Coronavirus Chronicles — Food Banks

A food bank might be administered by a faith-based group, or a not-for-profit organization. It might be a hobby run from the back of a truck by an eccentric citizen. It may have some sort of partnership with a government agency. All food banks (sometimes called pantries) have one thing in common. In order for food to be taken out, it first must be put in. Where does it all come from?

There are wonderful feel-good operations like the yearly “Cans Around the Oval” effort at Colorado State University. The campus features a vast and picturesque tree-shaded oval-shaped lawn, where students and local citizens are asked to bring canned goods to line up on the curb, all the way around the perimeter.

Sometimes, the donation process can be a mixed blessing, like the relationship between Mary’s Place in Seattle and its corporate donor, Amazon. Hopefully, things are better now, but two years ago, April Glaser described a situation where the organization had to deal with “major logistical nuisances to the detriment of its staff and clients” and “a relationship that seemed to prioritize optics over a thoughtful approach to philanthropic giving.”

Food banks are often filled by donations of unsold stock from retail grocery stores. But Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, who runs Feeding America, recently told National Public Radio (NPR) that since the COVID-19 crisis began,

[…] we’re seeing as much as a 35% reduction in that donation stream from retail…

Depending on what part of the country is being discussed, food banks often benefit enormously from contributions made by restaurants, casinos, and hotels. Now, business establishments designed for people to gather together are closed, some never to open again. Individuals and families who are accustomed to sharing generously suddenly face the prospect of eviction and starvation themselves.

But wait, that’s not all

It is bad enough that donations are greatly diminished just when they are needed most. Food banks also need person-power, and that too is in short supply. People who usually volunteer, are sick, or taking care of someone who is sick, or just plain terrified to come out in public. Many farmers who supply restaurants, hotels, school cafeterias, and the like are experiencing the dilemma voiced by vegetable grower Kim Jamerson, who is heartsick at having to plow beautiful crops back into the ground.

Since the usual customers are not buying, harvesting the vegetables would bankrupt her. According to NPR,

Jamerson says she can’t afford to pay workers to pick a crop that will be donated. She wants the government to step in, provide workers or the money to pay them, and make sure food gets to where it’s needed. “The government could send the food to the hospitals, the rest homes, to the food banks, to the churches,” she says.

One point made by the NPR reportage is that a horrible paradox is playing itself out. In some places, there is plenty of food — with nobody around to pick it or transport it. So it goes to waste. Meanwhile, in other places, people are desperate for something to eat.

See this grim collection of photos assembled by the Reuters news agency. Across the nation, people line up under miserable conditions, hoping that their local food bank will not run out before their turn comes.

What does this have to do with obesity? Right off the bat, two things. The supplies donated to food banks tend to be non-perishable, either canned or boxed, with a long shelf life. These types of food tend to be highly processed, pumped up with all kinds of chemical additives, and very calorie-dense — exactly the types of food that promote obesity.

Also, if and when the situation ever “normalizes,” many people will have new emotional issues about food, the kinds of psychological problems that provide fertile ground for eating disorders of every variety.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “We’d Spend Hours Each Week Unpacking and Throwing the Food Away,”, 05/22/18
Source: “Food Shortages? Nope, Too Much Food In The Wrong Places,”, 04/03/20
Source: “Long lines at food banks across U.S.,”, 04/20/20
Image by Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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