Addressing Food Insecurity With Meat Protein

By Faith Baxter, Contributing Editor

According to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks, 1 in 9 Americans struggle with hunger and food insecurity. While there are national food assistance programs and initiatives, some people still fall through the cracks. Local food assistance programs are able to provide help; however, even with this additional assistance, sometimes certain nutrients are not easily accessible. One of these nutrients is meat protein. Meat is a champion for nutrition, being a complete protein providing essential vitamins and minerals. Recognizing the importance of meat protein, several companies and organizations within the meat industry have joined the battle against food insecurity.

Cactus Feeders, a leader in beef and pork production, is known for its mission of “Feeding a Hungry World.” This company started in 1975 and now spans six states. Their purpose is to help feed a hungry world through accessibility, sustainability and affordability. While Cactus Feeders as a whole is very aware and active in their movements, they also have a dedicated philanthropic arm called Cactus Cares.

Cactus Cares is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2018 by Cactus Feeders. Cactus Cares acts on the Cactus mission of feeding a hungry world, starting with family, friends and neighbors in their communities. The functions of Cactus Cares fall under four categories: hunger relief, scholarships, leadership and renewal. Through all of these areas, Cactus Cares is committed to building strong communities. They collaborate with local foundations and institutions to ensure a more sustainable approach to food assistance. In 2020, Cactus Cares provided meat protein to pop-up pantries in Lubbock, Levelland and Amarillo. These pop-up pantries were an initiative with local food banks partnering with other various agriculture partners to provide more access to different foods.

“That is what Cactus Cares is all about, making the communities where our employees live and work a better place for us all,” says Wayne Craig, Cactus Cares executive director.

Also addressing concerns about food insecurity is Agri Beef, a Northwest company committed to providing exceptional beef. Some of their most recognizable brands include Snake River Farms, Double R Ranch, St. Helens Beef and Rancho El Oro. Agri Beef’s Star Commitment is formed on the principles of sustainability, total quality, animal well-being and responsibility.

The Beef Counts program, a collaborative effort of Washington and Idaho cattle operations, falls under their pillar of responsibility. The Beef Counts program has been able to provide more than 2.4 million servings of beef in Idaho and Washington food banks since 2010. To make this program a reality, Agri Beef partnered with livestock producers in the Northwest, the Idaho Beef Council, the Washington Beef Commission, grocery retailers and local food banks.

While Agri Beef is undeniably taking on the responsibility of helping to feed the world, they acknowledge that a huge protein need still exists.

“One of the biggest issues local food banks face isn’t necessarily that they don’t get enough food donations, rather that they don’t get enough high-quality protein donations. It’s the quality that matters” says Robert Rebholtz, Jr., Agri Beef president and CEO. “The creation of the Beef Counts program was a direct recognition of this and the realization that we, collectively in the beef industry, working together, were in the best position to step up and do something about it.”

The beef industry is not the only protein source striving to make a difference. The We Care Initiative is a joint effort of the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council and state pork organizations that was established in 2008. The We Care Initiative is built on six ethical principles: food safety, animal well-being, public health, environment, people and community. They are committed to creating positive advancements within and beyond the barn door. The We Care Initiative is dedicated to giving back and helping make communities even stronger.

In 2018 more than 800,000 pounds of pork, amounting to 3.2 million servings of protein, were donated by swine producers through this initiative. In 2019, Hams Across America, an organization within the We Care Initiative, was able to donate 500,000 pounds of pork, equating to 2 million servings of protein. The We Care Initiative spans multiple states and has positively impacted many food-insecure people.

It’s important to recognize the that next generation of meat industry leaders are also committed to addressing food insecurity in their local communities. Center of the Plate, founded in 2016 in Dripping Springs, Texas, by two sisters wanting to make a difference with those in need in their community, is a great example of this commitment. Collaborating with the We Care Initiative through support by the Texas Pork Producers and meat donations from local beef and pork producers, Center of the Plate has filled a huge meat accessibility gap with food-insecure families in their community.

Without the support of local beef and pork producers, Center of the Plate would not be able to provide something as appreciated as meat protein. To date, Center of the Plate efforts of these Dripping Springs 4-H and FFA members have provided meat for more than 55,000 meals.

Overall, the meat industry and the general public is in agreement with the responsibility to help fill the gaps in food assistance. Companies like Cactus Feeders, Agri Beef and the pork industry have shown what it means to serve. All those in the meat industry can be thankful for having these pioneers lead the way for the next generation of leaders to follow in their footsteps in Feeding a Hungry World with beef and pork.