmings and rendering converts the remaining inedible parts into sauces and flavorings. Very rarely is there unsellable beef, chicken, pork, fish or eggs, which is the major source of food donation across the country.
I realize how lucky I am to be able to afford the dietary choices that I can make and my team is committed to sourcing as much more protein as we can to overcome the challenges.
Yes there are other, less expensive forms of protein that can provide the same nutrient value. And we do source those as well. But for most non-vegetarian American diets, beans, legumes and soy just can’t totally replace the various meats in our favorite recipes and menus.
Which means that our teams have to source animal protein for donation in creative ways all year round. We are getting better – and we are very appreciative of partners in the industry that are willing to help find creative ways to get more protein to our neighbors.
One particularly effective new program is companies donating significant amounts of high-value food like protein then generating sales by messaging their support to fight hunger to their customers. Smithfield’s campaign for Farmland Bacon provided thousands of pounds of bacon as they drove traffic to their website.
The United Dairy Council’s (UDC) Great America Milk Drive allows the public to donate as little as $5 which then provides gallons of milk to families that otherwise they would not be able to afford. While it’s not meat, milk is a key source of protein especially for children. USDA recommendation for milk consumption is three cups per day or more than one gallon per week. Food banks currently only have access to enough milk to distribute one gallon of milk per person per year! UDC is committed to changing that.
For the past several years, United Egg Producers have partnered with food banks to donate over 10 million eggs per year supporting their annual Easter Egg promotion. Because of the egg farmers across the country, families have protein-rich eggs for meals and even to boil and decorate for the holiday.
It inspires me when companies understand the need for protein and creatively find a way to provide their products in a way that they can afford. We’ve also built similar programs for other products – it’s just thrilling to have this new focus within the protein industry because protein is so valuable.
My dream would be that every food bank would be able to provide a full variety of foods at every agency we serve so that every family could chose to feed their families as they would if they were able. No one should be forced to compromise their family’s nutrition or to limit their choices to what others select for them. Food banks should be able to offer all types of snacks, cereal and beverages throughout the year just like a supermarket. But also, like the corner grocer, we should offer sufficient quantities and varieties of protein to eat a balanced, or even low-carb diet.
So while my personal new year’s resolution will focus on more protein and fewer carbs, so will my professional resolution. And I hope that others will continue their support of this important professional resolution.
Karen Hanner is the Managing Director of Manufacturing Partnerships at Feeding America.