food justice

Hungry at Home: What is Food Justice?

It’s 8am on a Saturday morning, and organizers of the Forward Food Summit in Denver are setting up tables, audio equipment, and projectors at the Mercury Cafe for a day of conversation focused on issues of food and economic justice.

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It’s snowing outside, fulfillment of a promised spring snowstorm for the Denver metro, but attendees all received an email the day before letting us know that even Mother Nature wouldn’t keep the summit from happening. Last minute arrangements were made for those who couldn’t make it in on snowy roads to participate remotely, and that was about as much acknowledgement as the weather would receive. As people start to trickle in, the energy and excitement build and soon what’s happening outside becomes inconsequential.

Hunger, food insecurity, and food justice are complex issues. While I understood this on an intellectual, “Oh, I read an article about that,” level, it wasn’t until I found myself in this room full of people on the front lines of the fight that I began to really feel the full depth and breadth of what’s at stake. Even my own experience didn’t prepare me for just how enormous a topic we were about to tackle. The day, designed through cooperative effort of the Denver and Boulder Food Rescues, would leave us all wondering how we could learn more, say more, be more, do more, to bring light and resolution to these often overwhelming issues.

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Our discussions that day started with an introduction to the Community Language Cooperative, whose volunteer translators helped make sure both English and Spanish speaking participants could be included in the conversation. That was lesson one—the recognition that people from every background, socioeconomic status, and country of origin have a role to play, and that means a multilingual approach is absolutely vital. Not every hungry person speaks English, and in order to help them, to have the best perspective on their experience, we have to make sure that we can understand them, and they can understand us.

This discussion flowed naturally into the topic of privilege. What advantages do you have that make your access to even the most basic necessities less challenging? Access to food—nutritious food to fuel your mind and body to learn and grow… to education—quality education that will prepare you for a future that gives you options, and even greater access to jobs that pay well enough to support you and your family in a way that helps foster a cycle of greater access to the next generation. The advantages or disadvantages of each generation is what sets up the next one for success or struggle. By recognizing what privilege is, and how it becomes a living, breathing character in the story of a life, we start to see how the deck can be stacked against entire groups of people—your neighbors, your friends, your kid’s classmates, your colleagues.

Throughout the rest of the day, we would talk about and dispel many of the myths surrounding living wage legislation. “It’s will raise the price of everything!” some say. But what if, instead, it gave more people the wage needed to not just subsist, but to thrive? Economists will tell you that more people buying more new things—new TVs, computers, cars, and homes, is what allows for economic growth, job creation, and better investment in education and infrastructure. What if, by raising the minimum wage, we were giving another entire population of people the ability to contribute to their local, regional, and national economies?  Living wage panelist Maggie Gomez from 9 to 5 Colorado summed it up best when she said, “If you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to feed yourself.” A living wage provides dignity to every job, simple as that.

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We would talk about food deserts—entire neighborhoods without access to a grocery store, farm stand, farmer’s market, or community farm. For those without cars, this means a long, physically demanding trip to and from the nearest food source, which could be as much as an hour away by bus. Or, it might mean it’s just easier to go to the fast food restaurant up the street, where, thanks to cheap, low quality ingredients, dinner for a family of four can be had for about 20 bucks. All of us can understand the snowball effect rolling from that scenario—health problems due to poor diet that aren’t addressed due to lack of access to proper healthcare and nutrition education, no time off from work to go to the doctor anyway, and children who are going to school under-nourished, making it harder for them to pay attention in class and retain what they’ve learned. This is how a cycle is perpetuated.

We would talk about the successes, too. An entire Denver neighborhood full of families who helped teach each other how to grow their own food.  They’re now in the process of opening a local food cooperative called Re:Vision Co-op. Or, a group of women from the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in Denver who are working together to start several food related micro-businesses. They’ve spent weeks and months taking advantage of every bit of training and education they could get their hands on to learn about topics from nutrition, to sanitation, to how to start a business. One woman dreams of owning a fleet of food trucks, serving healthy Latin cuisine. Another wants to open her own bakery, utilizing fresh fruits to help make traditional Latin American pastries lighter and more nutritious. Looking around during this panel discussion, there didn’t seem to be a single one of us in the audience who wasn’t inspired and moved by these women, who, despite a pile of disadvantages, understood the value of what they could do for their neighborhood with just a little help.

“We need help to make these businesses successful. What we offer in return is our hard work, and job creation…To dream is a beautiful thing, and together, I know we will achieve our dreams.”

This is the first of a four part series on hunger and food insecurity, as told through the experiences of the authors. We’ll share their personal stories, and find out that hunger is exactly where you think you’d find it, and in many places you wouldn’t. In the meantime, please join in the discussion here, on Facebook, or Twitter. What’s happening in your town to help fight hunger, and create food justice?

Hungry at Home: Recognizing Privilege

When did you first realize you had more than someone else? Less than someone else? That’s the question we’re posing in today’s installment of #HungryatHome, to open up a discussion about privilege, and how to recognize your own as well as that of larger groups. Boulder food activist and volunteer Celina Ngoti Sekawu stepped up to start the conversation, by sharing her own experience. Please feel free to post your own response in the comments.

Hungry at Home

“I’m so hungry!”

When we say that, it can mean one of several things. I could mean my stomach is growling, I’m bored, or that I just smelled something delicious and now I want some of whatever’s cooking. But it could also mean there’s nothing to eat, that there consistently hasn’t been anything for me to eat, or I’m afraid I’m about to run out of things to eat with no money to replace them. Regardless of what you mean when you say it, the word “hungry” demands satisfaction.

Starting this week, and over the next several weeks, my friend Rachael Niswander and I are going on a search for, well, if not satisfaction, at least some truth, as part of a series of reports called “Hungry at Home.” Through this series, we’ll first look at the experiences of those who are dealing with hunger and food insecurity; then at those who are working to help feed them, empower them, and give them hope; and finally, the people who are growing and supplying the food that seems to be so plentiful for some, yet frustratingly out of reach for others.

We’ll focus on the issue right here in the Denver/Boulder, Colorado metros. However, these questions don’t just demand answers in Colorado. People are hungry everywhere. Rachael and I both have our own stories to tell, along with those of dozens of others right in our own backyard. Our hope is that by shining a light on our own community, you will also hear echoes of the stories of hundreds just like us across the country, maybe even in your own community.

Today, we’re attending the Forward Food Summit in Denver. The summit, a collaboration between the Denver and Boulder Food Rescues, was organized to get all the local players in the same room to present ideas to like minded folks in our area, and help give those interested in taking an active role in the food justice arena a place to talk to each other and, perhaps, join forces. We’re so excited to share what we’re learning here, as well as letting some of those in attendance share their experiences as they follow their own search for satisfaction.

We’re hungry for change. We’re hungry to make a difference. We’re hungry to hear your story, too. Hunger affects us all, in one way or another, so the conversation needs to include us all. No matter where you live, we hope you’ll join in.

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About the Authors

Rachael Niswander is a passionate writer living in the Denver area. Originally from L.A., Rachael moved to Denver in 2010 to pursue a life where she depended only on herself. She realized that dream through hard work and perseverance, which included lessons in food insecurity. During a financially difficult time in 2014, Rachael was gifted a $100 Safeway gift card with a note that read, “Food is not a luxury. Hope this helps.” This anonymous gift was one of hope and Rachael promised to pay it forward when she could.

Today, Rachael is a founding member of Denver’s grassroots organization May You Have Enough, which makes and delivers sack lunches and clothing to the homeless. She also plays an active role as co-author of Hungry at Home, along with Jordan Anderson. Join her on Facebook via May You Have Enough and on Twitter at @rockitpixie.

Jordan Anderson is a recent culinary school graduate, food writer and blogger, and private cooking instructor. She currently works “in the industry” in Denver, and has also recently become the PR/Social Media Director for a new pop-up restaurant concept, ELEMENTS. A native of Arkansas, Jordan moved to Denver in 1999 after closing her eyes and pointing to a spot on the map. She is a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, and just celebrated the five year anniversary of her match with her Little. After experiencing food insecurity and homelessness both as a child and an adult, she firmly believes that it will be through the grassroots efforts of local food activist organizations that solutions will be found and implemented. You can find her here online at her blog, I’m Gonna Cook That!, @gonnacookthat on Twitter and Instagram, and GonnaCookThat on Facebook.