Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Eating, and not eating, in the time of the coronavirus

This column seems to me an excessively happy assessment of life sheltering-in-place -- as well as very much concerned with a first world problem.

Dietitians report that clients are less interested in dieting, and more interested in sustainable eating patterns that enrich their long-term health. The search term “weight loss diets” fell sharply in March and April, according to Google Trends.

“I have definitely seen less talk and fewer questions about fad diets” says Melissa Nieves, a dietitian with Fad Free Nutrition based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “I think people have rightfully put their attention on their protection, survival and well-being during this pandemic. That also includes eating habits becoming more practical and less centered on what diet culture says we should or shouldn’t eat to reach a socially constructed body ideal.”

Cara Rosenbloom, Washington Post

Well, maybe. Most people in my circles keep groaning about the pounds they have put on, but some probably are acquiring improved food habits. This author reports that 45 percent of us said we were cooking more at home, not surprisingly. And many people report eating better, consuming less salt and sugar while adding fruit and vegetables.

But this picture doesn't catch the other stark reality of this time: with 40 million and counting workers out of jobs, many people simply can't afford to buy food. The Highland Country Press of Hillsboro, Ohio, offered a picture of that reality.

“COVID-19 has created the perfect storm, releasing a downpour of difficulties on Ohio families,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “High unemployment rates and loss of income from jobs has led to a massive surge in demand at our foodbanks at a time when we’re facing significant operational challenges, including declines in volunteers, fundraising revenue and donated foods.”

Foodbanks across the country rapidly shifted operating models to meet skyrocketing demand while mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and they haven’t seen demand ease off for three months. Meanwhile, disruptions to the supply chain have meant fewer retail donations and a surge in food prices putting additional pressure on family food budgets.

“Congress attempted to put an umbrella over families’ heads by means of expanding SNAP aid and increasing unemployment benefits, but it hasn’t been enough,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “The increase in food prices makes the current SNAP benefit amounts even more inadequate to meet basic food needs. Our foodbanks simply cannot keep up with this level of demand – congressional action is needed now.”

Yes, Congressional action is needed -- and Republicans refuse to move on this. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has sent a proposed relief and stimulus bill to the Senate, but the GOPers there are just sitting on it.

Congress should keep it simple, just give people who are hurting more money. Their well-being was sacrificed to try (largely ineptly) to control the virus for the sake of everyone. The food distribution and supply chains would sort themselves out if people could afford to buy.

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