If you have questions or policy ideas about food issues, please email foodbenkallos [dot] com.
Healthy Happy Meals
Most of us are aware that diets high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium are major contributors to obesity and chronic, diet-related diseases like Type II diabetes. Yet when it comes to nutrition, knowledge, it seems, is not enough, and certainly not where our kids are concerned. In New York City nearly half of all elementary school children are overweight, and 1 in 5 kindergarten students and 1 in 4 Head Start children, is classified as obese, according to the Department of Health.
Following in the footsteps of the City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, CA and former NYC Council Member Leroy Comrie, last summer I introduced the “Healthy Happy Meals” bill before the New York City Council in an effort to support parents in choosing healthier options for their kids.
The bill received widespread national media attention in September 2015 when NYU released the results of a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine on the effectiveness of the bill in improving children's health.
"Scientific research confirms what we already know: 'Happy Meals' targeting children don’t measure up to the standards that we should be feeding our children," Council Member Ben Kallos said. "Thank you to NYU for doing the work that shows meals from Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s don’t meet nutritional guidelines for at least one nutrient in a frightening 98 percent of purchases.
“Healthy Happy Meals legislation I introduced, could improve healthfulness of fast food for kids according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Linking incentives like toys to children’s meals with healthy options by default in my legislation would not only lead to healthier ordering but increase revenues, a win for business, parents and children.
“This study provides scientific grounding for ‘Healthy Happy Meals’ legislation that the City Council Health Committee must hear and pass to take on obesity in order to protect public health and our children.”
The bill, drafted in partnership with parents’ groups, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the American Heart Association, would tie the toys and other incentives that come with kids’ meals to minimum nutrition standards. It would not ban toys sold with kids’ meals. Rather, it would merely put a stop to the practice of incentivizing unhealthy eating among children. The bill’s announcement has received widespread attention and, if passed by the Council following its upcoming hearing, positions New York City to continue leading in the field of obesity prevention.
Antibiotics in the Food System
Overuse of antibiotics in livestock for non-therapeutic purposes has had a major impact on the health and food supply of New York City, as well as New York state and the nation in general. I introduced a resolution calling for a statewide and national ban on the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production.
Cooking with Kallos
“Cooking with Kallos” returned this summer with demonstrations at farmers’ markets throughout the district. I enjoyed chatting with many of you, while showcasing the fabulous local produce brought to our city by GrowNYC and its farmers. I visited the relocated 92nd Street Greenmarket -- at 94th Street this year -- on August 23 to cook with corn and other end-of-summer produce. Hey, if I can cook a meal, you can, too!
Keep your eye out for future "Cooking with Kallos" events or if you have an idea about opportunities in the district to host the next “Cooking with Kallos” let us know by reaching out to foodbenkallos [dot] com.
Lunch 4 Learning
As the the child of a single parent growing up on the Upper East Side, my family and I relied on government in order to get enough to eat, so I learned firsthand the stigma associated with accepting food assistance. For that reason, I’ve been an early and outspoken supporter of Lunch4Learning, a grassroots coalition of more than 170 organizations and political leaders working to make free and healthy lunches available to all public school students in the city, regardless of income.
On June 19, 2014 we achieved an important milestone in the quest to ensure that students are “fed and focused” when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that the city would extend free lunch to all middle schoolers as part of a pilot program beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. In District 5 alone this means that over 2,500 middle school students will be entitled to free lunch everyday-- and that they will no longer go hungry or fear the ridicule of their peers.
While free lunch for all middle schoolers represents a significant first step, I remain committed to enacting the program throughout the city at all grade levels, and to bringing free lunch to all of District 5’s more than 14,000 students. Currently, citywide, only 40% of high school students who qualify for free lunch actually participate, largely because of the stigma. Many more fail to qualify under current regulations but come from families that still struggle to put food on the table. We must work together to guarantee that no NYC student goes hungry and lacks the tools they need to succeed in school.
Fresh Food Boxes
I believe we should all have access to fresh, healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables so last summer we launched GrowNYC’s Fresh Foodbox Program at two locations in the district: Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center at 415 East 93rd Street and at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House at 331 East 70th Street . The program provides a pre-packed box of 7-9 types of fresh, healthy, locally-grown produce for just $10 per week. It functions much like a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, but instead of pre-paying for an entire season, Fresh Foodbox customers can buy on a week-by-week basis. The program runs from July-November.
For information about next season as well as other Fresh Foodbox pick-up sites throughout the city, you can visit the GrowNYC Fresh Food Box page.
Food Resources in District
Residents are often surprised to learn how many food resources are available right here in the district. We have farmers’ markets and CSA’s to provide fresh, local food; education and enrichment opportunities about nutrition and wellness; and innovative organizations and programs to alleviate hunger, help families in need, and to feed children during the summer. I can’t possibly cover all the great work being done in our community, here are a few highlights:
Fresh, Seasonal, Local Food:
- We have a number of great farmers’ markets in the district. Harvest Home hosts Metropolitan Market, a lively seasonal market located at 99th St and 3rd Ave. GrowNYC also runs two Greenmarkets in our district: a year round market on 82nd St at St Stephen’s and a seasonal market from June 28 to November 22 at 94th St on 1st Ave. All of these markets accept SNAP benefits, WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition coupons, and NYC subsidy coupons for low income adults.
- When you use your EBT card at any of these farmers markets during the summer and fall growing seasons, you also qualify for Health Bucks, a program of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For every $5 in SNAP benefits you spend, you’ll receive a $2 Health Bucks coupon for fruits and vegetables. You can learn more about the program here.
- Fresh, local food straight from the farm is also available through one of the many “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) programs in the district, such as the the 88th St CSA, the Yorkville families CSA and the Jan Hus CSA. For information on supporting local farms and to receive regular shipments of local produce visit Just Food’s Manhattan CSA page.
Cooking and Nutrition Education:
Not sure what to do with all of your fresh produce? A number of organizations in our area (or online) offer classes, recipes and information on how to prepare healthy and affordable meals.
- MACHO (Motivating Action Through Community Health Outreach) offers kids ages 8 to 13 free cooking, nutrition and fitness classes after school and on Saturdays at the Hunter School of Public Health. For more information visit http://machoprogram.org/index.html.
- The Childrens Aid Society has programs and community centers throughout the city for children, including one at the East Harlem Center, that offers health and wellness programs. To learn more about programs at the East Harlem Center, call (212)348-2343 or email Stefania Patinella at stefaniapchildrensaidsociety [dot] org.
- The Food Bank for New York City, through its CookShop program, also offers a variety of nutrition-based classes for New York City children, teens and families. To find out about local programs, or to request they bring CookShop to your child’s school, email cookshopfoodbanknyc [dot] org. Learn more about CookShop and check out their recipes at http://eatwiseteens.org/.
- Prefer to learn online? Try The Children’s Aid Society’s Go!Chefs program, or check out GrowNYC’s Greenmarket recipes, organized by season so you can easily figure out what to do with your purchases. And if you’re cooking on a budget, download “Good and Cheap,” an online cookbook for people looking to eat healthy and keep costs down.
Hunger and Food Assistance:
Many believe that hunger does not affect our district, but that is simply not true. It’s a perception I’m working hard to combat because it only reinforces the stigma attached to food assistance. There are many resources available to residents of the city who are struggling to get enough to eat, and are some right here in our district. Here is a rundown:
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP provides vital support to pay for food, and many who qualify may not realize it. A number of online and in-person resources are available to help you determine if you qualify and that offer help with applications:
General information about SNAP in NYC is available here.
Applications for SNAP benefits are available online through ACCESS NYC, in person at a SNAP Center (locations listed here). For help applying to these programs you can get in touch with any of numerous local advocacy organizations, including:
- Food Bank for New York City’s food stamp information call center (212) 894-8060
- NYC Coalition Against Hunger: Denise Fernandez 212-825-0028 ext. 207 or Miguelina Diaz 212-825-0028 ext. 213.
- The Legal Advocacy department at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House also helps individuals apply for SNAP, and has a dedicated Food Stamp Advocate, who is available to answer questions. Contact Dameris Delgado at 212-218-0431, or click here to learn more.
Women, Infants, Children program (WIC): WIC offers financial assistance for women who are pregnant or are caring for young children in order to promote healthy eating and wellness. Pregnant women, mothers of infants, and children up to age 5 qualify if they are residents of New York and meet certain income requirements. You can find out more information at https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/wic/. A comprehensive list is agencies administering WIC is available here. Additional agencies in the district can be found in the East Harlem Resource Guide.
NYC Summer Meals Program: On weekdays during the summer, the New York City Department of Education distributes free meals at parks, pools, community centers, libraries and schools. The program does not require any paperwork, registration or ID – just drop by to pick up breakfast or lunch. Find more information about the program, as well as pickup locations and times for next summer at www.schoolfoodnyc.org
NYC Emergency Food Services: If you are experiencing a food emergency, and need to immediately get food for you or your family, you can call the NYC Emergency Foodline at (866)888-8777, or simply call 311. Both numbers can connect you with the closest emergency feeding program near you that offers things like pantry items and hot meals. The Food Bank for New York City’s Food Program Locator also has information on food pantries, soup kitchens and senior centers offering meals.
You can also connect directly with organizations offering food emergency assistance in our district including:
- All Souls Church – A soup kitchen operating Fridays from 10:30am to 2:30pm at 1157 Lexington Ave. (212) 535-5530
- The Carter Burden Lunch Senior Club – Offers lunch on-site and meal deliveries for seniors 6 days a week, 1484 1st Ave. For more information contact Holly Hedemark at 212-535-5235 ext. 11 or email hedemarkhcarterburdencenter [dot] org
- Church of the Epiphany - A soup kitchen operating Wednesdays 4:30pm – 8:30pm at 1393 York Avenue. For more information contact Janette Gautier at infoepiphanynyc [dot] org
- The Church of the Holy Trinity– A soup kitchen operating Saturdays beginning at 5:15pm at 316 East 88th Street. For more information contact Erlinda Brent at 212-289-4100 ext. 20.
- Jan Hus Presbyterian Church/Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program – A food pantry distributing food from 10:00am – 2:00pm Monday through Friday, located at 351 East 74th Street. Contact Carol Schachter at 212-288-6743 for more information.
- NY Common Pantry – Food pantry and soup kitchen; pantry bags are distributed Wednesday through Saturday to registered clients. Hot meals are served Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 9:30am, and Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends from 4:00pm to 5:00pm at 8 East 109th Street. Call 917-720-9700 for more information
- St Stephen of Hungary Church – Food Pantry open Tuesday through Thursday from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at 414 East 82nd Street. For more information contact 212-861-8500 ext. 0.
These programs are also always looking for volunteers, so feel free to reach out and lend a hand if you can. As always, if you need help getting food or want more information about food-related programs in the district, contact my Director of Constituent Service, Debbie Lightbody LMSW at (212)860-1950 or by e-mail at DLightbodycouncil [dot] NYC [dot] gov.
Did I miss a great market, a useful class, an innovative organization or food assistance program in our area? If so, please let me know by emailing my Food Policy Director at foodbenkallos [dot] com.