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Helping the Houston community gain access to a balanced diet
Anyone who has ever shopped at a grocery store knows that some of the most expensive items in their cart usually come from the meat department. Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet but can be difficult to afford for individuals and families who struggle to make ends meet. Food banks serve as a critical resource for people facing hunger, but they, too, find it challenging to manage the high costs and short shelf life of high-quality proteins – particularly meats.
In the United States, a unique partnership that brings together a local food bank serving Houston, Texas; Cargill; the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Feeding America® offers a creative solution to the problem.
Hunger in Houston
More than 1 million people in southeast Texas are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to nutritious food to fuel a healthy lifestyle. The Houston Food Bank, a member of the Feeding America network, is the nation's largest food bank by distribution, providing access to 159 million nutritious meals in 18 counties in southeast Texas.
The need only amplified due to COVID-19. Over three million people in the Houston Food Bank service area applied for unemployment benefits between April 2020 and February 2021, causing a 93 percent increase in the number of households served.
Many families turn to food banks for nourishing meals. Meeting that demand is no easy task, especially when one crucial food group is harder to access.
Protein shortage in food banks
Last year, the Feeding America nationwide network of 200-member food banks received 688 million pounds of protein, well below the 4.8 billion pounds needed to meet the federally suggested dietary requirement. Meanwhile, 15 billion pounds of meat, poultry and seafood go to landfills annually as food waste.
Kedrick Thorn, associate director of facilities and food safety for the Houston Food Bank, recognized the opportunity and set out to figure out how this wasted protein could be redirected to help the community.
Removing barriers to protein
In 2020, Kedrick approached Feeding America and Cargill about helping to provide more protein to people who face hunger throughout Houston.
Cargill invested in a USDA clean room, a food processing space inspected and monitored by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service that enables the receipt of bulk format cartons of protein. In the clean room, the food banks can convert the protein to retail-sized portions. On average, a 30’ x 40’ facility can help prepare 300,000 pounds of additional protein per year. Also, the clean room capture usable food that might otherwise have gone to waste and this helps reduce the carbon footprint as well.
“Our community is very grateful,” says Thorn. “Working in the pandemic and seeing all the long lines and all the families in need of protein, it is a testament to our partners and the team that made it possible.”
The impact of having access to nutritious food goes far beyond just keeping people nourished. It also means reducing the hardships that come with having to make difficult financial choices. Food insecurity often means choosing between paying for groceries and paying for other necessities, for example, having to choose food and utilities, rent, education or transportation. Support from food banks helps families focus on other aspects of their lives. Cargill is proud to work with Feeding America and its various community partners to provide nutrition security that drives economic and social resilience.
Blake Thompson, Chief Supply Chain Officer of Feeding America, notes, “Cargill has been a long-time, valued partner of our network, especially in the areas of food safety and waste reduction. When Cargill stepped up to support the build-out of the Houston Food Bank’s USDA clean room, we were grateful for yet another tangible way of fighting hunger in local communities.”