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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Hunger and Obesity

September 23, 2013



While at a cocktail party a few weeks ago I mentally checked out of the conversation I was a part of and started listening to a conversation between two couples standing behind me. Eavesdropping isn’t standard operational procedure for me but one of the couples was speaking negatively of Mississippi and my ears pick that type of conversation up quickly.

I’m not sure where the couple was originally from but it wasn’t here. The other couple was listening but not commenting.

There are several strategies available to one in this situation:

1.)  Ignore the conversation and write the couple off as a pair of ill-informed or just-passing-through malcontents.

2.)  Force your way into the conversation and go into all-out public relations mode.

3.)  Accidentally spill a drink on them

4.)  Purposefully spill a drink on them

5.)  Confront them using the old Lewis Grizzard line to Atlanta Yankees, “Delta is ready when you are.”

For years I employed option two. I knew all of the positive stats and could reel them off at a moments notice— we are the most charitable state per capita, we have elected more African-American public officials than any other state, we invented the blues (which led to rock and roll), we invented country music (which led to severe headaches— not real country music, just this new glitzy stuff which thinly disguises itself as rock and roll), the first heart transplant, literary giants, on, and on ad infinitum.

If you live in Mississippi you likely know the same facts and probably use them in your PR arsenal, often.

The conversation that I was listening in on wasn’t about certain topic it was just a big sweeping indictment of our state. On this occasion I opted for option one and just let the idiots be idiots.

I had to check myself though. I, too, have struggled with Mississippi statistics. A few years ago I was having a hard time reconciling the dichotomy that we are the most obese state in the country and, at the same time, the most food insecure.

A lot of people have a hard time with those two. I know the hunger need. As a part of Extra Table I have traveled the state and worked with mission pantries and soup kitchens where I have seen the need first hand.

Years ago, I didn’t even believe there was a hunger problem in Mississippi. In a third-world country, yes, but not here in America. Surely nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are over 638,000 people in Mississippi who suffer from hunger. Over half of them are senior citizens and over 200,000 are children who eat a school lunch a school breakfast and then don’t eat again until the next day. Hunger is real.

So what about the dichotomy? How can we be the hungriest and the fattest? Actually, those two almost always go hand-in-hand. Our neighbors who don’t have enough money to buy proper, healthy food usually take the easiest route. In most communities that route is a convenience store where sugar-filled snacks and fat-laden foods can be cheaply purchased. A starving belly takes the path of least resistance.

That is why Extra Table, the 501c-3 non profit that helps supply soup kitchens and mission pantries with food, is battling hunger and obesity at the same time.

The food Extra Table ships to mission pantries and soup kitchens is all healthy food— low-fat proteins, low-sugar fruits, low-sodium vegetables, and healthy grains. There is no high-fructose corn syrup in any of the food bundles and it’s all shelf stable.

Many times what one sees in a mission pantry or soup kitchen that is not being served by Extra Table are shelves filled with mac and cheese and sugary cereals and fruits. Too often, canned food drives are used as opportunities for people to clean out their pantries of old food. Most of these great agencies on the frontline of hunger are overworked and understaffed. They have to take what is given. Again, a hungry belly does not discriminate.

A big part of the problem is education and teaching people about healthy eating. There is a huge need there, but the item that is first on the list and immediate is feeding those seniors and children who are not getting enough food on a daily basis.

Last year Extra Table started making monthly deliveries to Mississippi food agencies. In 2012 Extra Table shipped 12 tons of food. This year the fledgling charity hopes to ship 40 tons. Next year they aim to ship over 60 tons of healthy food with the goal of reaching every county in the state.

If you want to end hunger and fight obesity, it’s easy. Go to and help us help Mississippi.



Southern Hummus


You may never use chickpeas again. This should be the new standard. Pink-eye purple-hull peas would work, too. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and can be found in specialty markets. There is no substitute for the Tahini, it makes the recipe.


2 tsp minced Garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked
1  cup Tahini, stirred well
2 TBL fresh lemon juice
1/4  cup olive

1/2   cup water, plus extra, if needed
1 /4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 /4 cup  pine nuts, toasted lightly

Using a blender, puree all ingredients except for the parsley and pinenuts. Add the water only as needed to keep the puree from becoming too thick.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Before serving, garnish with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts. Serve with herbed pita triangles


Yield: 3 cups



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