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Rising Demand for Local Hunger Aid

April 17, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Local hunger relief efforts have been swamped by a record 100% increase in the demand for free food among the needy during the past year, according to a recent report by the USC School of Urban and Regional Planning.

The rise is the result of a large increase in the number of people seeking assistance from soup kitchens or other charitable organizations which distribute donated food in Southern California.

The findings surfaced after USC graduate students surveyed a cross sampling of the 389 food pantries in the Los Angeles area as part of an annual review sponsored by the United Way, the Grocers Journal of California reported.

The demand often exhausted the supplies of area food banks, which are centralized distribution centers that collect donations of surplus or non-salable food items from manufacturers and supermarket chains and then distribute the items to the various neighborhood sites. In fact, there were several times during the past year when hard-pressed feeding locations were forced to purchase food directly from stores at full price in order to provide meals for the needy, the USC study found.

The increase in 1985 far exceeds what had been experienced in previous years. In those centers that maintain records, the free food giveaways and/or meal service had been increasing at a 50% annual rate, according to the report.

Other problems encountered by local hunger relief groups included inadequate funding, lack of volunteers and little variety in the food stuffs available for distribution.

Rosemary and Time--Changing public tastes and the tainted image of chemical additives has intensified researched into natural compounds which are capable of preserving processed foods.

One of the most promising items is the herb rosemary. However, this particular seasoning has a strong odor and flavor that has inhibited its development as an antioxidant, a category of preservatives which extend shelf life.

Rutgers University chemists now have mastered the problems with rosemary by extracting some of the herb's components to create the first natural-based preservative.

News of the successful project was scheduled to be released today in New York at the American Chemical Society's annual convention. The researchers, Stephan Chang and Chi-Tang Ho, claim the rosemary extract can be used to preserve cereals, sausage and snack foods.

In order to obtain the needed extract, the Rutgers team first isolated the desirable components and then developed a patented process which distilled away the rosemary smell and taste.

Several major food companies have already expressed substantial interest in the new natural preservative. Consequently, it shouldn't be long before rosemary provides more time on the supermarket shelf for a variety of foods.

Beef Without Burgers--More news in the area of natural compounds also surfaced at the American Chemical Society's convention earlier this week.

After several years of effort, the same Rutgers chemists involved with rosemary, have been able to develop a natural beef flavor that is actually extracted from the red meat. Previous efforts yielded compounds which did not provide a "true beef taste," the research team reported.

A natural beef flavor without the accompanying meat has potentially broad applications within the processed food world. Even so, a related development from this effort may prove just as noteworthy.

The researchers found that the flavor enhancers derived from beef may eventually prove to be a substitute for monosodium glutamate or MSG, a widely used seasoning and preservative often associated with Oriental foods.

Many people are allergic to MSG and reactions to the substance include headaches, weakness and dizziness.

The finding may ultimately mean that the food and restaurant industry may have a seasoning available with "the good effects of MSG without (the) bad," according to Rutgers chemists.

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