The Side Dish: The State of the (Food) Union

Even as I prep for my adventure to the extravagant Aspen Food & Wine Classic this weekend, I’m still focused on the current recession and the depressing state of the economy. Job growth slowly inches up, home sales are slowly increasing, people might actually start eating out again.

Your neighbors are still struggling, though. Food banks across the nation continue to report increases in numbers of those in need, particularly from non-traditional families – those previously considered to be in the middle to upper-class arena. I read an article just the other day noting that many of those struggling with paying their bills are more likely to spend their money on fast food because it’s cheaper than produce, dairy, and fresh meats in the supermarket. It’s even getting difficult  to argue against those non-organic naysayers who complain that organic farming is irresponsible due to the smaller food yields – but how can we produce enough food for those in need without sacrificing the health of the farmers and consumers?

We’re in the middle of a food crisis across the board – not just internationally but here in our own backyard – and I really don’t want people to lose sight of that, even as things gradually improve. I’m especially encouraged by the numbers of community members I see developing gardens across town. How can you help further? First, remember to support your local food bank. Feeding Harvest has a searchable directory of food banks across the US.

Other ideas include:

1) Donate to your school’s lunchroom fund or offer to sponsor a week or month of lunches for a student who can’t afford it.

2) Restaurant or food service owner? Implement a partnership food reclamation programs for your business. Programs like Stanford University’s SPOON project and San Francisco’s Food Runners will come to your kitchen to pick up donate-able leftovers and distribute them to community members in need.

3) Is your garden producing more than you can eat? Donate your excess produce to local churches, charities, and food banks as often as you can. Don’t let it go to waste!

4) No garden or extra cash? Support food banks by volunteering your time. Visit a local kitchen to help with food distribution or spread the word utilizing social media! Twitter folks can follow (and retweet) for organizational support – check out @FoodBank4NYC (New York), @CommFoodBankNJ (New Jersey), @StMarysFoodBank (Phoenix), @SFFoodBank (California), and @Gleaners (Michigan). Many others are listed here.

5) Throw a party in support of your local food bank! Larger food festivals, like Aspen and the New York Wine & Food Festival benefit local hunger organizations. But you don’t have to be a festival promoter to make a difference! Organize a local bash and ask guests to bring food items for donation. Your local food bank will thank you.

~Jennifer Heigl

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