Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Boulder Students Provide a Solution to a Growing Problem: Hunger!

While Boulder, Colorado is often mocked by wingnuts and conservatives as "the People's Republic of Boulder" for its large concentration of liberals, the fact remains it is more civically advanced than most American burgs. This may be partly to do with the fact that Boulder is home to the University of Colorado at Boulder, nestled in the foothills of the Rockies. As we know, university students as well as academics tend to be more liberal in their political dispositions, just based on the fact that open inquiry and social criticism themes are more 'front and center' in their outlooks.

So, leave it to a group of Univ. of Colorado students to see a need as well as a problem and fill it. The need was to feed Boulder's thousands of hungry citizens, many of whom are working poor who don't earn much more than the minimum wage (though Boulder has a higher minimum than most places). But the problem is Boulder is an expensive place to live. Rents are high, as well as homes- whether new or old.

The problem to be solved was mammoth food wastage, as it is also a problem throughout the nation and the world. Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food is either lost or wasted globally due to inefficiencies throughout the food supply chain, according to a report based on research by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology. According to the report, industrialized and developing countries waste or lose roughly the same amount of food each year – 670 million and 630 million tons respectively. But while rich countries waste food primarily at the level of the consumer, the main issue for developing countries is food lost due to weak infrastructure

In Boulder, student Hana Dansky had initiated a research paper on the problem as part of her Environmental Justice class. She was appalled after she unearthed a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture report noting that 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food at the retail and consumer levels was wasted every year- translating to an estimated loss of 161 billion pounds of food. This even as 15.7 million kids go to bed hungry nearly every night and nearly half of working families experience food distress of some type.

So Hana and fellow students launched Boulder Food Rescue, a service by which they transport food to be tossed out by groceries to local food pantries, such as Harvest of Hope. The food is rescued, and let's be clear here there is nothing wrong with it other than imperfections. It isn't "rotten" or anything. In most cases it involves produce such a "two-legged" carrot or a spotty (but edible) summer squash. Items that grocers prefer not to stock but which can be happily and easily used in soups and other foods by the Boulder hungry.

Two key parts of the rescue service which make it a success in Boulder include:

1) Transporting the disposed produce etc. by bicycle - which enables 40 lbs. to be carried at one time and transported directly to homeless shelters and food banks.

2) Operating under the 'Good Samaritan Food Donation Act' which safeguards groceries and supermarkets from lawsuits.

(2) is self evident in terms of value, while some may scratch heads at (1). But it is precisely the biking that enables the swift turnaround times that get food to places where needed before it spoils. When the volunteers show up on their bikes they simply take the disposed food set out in boxes - instead of leaving a food bank warehouse to take days to sort it all out and transport it by truck. According to Hana Dansky: "Source to stomach in less than an hour is our goal".

Boulder Food Rescue can be seen in action in this Youtube video:

It's introduced by UC student Hana Dansky.

Boulder Food Rescue has become so successful it's now spawned chapters in Denver and hyper-conservative Colorado Springs. Like other conservative towns, the Springs also has its share of food insecurity, mostly again because people here don't earn enough to pay high rents, utilities etc. and also food.

Another goal of Boulder Food Rescue is to educate citizens to stop food waste by stop being so picky. Their motto has become "teach people to love imperfect food". And why not? Just because an apple is asymmetric - bigger on one side than the other - you don't toss it.

40 percent of all food wasted is by the person after it's purchased. It's either left in the fridge too long, so goes bad, or the buyer discovers some imperfection, say like a soft rotten spot in an apple and tosses it. But how about just cutting the spot out and eating the rest? Similarly, if you take a bite and find a worm how about just removing the beastie and eating what's left assuming it's unaffected? Must you toss the whole thing out?

These are the sort of issues we need to address especially as the whole world will soon be in a world of hurt from inadequate food, based on a confluence of factors from climate change to Peak Oil.

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