From the Kitchen

By PR Intern Matthew White, Fall 2012

corn by andrew butko resized
Photo by Andrew Butko.

Food prices are rising in the United States. When asked to explain why, Project Angel Heart’s executive chef, Jon Emanuel, answered quickly and simply, “Corn.”

“Everything is made from corn in this country,” Emanuel explained, and the statement rings with a surprising truth for those who haven’t heard. On farms, many animals are fed using corn-based feed, thus corn prices ultimately affect the prices of chicken, pork and especially beef. However, even a casual search through your local grocery store will reveal an abundance of corn-based products that we use every day, from corn related cereals to soft drinks made with high fructose corn syrup to a range of snack foods made with corn oil. If corn prices rise, food prices rise.

In the summer of this year, it did just that. A historic drought has dropped our country’s corn yield to the lowest level since 1995 along with significant effects on soybean crops. Because 40 percent of our corn usage is used for ethanol fuel and another 40 percent is used for animal feed, only 20 percent of this year’s reduced crop yield will actually be used for food.

Eric Munoz, a senior policy analyst for an international aid group called Oxfam, had this to say, “The United States is the world’s largest exporter of corn, soybeans and wheat, and likely price spikes will ripple through markets globally, with devastating consequences for those already struggling to get enough food to eat.”

We are all familiar with this statement: “Project Angel Heart delivers nutritious meals to improve quality of life, at no cost, to those living with life threatening illnesses.” A global increase in food prices is bad news for meal delivery at no cost. What can we do at Project Angel Heart to make sure we adapt to the corn shortage? As it turns out, Emanuel, the Project Angel Heart staff, and the regular volunteer crew are doing quite a lot.

“We will probably use less beef. Or rely more on donated beef,” Emanuel explained, shedding light on some of the decisions he must make as executive chef. Being flexible with ingredients may be necessary, but being flexible about how much the organization pays for ingredients is not.

“We never want to raise the budget,” Emanuel said. The kitchen keeps spending on food purchases low by shopping for ingredients in a different way than someone shopping for food at home. Instead of drifting down the aisles of the local King Soopers store, Emanuel makes sure Project Angel Heart works directly with vendors and purchases food unprocessed and in bulk.

“Being vigilant” about finding the best bids for bulk food purchases and “letting the vendors know they are in competition with one another” help ensure that when Project Angel Heart buys food ingredients, we are getting the best possible value. The choice to buy food unprocessed, such as uncut or unpeeled vegetables, allows the volunteer team, also remaining vigilant, to help the organization cut costs by providing all the cutting and chopping labor free of charge.

Being executive chef “is a very nuanced job,” Emanuel said. “I have to spend more time in here [in the office] than out there [in the kitchen].”

As Emanuel explained, the money for purchasing food at Project Angel Heart comes primarily from contributions, grants and fundraising events. Financial contributions pay for food from vendors, but many people also donate food directly, offering a variety of ingredients including produce from home gardens or farms. If costs increase, continuing to craft the same number of meals in a given day may mean a greater need for successful fundraising events or additional financial or culinary support from donors.

At the end of the day, all the work that goes into producing nutritious meals doesn’t result in delicious dinners for the employees and volunteers of Project Angel Heart. It means satisfying the need for good, healthy food for our ailing clients. For an organization that delivers meals at no cost, a historically low corn yield and the consequent rise of food prices are certainly causes for concern. Concerned individuals are, however, working throughout Project Angel Heart to circumvent the effects, especially in the kitchen.

When asked how rising food prices will affect clients, Emanuel stated sincerely, “I will do everything I can to make sure that it doesn’t.”

If you would like to help Project Angel Heart in light of the 2012 drought, consider increasing your current level of support or making a contribution by visiting our donation page or by calling 303-830-0202.

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