The holidays are a time filled with merry fun and extravagant cooking, but also a time of giving and appreciation. Before we break for the holidays, in the spirit of giving, I find no better time to become more aware of the issues of food insecurity and accessibility that exist in our society.
As of 2010, 15.4 percent of U.S. households were deemed food insecure, while in 2011, 57.2 percent of all U.S. households participated in a federal food assistance program, such as SNAP, formally known as food stamps, according to WorldHunger.org. Now, these statistics are alarmingly high, but they’re also coupled with issues of a McDonald’s cheeseburger being cheaper and more convenient than fresh vegetables at a supermarket, and health problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These problems arise with an inherent root in equity issues of food security.
In recent years, there have been waves of studies about “food deserts,” areas where more than 20 percent of households live on an annual income of less than the median-income level and live more than a mile from a grocery store.
Food accessibility really hits close to home in Colorado Springs where urban sprawl results in hard-to-access supermarkets, especially with poor (and decreasing) public transportation. Three students from UCCS conducted a study about food deserts in Colorado Springs using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and found three significant areas of concern. One area they found is close to CC, just east of downtown.
So are these facts important? Part of having a well-rounded food ethic, beyond composting in Rastall, is being aware of these issues and knowing how you can get involved.
There are interesting initiatives already occurring in Colorado Springs to help alleviate issues of hunger such as the Care-and-Share Food Bank. Even food banks are starting to incorporate local food practices into their work. Care-and-Share started their own garden and greenhouse to provide fresher options in their food pantry. If you would like to donate some extra non-perishables to Care-and-Share during this holiday season, like if your room may be crammed with goods that the RAs are making you clean out, or you don’t want your extra food attracting rodents in off-campus houses, feel free to drop off donations at 1123 N. Weber St. and I will bring them to one of their food drive drop-offs. Or, if you want to make the trip, you can find their drop-off locations on careandshare.org.
Educational initiatives are also effective in aiding food insecurity issues. Another local organization, Share Our Strength, runs programs called “Shopping Matters” and “Cooking Matters” to teach participants how to stretch their dollars when it comes to cooking nutritious and affordable meals. Share Our Strength needs volunteers to teach classes, be assistants, shop for classes, or serve as Spanish language translators for classes. If you want to get involved, you can check out volunteer opportunities at nokidhungry.org.
It is also important to realize that food insecurity issues inherently impact us all. With a high drought this past year, this could induce rising food prices in both the short and long-term future. USDA economist Richard Volpe said, In 2013, as a result of this drought, we are looking at above-normal food price inflation. Consumers are certainly going to feel it.”
Whether or not you have the time or resources to volunteer or donate this holiday season, it’s crucial to know that we are not entirely food secure ourselves and our awareness of these issues is key to knowing our role as consumers in our food system.
Just for kicks, I encourage everyone to try the food stamp challenge. You can even try it as a New Year’s resolution. I find no better way to gain awareness and appreciation than to put myself in someone else’s shoes. The food stamp allowance is roughly $4 per person per day, which is almost half the cost of a meal at Rastall for lunch alone. To participate in the challenge, try to live off of $30 of groceries for the week and see how far you can stretch your dollars.
When we come back next semester, I will provide you with an article about ways to minimize your spending at the grocery store while still being ecologically and socially conscious. I find no better time than the holidays, in the spirit of giving, to become aware and appreciative of food insecurity issues that exist in our own communities. Please join me in donating to Care-and-Share and participating in the Food Stamp Challenge to begin understanding this important part of our food system.