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I worked my way through college in the grocery industry in an economically depressed community. I saw the face of poverty every day and the young children who would come in for "breakfast," a can of soda and a bag of chips paid for with $2 in food stamps.

Where were the parents? Our tax money spent on poor nutrition, particularly for breakfast. The program's intent was to give poor people some money to buy ingredients at the grocery store to take home, cook and feed their families, not for chips and sodas. I formed an OPINION about the food stamp program and the rules surrounding its use.

The program evolved and the paper "stamps" now utilize a Credit Card that reduces costs, fraud and removes some of the stigma for its users. The card is part of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program.

Fast forward to today. I have an important customer that markets "take-n-bake" pizza and because the product is cooked at home, qualifies for food stamps. Recently, YUM! Brands lobbied for the use of EBT cards at its quick-service restaurants. Given my early opinions on food stamps and nutrition and my economic motivation to protect my customer's business, I am totally against QSRs accepting EBT cards.

There, I said it.

I am morally entitled to demand that federal tax money's only use should promote proper nutrition. In addition, given that restaurants run a 30 percent food cost, federal money should only be used where the food cost is 100 percent (less packaging) so we the people, get OUR money's worth. I smiled this week when YUM's efforts failed and they dropped their lobbying attempt.

Thanksgiving brings out the best in many of us. We begin the year-end process to look beyond ourselves, our own 4-walls, and act to help others. Culturally we donate food and cash to the hungry in our midst. So I got to thinking Thursday night about the food stamp program. How do homeless people take their EBT cards, buy ingredients and take the food home to cook? They don't have kitchens. What about seniors that don't have the strength or the health to cook? And what about those young kids in the poor neighborhood I served? Maybe their parent, working a second night-shift job, didn't want their 8-year-old home alone cooking.

YIKES, are my well-intended, affluent roots clashing with the reality of poverty, rather than the romanticized version of "helping the poor?"

I love the food industry; it has been my home and my livelihood. I love the people in our industry, down-to-earth folks who get up early in the morning and go to work. Food people are a kind and giving group; we are in hospitality and come by giving naturally. So what are we to do about hunger in America?

Each of us can use the power of our company purchases to create enough extra food to donate to food banks. We can choose to give damaged or close coded items to soup kitchens or senior feeding programs. Yes, it will take some labor and increase costs, at the worst possible time. So what? Let's use the power of the food industry to alleviate hunger in our own communities. Maybe if you get someone out of need, when they get back on their feet, they become customers. Happy holidays. 

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Ed Zimmerman
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.
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