KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, this is Earth Eats and I'm your host Kayte Young.
BRICK KYLE: So I would start with like the birthday cake and I was like, "That's not enough." So I would make cream puffs, and eclairs, and I had an extra loaf cake lying around.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show Toby Foster visits with baker and artist Brick Kyle about his elaborate color saturated food photography. And I speak with Katie Martin author of a new book about addressing root causes of food insecurity and developing new tools to end hunger. That's all just ahead, so stay with us.
I'm Kayte Young this is Earth Eats. We're starting today's show with a story from producer Toby Foster.
BRICK KYLE: I have one of them titled Party for Jessica, I bought this adorable porcelain dog, and made her a bunch of petit fours and macarons and she had a little party.
TOBY FOSTER: I first met Brick Kyle when we worked together at the Owlery, a vegetarian restaurant in Bloomington Indiana where Brick still works as the baker.
BRICK KYLE: Hi I'm Brick Kyle, I'm a photographer and baker and graphic designer in Bloomington Indiana.
TOBY FOSTER: I was always impressed with his ability to constantly come up with creative new ideas for vegan desserts and his knack for bright fun decorations for every different season or holiday, particularly his Halloween inspired designs.
BRICK KYLE: Definitely at the Owlery I can base things off of vanilla or chocolate and there's like a lot of roadblocks to that but it's fun to get creative with like different sprinkles, or like the candy eyeballs and different fruit flavors. There should never be anything just plain, I don't think.
TOBY FOSTER: I wanted to talk to Brick after I attended a recent art opening that he was a part of. He was showing a really delightful series of photographs the all centered around food. Each one is wild and colorful, packed with different foods and beverages, surrounded by things like glasses, mugs, teapots, candles, books, plants, little statues, almost like a scene from a Where's Waldo drawing. I asked him where he got the inspiration for the series.
BRICK KYLE: So like over the pandemic it was the first time I'd had where I had like buckets of time and a little bit of expendable income due to the unemployment. And so I started getting obsessed with finding different hobbies to fill my time.
So I went and I like started investing a lot of time into learning how to bake and finding the things that I wanted to make, like little French pastries, and cupcakes, and cakes and what not. And I got really into learning about how to take like food photography. And coming from like taking portraits of drag performers that involves like a lot of color and sparkle and different lighting scenarios. So I wanted to apply what I knew from drag photography and portrait photography and do it with food. And I have like a surplus of chotskies, flowers, and boards and stuff. So they're my little displays.
TOBY FOSTER: I wanted to know more about the process of staging and taking the photos, the steps that go into the actual arrangements and the techniques used for the photography itself.
BRICK KYLE: If I have everything baked, setting up and shooting takes like three hours. I take bites out of the food and put it in with light displays. There's little secrets everywhere I like where I march gummy bears, and spill Bourbon, and cut open cake, and drip frosting. It's a very messy process.
I learned about harsh lighting, so there's never any diffusion from the strobes that I use. So like normally you would make a really soft lighting if you're doing food, and make it look approachable, and edible. And I wanted to make everything crunchy and crispy and kind of reminiscent of like 70s dinner party salmon platters, like something gross but filled with like pink and purple sweets.
TOBY FOSTER: I asked him to describe a little bit about how the process starts.
BRICK KYLE: I really wanted to make from Milk Bar birthday cake. It was I think a lot of these were around my birthday, so it was just like I couldn't celebrate with anybody so I might as well make the things I wanted to make or buy. So I would start with like the birthday cake and I was like, "That's not enough." So I would make cream puffs, and eclairs, and I had an extra loaf cake laying around. So it would start with like either a pastry that I wanted to make or like a tchotchke that I had that I wanted to feature.
And one of them titled Party for Jessica I bought this like adorable porcelain dog and made her a bunch of petit four and macarons and she had a little party.
TOBY FOSTER: Party for Jessica and several other prints are available on Brick's website, BrickdKyle.com. I can definitely see the 70s dinner party inspiration in this one with the bright pink pastries, bubbly red glass candle holders, and retro cake stands. You can also find Brick and his photography on social media.
BRICK KYLE: I guess check my Instagram I have a few handles, like one for normal food photography which is pdk_product. My main art page is HeyBrickKyle and a lot of my film stuff is at Brickeys_pickies and my website BrickDKyle.com.
TOBY FOSTER: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about this stuff.
BRICK KYLE: Thank you.
(Music plays out)
KAYTE YOUNG: That story comes to us from producer Toby Foster. Don't worry if you missed any of those sites, we have links to Brick Kyle's work on our website EarthEats.org.
We'll be devoting the rest of the show to a conversation with Katie S Martin. She's the executive director of the Food Share Institute of Hunger Research and Solutions and the author of the book Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries; New Tools to End Hunger which came out in early 2021 from Island Press. Regular listeners will know that I have an ongoing interest and issues of food security. We've addressed it a number of times on the show and I'm always excited to hear from people who are approaching the topic from new perspectives. Often the stories I hear in food media reports about how long the line was at the food bank or how many more people have needed food assistance during the pandemic, followed by a call for donations to food drives. Having worked in the food assistance field myself I know that the issues are much more complex than pounds of food and numbers of people needing aid. That's why I wanted to talk with Katie Martin.
KATIE MARTIN: I'm Katie Martin, I'm the executive director of The Institute for Hunger Research and Solutions at Connecticut Food Bank / Food Share in Connecticut.
KAYTE YOUNG: Can you tell me more about that organization? What all does it encompass?
KATIE MARTIN: So we are a regional food bank and a member of the Feeding America Network, one of 200 food banks across the country. We are a food bank in that we collect and distribute millions of pounds of food to local food pantries, meal programs, that then distribute food directly to individuals. And through the Institute we serve as a resource for other food banks, food pantries, and community partners to build the capacity to create more holistic and long-term solutions to the problem of hunger.
KAYTE YOUNG: Can you tell me a little bit your background and what was your entry point into the charitable food system?
KATIE MARTIN: When I was an undergraduate studying at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana, I was studying political science. And I am originally from Dayton Ohio and so I reached out to my congressman from Dayton to do an internship to build my poli-sci repertoire. And I interned with him, and it really shaped my focus on the issue of hunger specifically. Congressman Tony Hall from Dayton has been a lifelong advocate for anti-hunger work domestically and internationally, and that really honed my interest specifically on this preventable problem of hunger in a wealthy country like the United States.
KAYTE YOUNG: The book is Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries; New Tools to End Hunger and the book is really a guide for food banks and food pantries, with the idea of really reimagining what they do, and also you talk about a paradigm shift in how we talk about hunger. Can you explain what you mean by that?
KATIE MARTIN: Sure, I think for most people when you think about hunger it's not surprising to think that hunger is rooted in poverty. But folks are experiencing hunger not because we don't have enough food in the United States, but because we lack justice, and we lacked a priority of creating a social safety net and other wraparound services. And yet I think as a nation we have tackled this complex problem with a relatively simple solution of providing very short-term supplies of food.
And the paradigm shift is about thinking differently about the root causes of hunger. And even in simple things like the language that we use to describe this work, we typically think of this work, and it's often referred to as the emergency food system, or emergency food programs. And I scratch my head at this because this quote-unquote emergency has been going on for decades. And I think when we focus on the emergency short-term nature of this work it takes our eyes away from tackling those more systemic long-term issues that require political change, systems change, really looking at inequality and disparities.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah I would love to hear you say more about that, how can those in the charitable food system take on those problems or move towards collaborating with others who are addressing those problems?
KATIE MARTIN: So I would say historically most food banks and food pantries in the U.S. were started in the 1970s and predominantly in the 1980s. And for a long time really the emphasis was on collecting and distributing non-perishable food, and then we shifted into providing more access to perishable food and produce. But the emphasis was really really on food, food in, food out. And probably about 10-15 years ago many food banks recognized that in order to try to help people longer-term, we should be promoting and advocating for the SNAP program or what used to be called food stamps. So doing some of that advocacy and outreach be pretty common practice within food banks, the majority of food banks nationally now do SNAP outreach.
Some food banks though still see this is mission creep. Some food banks think still think our job is to move food, and we shouldn't be stepping our toes into that advocacy type of work. Increasingly though I think many folks are saying we have to move beyond the short-term supplies of food if we really want to be serious about our mission to end hunger or to prevent folks from needing food in the first place.
So some food banks are moving beyond just SNAP outreach, but other types of benefits outreaches - advocating and providing information about the earned income tax credit, and Affordable Health Care, childcare other resources. And as you mentioned often that comes with collaborations. Collaborating with other existing community partners that do that kind of work so that we can create more one-stop shopping for the people that we serve.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah and I think what you said about advocating for some things that like SNAP benefits, I think that people who maybe aren't that familiar with the charitable food system might not really think this through, but putting dollars in people's hands to go to the grocery store allows them to not only choose what they want, but it also provides that dignity that you also talked about in your book. Which no matter how welcoming or cheerful a food pantry is, it's still not sort of the traditional way that people access food in our culture and so it does feel stigmatizing sometimes to go to those places. And so I don't know, I just I just wanted to point that out that SNAP is more efficient in a lot of ways, and it really allows the choice, the dignity, that kind of the convenience. I just think that that's something important to point out.
KATIE MARTIN: Well and I'll just build on that that in addition to all of those benefits, SNAP dollars put funding right into the local economy. So it puts resources into small businesses and help support the local economy and people are buying the food that they need for their families. So it is absolutely a win-win.
KAYTE YOUNG: I wonder, since we're talking about SNAP, if we could just have a little bit more about what you see as the role of government in addressing hunger, and addressing poverty I guess, if we're talking about poverty as one of the root causes of hunger.
KATIE MARTIN: Many people view the government as providing the social safety net for people to be able to live and thrive. The federal food assistance programs like SNAP, like School Meal programs, like the Women Infants and Children program called WIC are the first line of defense against hunger. So these programs were established predominantly in the 1960s, 1970s and we know they work. So that when kids get school meals they do better at school, they're less likely to be absent, they're more likely to do well in their lives. When people are receiving SNAP they have better health outcomes etcetera. It's a good investment for a social safety net.
Similarly I would argue that we have a federal minimum wage, and the name implies that it's the minimum amount by which you would need to be able to get by without other types of assistance, and it has eroded so much over the last few decades. I write about in my book how when I was in high school I made 3.35 an hour, in minimum wage, and it's now federally at national level at $7.25. It just hasn't kept pace with all of the other expenses that we have today. So many municipalities, many states have higher minimum wages than that, but that really is the government's role to say that, "This is the standard by which we need to have a minimum."
And that's largely how the charitable food system evolved, because there were cuts to those Federal food assistance programs, and many people were having a hard time getting enough food. And so local well-meaning people, primarily in faith-based organizations got together and said, "We want to make sure that our neighbors have enough food." Many people would argue that really should be the government's responsibility, that should not be just for well-meaning neighbors that spring up here and there.
I'll also point out we sometimes create this dichotomy of what is the role for government, what is the role of charitable nonprofit organizations, but let's not forget the business sector, the private sector and their role. So yes it's important to have a minimum wage that is livable, but employers need to be able to pay that living wage and to hire folks at full-time where they have benefits to be able to support their families, and unfortunately that does not always happen. So I think we need all three sectors be involved to really address both food and insecurity and poverty.
KAYTE YOUNG: You talked a little bit about some of the wraparound services that you think up a food pantry can provide other than just providing food, and also if you want to take this opportunity to just talk a little bit about how you imagine food pantries being different than just a place where maybe you wait in line and take a box.
KATIE MARTIN: Yeah I try to paint the difference between a traditional pantry - what I refer to traditional meaning people wait in line often outside in all the elements, and they get to the front of the line, and they're handed a bag or box of food the volunteers have prepared for them, they leave, they come back a week, later a month later, and restart the cycle. We compare that, in the chapters in my book I describe different topic to shift that paradigm.
So first looking at client choice of allowing guests, or customers, or clients to be able to select their food at a food pantry. So rather than handing them a bag of food, allowing people to choose their food with dignity, so that's key. I talk about promoting healthy food in different ways, to not only focus on just the quantity of food but the quality of the food. And then like you mentioned, thinking of other wraparound services. So when someone's coming to get food we know that they're very grateful for that food, they need that food for their families this week, but this can be a great opportunity to ask about and to offer additional services because the food is just the tip of the iceberg. Folks are coming not just because they need food, but they need other supports whether that's education, employment, childcare, legal assistance, mental assistance, etcetera. And a food pantry can be in nice entry place for those types of wraparound services. And that's where collaborations are great. So you could invite other community agencies, partners, programs, workshops to come to a food pantry setting and offer those as kind of one-stop shopping.
KAYTE YOUNG: I'm speaking with Katie Martin, more from our conversation after short break. Stay with us.
I'm Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats. If you're just joining us, my guest is Katie Martin, she's the author of the book Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries and we've been talking about a paradigm shift in the way organizations address food insecurity. In conversations with a previous guest on our program, Amanda Nikki of Mother Hubbard's cupboard, or the Hub as it's known locally, we've addressed many of the issues Katie Martin brings up in her book. The Hub has been a client choice pantry since its founding over 20 years ago. They include nutrition education, garden education, they offer a tool share program and host other organizations for outreach in the pantry. They have an advocacy program that includes educating and involving community members and local and state-level legislation that affects their lives. At the heart of their work is dignity and community-building and increasingly their focus has shifted towards addressing the root causes of hunger. With the pandemic The Hub, had to scale back much of their programming and focus on keeping staff and the community they serve safe, while also providing food assistance in meeting the growing demand. We heard from Amanda Nikki in the spring of 2020 about what those changes looked like, and the challenges they faced.
I asked Katie Martin about the impact of the pandemic on food banks and pantries who may have already made the changes she suggests in her book, or who may have been moving in that direction.
KATIE MARTIN: I would say when covid hit, in addition to just how hard that time was when we can reflect back a year ago, for me it was like a gut-punch of recognizing there's no way that people can offer client choice in the same dignified way that we've been advocating for. It just felt like... oh my gosh, I felt like we were really making strides in that direction, that more people were getting ready to do that. And then it was like we're taking 15 steps backwards.
I have a background in public health, and I would so appreciate that of course we need to be careful for public health precautions during a health pandemic. I really encourage though that during covid I've heard a lot of really innovative things that have happened, that people have created new online systems for people to order from a food pantry, or a food bank, or even you using a Google spreadsheet to allow people to see what food items are available from the food pantry or food bank and allowing some level of choice. So there's innovation that's happened.
I think part of offering choice is also asking our guests, "What's your preference for how you select your food? Would it be easier for you, perhaps if you have young kids and it's harder for you to get out like to be able to come and do a drive-through occasionally to get your food?" That's choice also. So I think we're going to hopefully evolve from covid emerge from covid with just a different mindset of we have to do things and probably multiple ways and hybrid ways because there isn't a one size fits all approach.
I'm also hopeful that the timing of this book coming out, when everyone's had to change up their status quo, that people will be more ready for these kinds of changes.
Some of the cracks in the systems that I saw and that I've heard from many other folks is as you mentioned volunteers. The charitable food system would not exist if it were not for a whole army of volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens and retirees. And they could not come out at the beginning of covid for health reasons. So that exposed to some of our fragility. The other thing that it really exposed in at least certain communities, in Hartford Connecticut where I focus a lot of my work, on paper, there are a whole host of food pantries available. So it looks like we're serving the need. But during covid we realize that many of those food pantries are open one time a month, two Tuesday's a month, very limited hours and days of the week. So when we saw the surge in demand of new people, newly unemployed, newly in need of food, many of those, our traditional pantry programs didn't have the capacity to bring on additional people and hours. That's a clear limitation. And that's part of the vision that I write about in my book is having more collaboration and perhaps consolidation of different agencies within a community to create more comprehensive coordinated food hubs that are open multiple days a week, evening and weekend hours, that have full-time paid staff with living wages. It's really more of it the type of agency that can respond to the need.
I for a long time I have been talking about covid and the lessons we've learned from covid, it's covid specific. But I've been starting to shift that of referring more to 2020. That not only was it this public health pandemic, this global pandemic, but it was also the murder of George Floyd, and our renewed awareness of systemic racism, and the structural inequalities that existed before the pandemic hit, but wow did that come full focus for many of us.
I bring that up just because it reveals whose most at risk for food insecurity and then how we tackle those issues. So when we only focus on food, that's that a short-term solution. When we recognize the underlying issues of why certain groups of people are much more at risk for food insecurity, then we look more upstream at more systemic solutions, and why those advocacy groups, and bringing people together at the community level to talk about what's not working, why that's so important.
KAYTE YOUNG: Could you say more about that and how you think food pantries and food banks I guess too, can begin to address some of those issues or start that process?
KATIE MARTIN: So an easy example is when a food pantry offers SNAP outreach and helping members enroll in SNAP. You can think that of that is pretty transactional. You're providing information, you're doing it in a confidential way to make sure you take down all their information and so that they can apply and enroll in the SNAP program. Simple, easy, well not super easy, but it's pretty straightforward.
If on the other hand you think of that as an opportunity to engage and to understand. You're asking a lot of questions when you're filling out a SNAP application, and you're understanding what some of those challenges and struggles are, but also their perhaps their dreams, their hopes for getting back on their feet. You could use that as an opportunity then for advocacy building, and then when SNAP funding is threatened or when there's legislation up for renewed funding for the SNAP program, you can invite those people who you've had those conversations with, to advocate and share their experiences to say, "This is why I SNAP has been helpful for my family, this is why those SNAP dollars are really important."
So it's about building the relationship, having opportunities to share stories. And that takes trust, that takes time. I think sometimes it's training staff and volunteers about trauma-informed care and recognizing how to engage in that kind of story gathering but it can be really powerful.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah I'm thinking about some of the things that they do at the Hub, they have dinners where people just get together, and they'll have like a topic but they're sharing food and people are engaging on an issue and finding their voice and how they might be able to push for change.
I really do want to stay on this topic about the structural inequality. And I think about things like what we talked about before, fair wages and living wages. And I know it just seems like if somebody's working full-time, and they can't feed their family, and pay their bills, and pay for housing, and pay for childcare, that's not a personal problem, that's not a personal failing, that's not something where they need a social worker to help them figure out how to be better or need to learn how to cook more nutritious food. That's a problem that's outside of that. And I just am so interested in how organizations like food pantries, not only food pantries but also homeless shelters, and all of these nonprofits that have all this expertise and knowledge about how these systems are working, how can we shift that focus onto the societal changes?
KATIE MARTIN: I think it's acknowledging that those are at the root of hunger and food insecurity, becoming aware of that and then entering into the political arena to be comfortable talking about them. I really think it starts there.
For a very long time, I would say almost all food banks really kept outside of the political arena, they were apolitical. It was very bipartisan. No one likes to think about people going hungry, so this an easy cause because we can collect and donate and distribute food, and there's nothing political about it. And unfortunately the problem hasn't gone away, and when we recognize and if we get really clear that this is rooted in structural, systemic inequalities, I think it opens up opportunities for food pantries and food banks to raise our collective voice about these issues. If we banded together in one voice, to talk about living wages, to talk about affordable healthcare, rather than staying silent on the sidelines, imagine the type of dialogue we might have at the national level. Imagine the type of changes we might see.
I think for too long we've been cautious and honestly just concerned about losing donors, losing supporters, when we enter into that political arena. I'm hopeful that maybe some of these lessons learned of gosh who many Americans are clearly one paycheck away from needing food from a food pantry. We've all seen that now, this past year. This isn't someone living under a bridge who has made poor choices in life. This is all of us.
KAYTE YOUNG: Well do you see the Feeding America Network moving in that direction, and what about partnerships with Walmart, and then what about pressuring Walmart to pay living wages? Does that get a little tricky?
KATIE MARTIN: Absolutely, yeah. It is the elephant in the room for sure, it is very complex. None of this is simple, none of this is just, "Oh we go out and advocate for $15 minimum wage nationally and that's easy."
No, this is hard. But I'm encouraged by the direction that Feeding America, the relatively new CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is amazing. She gets this work, and I think there are increasingly more food banks and food pantries who are getting on board with more of these advocacy issues, and really stepping into the arena.
Not all, and I definitely talk with food bank staff who say, "We're in a more conservative state and this is gonna be harder for us." So there definitely are challenges but we have a new administration and we have certainly a lot of lessons from this past year of the role that government can play, the role that potentially private companies could play in this work.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah I wondered when I first saw like all of those images of those long lines of cars in like stadium parking lots, what impact does that image have on people, just on the public, just to think about? Like that's how many people, like you said, are one paycheck away. Cause I mean this was early on when people first lost jobs, that was the response.
KATIE MARTIN: Right, and I think what we've seen is that Americans are so generous, we care about our neighbors. I think there has been an incredible outpouring of volunteer hours, of new people coming to volunteer, so people who had flexible schedules and were working from home and choose to come out and to volunteer. And then lots of amazing financial donations to the charitable food system. And then I think it's our responsibility as food banks and pantries to use that funding wisely to really make longer term investments so that we don't maintain the status quo.
KAYTE YOUNG: But like you suggested earlier about the kindness of people donating, to have your livelihood depending on how generous people are feeling, or what the climate is around giving, it just doesn't feel like a just system sometimes. And then when you get into considering what opinions or thoughts that donors have about the work that you're doing, or what you can get funding for from a grant or a foundation. And I remember noticing a lot of times foundations would want to fund "brand new initiatives!" or some specific thing that was trending rather than the ongoing work of paying staff so that you have professional staff that know what they're doing.
KATIE MARTIN: Yes, yes, I know that's one of my pet peeves is how often funders want these measurable outcomes, and sometimes like clinical health outcomes. But we're not gonna pay for staff. And I think, "How are those changes happening, I wonder?" Right. But I will say too, I think because funders are more interested in metrics and outcomes and are not as keen on just the outputs of "We serve more people more food." that that can push us to think more strategically about our work, and it's exciting.
We have new nutrition guidelines for the charitable food system that were created last year, and adopted by, or supported by Feeding America. And now in addition to talking about the pounds of food we distribute we can layer in the nutritional quality of those pounds. And I think that opens the door for new types of funders and donors and supporters who recognize that food insecurity is a social determinate of health, and food pantries can be opportune settings for reducing health disparities. So having that emphasis on deeper outcomes can be beneficial.
KAYTE YOUNG: Since you brought up health and healthy food, could you talk a little bit about the sourcing of food for food banks and food pantries because I think a lot of people think it's just waste in the system, or the store has excess stuff and donates it. And I know that's part of it, but there are other sources, and if we could just talk a little bit about what that looks like, what it has looked like?
KATIE MARTIN: Yeah I think a lot of times people think that the majority of food that comes into a food bank is from the local food drives. Because we're all familiar with local food drives, we've all participated with our schools, and faith-based groups, and others. That represents about typically less than 5% of the amount of food that comes to a food bank, that maybe more at a food pantry level. But the majority of the food comes from the retail sector, so grocery stores, and food manufactures, so the companies that make and produce our food. A good chunk, maybe 20-25% comes from government commodity food, so the TEFAP program, often states have some sort of government food programs, and those are often relatively healthy and nutritious. Then some food from local food drives, it's really wonderful if it's also coming from local farms, local community gardens, partners, (things) like that. So it's a variety of food.
We often hear about nutrition education, and I'm a fan of nutrition education but I think often we've been doing it in the wrong direction. We think that we just need to teach vulnerable low-income food insecure families what they should be eating. And I think if we flipped that around 180 degrees we could ask them, what are the types of food that you want and need for your families? We know that there is a demand for healthy nutritious food, especially folks from different cultures than the volunteers at a food pantry. It's helping guests educate us on what type of food they really want for their families, and then using the nutrition guidelines and data to educate our food donors of the types of food that our clients want, and the types of food that are nutritious that we're looking for. So there really isn't demand for leftover holiday candy at food pantries, yet that's often what we get donated.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah and I just remember giant sheet cakes and 30 count cupcake packs, that are meant for a birthday party maybe but end up in the food pantry and it's just not, it's hard to deal with that kind of stuff too, logistically it's just a mess.
KATIE MARTIN: I provide the great story from the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington D.C. in my book. Nancy Roman who was the CEO at the time, they had a strong nutrition policy, and they were trying to discourage those types of donations in their food pantries. So they weren't distributing that many sheet cakes to their network, so they were kind of stockpiling them in their cooler at the food bank. So much so that like their cooler was overrun with sheet cakes.
So finally she went to the grocery store that was donating so many of these and sat down and say, "Can you just tell me why are you donating so many sheet cakes?"
We had no idea they were donating so many because it was out of sight, out of mind. It left their bakery, the grocery store, they didn't have to see them. So based on that conversation, and Nancy describing the nutrition focus that they had, and why they were trying to promote health and wellbeing for their clients, they stopped making so much sheet cake at the grocery store. And it's just a matter of thinking upstream, so taking that nutrition education but moving it in the other direction.
KAYTE YOUNG: My guest is Katie Martin, of the Food Share Institute for Hunger Research and Solutions. More from our conversation in a moment.
Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats. Back to my conversation with Katie Martin. In her book Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries, she talks about the importance of diversity and equity within the charitable food organizations themselves. I asked her to explain what she means.
KATIE MARTIN: Equity, diversity, inclusion, these are new kind of buzzwords but they're really important as we think of how do we make our work, our programs more equitable, more fair, more inclusive. And it's easy at a food bank level to think "Okay, that's for our communities and we wanna do this, make our community programs more equitable." but I think it also starts within of looking at the staff, and representation on key decision-making boards, so looking at the board of directors. Do you have equity, diversity, inclusion in those decision-making functions? And if not who else could you include at the table? So having people with lived experience who've experienced food insecurity on your board of directors can make a huge difference in the types of conversations that you have, the types of decisions you make, how you invest resources.
We talk in food banks, there's this concept of the concrete versus the carpet. And the idea is that the frontline staff typically the kind of minimum wage, entry level positions are in the concreate, they're in the warehouse floor. And then the executives, those in senior leadership have offices that have carpet. And it's kind of a simple distinction but it's important if we think about how we engage folks that are working on the concreate to help inform the decisions that we make. And how do we gather input to inform the work that we do? And other things like if we're advocating for a living wage at the state level, let's make sure we're paying a living wage within our organization. Let's start from within.
KAYTE YOUNG: And same with healthcare and...
KATIE MARTIN: Absolutely.
KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. So hard to deal with that with the kind of budgets that nonprofits usually are working with, especially with what we just talked about how a lot of time funders don't want to think about wages or benefits for their staff. They want measurable outcomes.
Can you talk about something that has really surprised you in doing this work, or as you working on this book, something that really stood out to you or surprised you or kind of knocked you off your feet?
KATIE MARTIN: I guess I would say what surprised me is I would think about a topic, and I would have some of my own lived experience from seeing this work in action and so I wanted to share some examples of things that I had seen and witnessed. But then in doing research, wanted to flesh it out so that there are other examples to back it up as well. And I think what surprised me is there's just there's so many innovative cool things happening in communities around the country. And we have so much momentum for this work. So I'm a hopeful person, I'm a glass-half-full. But truly there's so much innovation already happening you just need to continue to move forward.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you believe it's possible to end hunger in America?
KATIE MARTIN: That's a great question and one I get asked frequently. People who will say we've always had hunger, it was in the Bible, we will always have hungry people. I think to some extent that's true; I think there is a segment of the population that will always need some type of basic charitable and/or social service support, folks that are struggling with a disability whether that's physical, mental, someone with substance abuse issues. There are segments of the population that probably will need some other help, that doesn't mean they have to be hungry though. They may need other support to do that.
But the millions of Americans who are food insecure and receiving charitable food assistance and also federal food assistance who don't want to be on those, they don't want to be receiving charity. We should reduce the number of people in households that are food insecure substantially. So I think there could be a role for food banks and food pantries for a long time in the future, but not the way that we function right now.
I think right now it's set up where we don't have the social safety net and the federal response and corporate response for folks to be able to hopefully have a living wage and make ends meet. But when someone falls on hard times, my vision would be they would feel encouraged adn welcome to go to a food pantry for help, but it would be a quick springboard. It would be like a trampoline effect. Like you go in and then are connected with other supports, and resources, other skill building resources that you need so that it's a short-term stay. That you're coming to get the food that you need. And this was really how food banks in food pantries were designed decades ago. It was meant to be short-term, so someone would go you would get food, and then you're connected to other resources to figure out like how do we help you support you longer-term, so you don't need to keep coming back here? So this circle of people who would be going would be much smaller.
KAYTE YOUNG: And then also maybe when there's a when there's a larger crisis like covid-19, maybe there's other agencies, other institutions that can rise to that challenge so that a food pantry of food bank doesn't have to be the resource, have to be big enough to be able to handle something like that.
KATIE MARTIN: That's right. And I think to get to that vision we need more of that systemic political change to happen to support folks so that they're not living paycheck-to-paycheck. So that has nothing... the fact that before covid 40% of Americans said they could not withstand an unexpected $400 expense. The charitable food system wasn't there to respond to that. That's at the systems level that we've had income inequality that has grown so that people can't afford their basic needs.
KAYTE YOUNG: Right, right. So for the listener who is saying, "Well then what should I do?" Because of course, especially now, these organizations do need support, but in addition to that what would you recommend someone do who wants the help on that more kind of systems or structural level?
KATIE MARTIN: My intention with the book was to provide inspiration and to help spark that sense of imagination and to dream bigger, aim higher than we have previously. But also I wanted it to be really action oriented. So at the end of every chapter I have action steps that you can take today. I think it really depends on where people are in their journey and what role that they're playing. If they're donating twice a year and they're organizing a food drive there are steps that you can take. If you run a pantry and you're thinking about one next type of move, there are steps that you can take. If you work at an advocacy organization and your newly interested in focus on food security there are steps that you can take. So there is not one simple action step but there are many. Because that's really how it's going to happen. I know that folks who work in food pantries are off and on shoestring budgets with all volunteers and the last thing I want is for folks to get intimidated and say, "Well that's too hard, we should just stick with what we're doing." What I really want to encourage people as you know what? Take one step.
KAYTE YOUNG: I've been speaking with Katie S Martin, executive director of Food Share Institute for Hunger Research and Solutions she is the author of Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries; New Tools to End Hunger published by Island Press in 2021. Find links on our website or EarthEats.org.
That's it for the show this week, thanks for listening, we'll see you next week.
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Brick Kyle and Katie Martin.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. KAYTE YOUNG: Additional music for this episode comes from Toby Foster and Aaron Marshall. RENEE REED: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.