Starving the Homeless is Healthy

New York City’s ban on food cooked with transfats is forcing shelters to throw out food donated to homeless shelters.

Homeless transfats banWhen a small church comes to the Bowery Mission bearing fried chicken with trans fat, unwittingly breaking the law, they’re told “thank you.” Then workers quietly chuck the food, mission director Tom Bastile said.

“It’s always hard for us to do,” Basile said. “We know we have to do it.”

A Manhattan deli going out of business delivered a pickup truck’s worth of lettuce, sundried tomatoes, hamburgers, sausages and other food to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen last week.

With 1,400 meals to serve daily, Operations Manager Michael Ottley was extremely grateful. He didn’t check the trans fat content of the food.

Lines at soup kitchens are up by 21 percent this year, according to a NYC Coalition Against Hunger report released yesterday. The city’s law banishing trans fat took effect in July 2008 and touched everyone with Health Department food licenses — including emergency food providers.

Less than 5 percent of donated food still has the artificial fat, Ottley estimated, but he said, “I can’t in good conscience throw away food.”

Good grief, indeed.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. G.A.Phillips says:

    eh, maybe the homeless while start eating liberals first and then I won’t feel so bad when I have too. You Know, they did it first so I don’t fell bad about doing it too and all that:)

    Good thing most of them are vegetarians, I heard the meat eaters taste like poop.

  2. JKB says:

    Let them eat salad.

    Unfortunately, for the homeless, Bloomberg and his nannystaters don’t have an appreciation for the reality that one can keep warm much better on fried chicken than arugula. Which, come to think of it, might be why the Oval Office is kept at orchid house temperatures.

    But they meant it for the best. To make people….better. Look at it this way, sure the most vulnerable in society suffer but the Bloomberg crew feel better about themselves. You have to weigh a little suffering against the benefits to the nannystaters.

  3. Herb says:

    Woah, there goes the bullshit detector.

    Something tells me that Reynolds is more concerned with slagging the transfat policy than feeding the homeless. Not that there’s anything wrong with being disingenuous…

  4. Our Paul says:

    I for one will give our host, and Instapundit’s Master Chef, the benefit of doubt on this one… If one goes to the quoted source (metro International), one finds this closing paragraph:

    Less than 5 percent of donated food still has the artificial fat, Ottley estimated, but he said, “I can’t in good conscience throw away food.”

    Thus, the problem is not as great as the opening paragraphs would indicate. Of course, simplified methods do exist for the analysis of trans fatty acids in food which would obviate the problem…

    Perhaps of greater interest is the statistics quoted in the side bar. As a teaser to entice the readership to peruse the primary source, I will give you this:

    55
    Percent of agencies that weren’t able to distribute enough food this year to meet demands, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. That number is down from last year’s 69 percent thanks to a boost from federal stimulus funding.

    I would remind correspondent Herb (November 27, 2009 | 10:29 am) that faux outrage over an absurd point (detection of trans fat in donated food) is a common literary technique to bring attention to the main point (beneficial effect of the federal stimulus funding). I tell ya, that Glenn Reynolds is one subtle fella…

    Pssst 1#: It is estimated that one third or more of homeless males over the age of 18 are veterans. Given Dr. Joyner’s previous military service, he may be trying to bring attention to this problem.

  5. DL says:

    This reminds me of the same liberal mindset that forced gentically modified corn to rot on the docks in Africa while people were starving. But always remember – “they care!”

  6. James Joyner says:

    Paul,

    Yes, I wrote the homeless veterans problem a little over two years ago. It’s both a statistical artifact and a sad problem.

  7. steve says:

    We have been cooking for a homeless shelter for quite a while now. We do a lot of down home style cooking if you know what I mean, but we always serve a fruit combo too. That makes up for the trans fats we pour onto the food to make it taste better. (Pie crusts with lard are the best.)

    Steve

  8. John Burgess says:

    Steve: Clearly, you do not live in DC. The District requires that foods prepared for the homeless be prepared in a licensed and inspected kitchen. It has further requirements about what ingredients can be used. Let me assure you that those ingredients are far better than most people put on the plate for their own families.

  9. Our Paul says:

    Actually James, the whole thing started out as snip in support of correspondent Herb. I was trying to point out that his characterization of Glenn Reynolds being disingenuous was acceptable high society language. In reality two simple words, silly and stupid, and the territory between them would better characterize Glenn’s post.

    I initially played with this snip of the referenced (primary) article:

    Lines at soup kitchens are up by 21 percent this year, according to a NYC Coalition Against Hunger report released yesterday.

    And of course tried to tie it to the damage being done to our future generations. The problem was that Lines at soup kitchens are up 21% is not firm number, while if I abstracted from the NY Times articles, for example:

    Charity and her brother, Elijah Carrington, 6, were among 239 children from homeless families in her district as of last June, an increase of 80 percent over the year before, with indications this semester that as many or more will be enrolled in the months ahead.

    While current national data are not available, the number of schoolchildren in homeless families appears to have risen by 75 percent to 100 percent in many districts over the last two years, according to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, an advocacy group.

    I would draw attention away from the immense stupidity of Instapundit’s brilliant insight, to wit: MAYOR BLOOMBERG ENSURES THAT HOMELESS PEOPLE DON’T GET FAT.

    Brother John Burgess (November 27, 2009 | 08:16 pm) points out that DC is not different than NYC, the kitchens feeding homeless should be licensed, and food preparation should follow local ordinances. If you are just a might bit interested in Public Health, and the well being of the homeless population, you would find no reason to disagree. This is an at risk population for a variety of medical conditions, and assuredly you want high quality nutrition, for the eating habits of this population is not the best in the world…

    Well anyway, there I was stuck. My first approach was stepping on the banana peel of a spleen vent, and not focusing on the primary issue. Fortunately I was rescued by my old Academic habits. If you disagree, find your rebuttal in the material that is being quoted.

    If 55% of Agencies were not able to distribute enough food this year to meet demands of the homeless in NYC, as is quoted in the article, adding the less than 5% of food with trans fat sure ain’t going to cure the problem.

    And if this 55% actually represents an improvement in food delivery in comparison to last year, which is attributed to the Federal Stimulus package, why not celebrate this minor success?

    Pssst 1#: I have read your previous posting on Homeless Veterans James, if the subject ever comes up again, I might be moved to comment.

    Pssst 2#: I recognize the hazards of daily posting on OTB, and that at times a post might slip through that on reflection you might regret. Following Instapundit’s lead in this matter was probably not your finest hour. Like Herb, I preferred to focus on Glenn Reynolds. I find OTB to be a stimulating blog, fortunately Glenn was available to point out that carping on the “nanny state” may obscure a significant problem, and its potential solutions…

  10. James Joyner says:

    Brother John Burgess (November 27, 2009 | 08:16 pm) points out that DC is not different than NYC, the kitchens feeding homeless should be licensed, and food preparation should follow local ordinances. If you are just a might bit interested in Public Health, and the well being of the homeless population, you would find no reason to disagree. This is an at risk population for a variety of medical conditions, and assuredly you want high quality nutrition, for the eating habits of this population is not the best in the world…

    One doesn’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, either. It’s one thing to, say, ensure that the homeless shelters don’t serve tainted food. It would exacerbate the problem if, say, supermarkets were to dump their expired goods there.

    But this transfat business is of a different piece. Should these people eat nothing but fatty foods? No. Is it preferable that they eat tasty, safe food that might have long term negative effects if it improves their likelihood of getting enough to eat in the short term? Yup.

  11. Our Paul says:

    Said it before, but I will say it again. If you view the world through ideological tinted glasses you may miss the magnitude of a problem, and even if you identify the problem, constrained by ideology, you may not be able to provide adequate solutions.

    Thus…

    Is it preferable that they eat tasty, safe food that might have long term negative effects if it improves their likelihood of getting enough to eat in the short term? Yup.

    Well, first of all as my pappy used to say, you cannot walk both sides of the street at the same time. You cannot have safe food that might have long term negative effects, that is an oxymoron.

    Second, trans fats have been shown to have short and long term deleterious health effects. To barrow from brother Ben’s lexicon to classify them as “safe” is tad bit disingenuous, although I would just say it is science denial.

    Third, the simple solution to the contrived “problem” presented by Glenn Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee, is for society to spend a bit more and make available quality healthy food.

    Pssst 1#: The economic crisis has cut a wide swath through our population, as explored by the US Today article linked above. Perhaps a slide show might open the mind. That failing, a brief tabular comparison of childhood poverty in the US to other industrialized countries might breach the ideological divide…

  12. James Joyner says:

    You cannot have safe food that might have long term negative effects, that is an oxymoron.

    Sure you can. Bacon and ice cream and French fries are perfectly safe. Millions of us eat those foods all the time. One wouldn’t, however, advise eating those foods at every meal.

    Fried chicken might not be as smart a choice as baked chicken. But to throw out the former rather than feed it to a person who might otherwise get nothing — for his own good, of course — is bad public policy.

    And to point out that there’s an idiotic policy in place doesn’t suggest it’s the main contributing issue to a larger social problem.

  13. Sam says:

    I was wondering how the Bowery Mission was able to identify the fat the church group had used. Also, why not inform the group so that they don’t waste their time, money, and effort in the future?

    Steve: lard is pig fat, and should have zero (or at most, trace) amounts of trans-fat.

  14. Our Paul says:

    Now, now James, this thread began when two prominent Libertarian bloggers, yourself and Prof. Reynolds decided to tickle their fun bone and have a harti-har-har about NYC banning trans fats from public eating places. Included in this ban were organizations that feed the homeless resulting in donated food containing trans fat being thrown out.

    As the discussion progressed the problem of hunger and homelessness in our affluent society gave way to this absurd premise, as stated by yourself:

    Fried chicken might not be as smart a choice as baked chicken. But to throw out the former rather than feed it to a person who might otherwise get nothing — for his own good, of course — is bad public policy.

    A normal 7 year old would solve the problem for you, if trans fat food is unhealthy, public policy should be to give the hungry sufficient healthy food.

    Using your premise of feed a person who might otherwise get nothing, I certainly would not argue with offering trans fat cooked food to such a person, nor would you and I disagree with using outdated beef, or even scraps off a restaurant table under these circumstances. A chef in a kitchen would stumble over this form of argumentation, he might say reduction ad absurdum as he stirred the sauce waiting for the proper amount of liquid to evaporate..

    Brother Sam (November 29, 2009 | 01:43 am) approaches the heart of the issue by pointing out that lard is pig fat, and should have zero (or at most, trace) amounts of trans-fat. What’s up? I will be brief.

    Fatty acids are essential components of the human diet. Their use and metabolism by the human body is dependent on their structure and their configuration in space. The geometry in space is key, in the trans form the fatty acid straightens out, while in the cis form the fatty acid bends at the double bond.

    In nature, the cis form of fatty acids predominate in vegetable or animal fats, while only trace amounts of trans fats can be found. But, to sentient man, the trans form, spurned by nature, has real advantages. Trans fatty acids which can be easily manufactured from the natural cis form resist oxidation (rancidity) and heat, and thus have crept into our diet through a variety of portals.

    Non of this would matter much except for the fact that trans fats have been implicated as a contributing dietary factor in coronary heart disease. The effect appears to be additive, the greater the amount ingested, the greater the risk of coronary artery disease.

    Pssst 1#: Wikepedia has a reasonable discussion of the chemistry and potential deleterious effects of trans fats. Worth a quick read. The American Heart Association has a simplified primer (8th grade level), but its content adds weight to the rather dry and pedantic Wike discussion.

    Pssst 2#: Occasional suspected pun intended.

    Psst 3#: The NY Times has an article today pointing to expanding population receiving food stamps. It includes one of those great interactive county maps as well as tables. I tell ya, Saint Ronnie would be appalled, kids ridding and peddling Big Wheels on food stamps!!!