Erik Talkin, Foodbank CEO, alleviates hunger with healthy, nutritious food.
Turning Hunger into Health
Foodbank’s Eric Talkin Reflects on a Decade of Work
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Erik Talkin celebrated the 10 years he’s spent running the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County by publishing a book titled Hunger into Health. About the same time, the federal government issued brand-new statistics showing Santa Barbara County has the highest rate of child poverty in California, a grim punctuation mark underscoring the urgency of the Foodbank’s mission. Around town, Talkin is a hard guy to miss, a signature hat always perched on top of his head. In person, he’s focused and to the point, almost bristly. He’s got things to do. He took a few minutes out of his schedule to discuss the changes he’s seen — and the changes he’s making — with Santa Barbara Independent writer Nick Welsh. The following is an edited version of their talk.
In 10 years, how has the hunger picture in Santa Barbara changed? I think total numbers have zigzagged over that time. In 2008 there was just a huge spike.
It began to tail off in 2010. But I think we’re seeing more and more now, just a systemic level of poverty and hunger that is very, very hard to break out of. Some statistics have just come out about child poverty rates; we’re looking at a 28 percent child poverty rate in Santa Barbara County.
How does that compare across the state? I think we are the worst at the moment. We’re right up there. We’re past L.A. And then about 7 percent of those are people who are considered to be living in deep poverty.
What’s deep poverty as opposed to poverty? Poverty is defined as $30,000, I believe, for a family with two kids in Santa Barbara County. Deep poverty is half that. If we have 400,000 people in the county, then we’re looking at about 150,000, 160,000 who are living on very little money.
By Paul Wellman
Lead food-truck cooks Juan Valladares and Juan Rojas (with cap) serve up quesadillas, salad, and fruit smoothies as part of the S.B. Unified School District’s Mobile Café Project, which feeds more than 3,000 kids in the summer and will expand into Carpinteria and Buellton this June.
And how about the number of people you see? How has that changed in 10 years? Over the last six or seven years, it’s remained relatively static, but that’s about one in four people that we’re serving on a regular basis. So that’s a significant number.
How has the food that you get changed? We made a large transition from what was just classic food-bank food; that was dried goods or canned goods and generally very unhealthy food. For an organization that was trying to end hunger, we discovered it was ironic that the food we were providing actually created hunger in the short term.
How so? Anything that’s high in added sugars, or junk food, it creates an insulin spike where you have a lot of energy and then suddenly it goes away and then you’re hungrier than you actually started. So we really realized several years ago now that we needed to clean house and focus on food that was nutrient dense and would make people healthy.
What kind of reaction did that get? Obviously any change like that causes some issues at first. We had some large donors that wanted to donate a lot of soda to us. We decided eight years ago that we weren’t going to take any more candy or soda. We said, “We’ll take your water.” They said, “You have to take it all.” So they wouldn’t give us the water; they wanted to give us all of it. So we had to turn that down. And that’s typical for donated food that we get nationally. We often have to take some junk to get the good stuff.
Tokens are matched dollar-for-dollar with CalFresh benefits and can be used at certain farmers’ markets to exchange for fruits and vegetables.
CalFresh benefits are issued on a Golden State Advantage Card, which looks and functions like a debit card.