Room at the feast

It may be artisan, organic, paleo, dairy-free and locavore, but Boulder has suffered a chronic food insecurity problem for decades.

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John Salzman, a volunteer for more than two years at the Sister Carmen Food Bank, stocks canned goods for incoming shoppers.
Susan France

Boulder is an absolutely distinctive place, and the city has the kudos to prove it. Boulder has been named America’s foodiest town with one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. It has been named one of the top 25 destinations in the U.S. and the ideal place to live by numerous outdoor sports magazines. You see that Flatirons backdrop on packaged food products and you know the green message it is sending.

But in other ways, Boulder is exactly the same as any similarly sized city in the nation. “One in seven Americans experiences some form of food insecurity. It’s just about the same percentage in Boulder,” says Hana Dansky, executive director of Boulder Food Rescue. The non-profit organization salvages edible produce and other items from Boulder supermarkets and redistributes them by bicycle-pulled trailers. Last year Boulder Food Rescue recovered about 370,000 pounds of perishable edibles, which helped feed more than 21,000 people in the city.

According to Community Food Share (CFS), an estimated 14 percent of Boulder County’s population is food insecure, including 14,000 children living in poverty in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain School Districts. More than 39 percent of the homes aided by CFS include children and 16 percent of the kids are 5 years old or younger.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know how big a problem is hiding in plain sight.

“A lot of people tell me they didn’t realize people were suffering from food insecurity here,” Dansky says. Besides hunger and malnutrition, the definition of food insecurity includes lack of access to nutritious food, including fresh produce and lack of access to culturally appropriate foods. Calories are available but not necessarily sustenance.

“A good example of food insecurity is someone who won’t pay the phone bill to put food on the table, or not refill a prescription to buy groceries. They have to make these choices. A lot of times parents won’t eat so they can feed their children,” Dansky says.

“We serve any low-income population: day care centers for the families and the children; low-income housing sites; we work with the Latino, homeless and senior populations; anyone who is struggling with accessing good food.”   

Boulder Food Rescue has a partnership with Community Food Share and a lot of common recipients, Dansky says. “We operate in the perishable field. They take the nonperishables to a warehouse and redistribute them,” Dansky says.

Russell Hallesy volunteers for Sister Carmen Food Bank.Susan France
Russell Hallesy volunteers for Sister Carmen Food Bank.

The 32nd annual Let’s Bag Hunger Food Drive is Nov. 13-23 with supermarkets across the county collecting food for the area’s principal food bank, Community Food Share. I find myself oddly nostalgic because I was the food editor at the Daily Camera 32 years when the newspaper decided to sponsor the food drive and insert paper shopping bags. In its early days, Community Food Share had far fewer resources available to meet the great need, and food collected was essential. The sad note is that 32 years later the need is even greater, especially among people employed full-time. Now food waste and salvaging edible food are parts of the effort to fight food insecurity.

It has always bothered me that these food drives happen primarily during the holiday feasting season when guilt will induce us to share with those less fortunate. We go to so much trouble to make sure everybody gets a turkey and fixin’s on the holiday and volunteers stream to shelters to serve food on Thanksgiving Day.

On the day after Thanksgiving — now “celebrated” as Black Friday — you are on your own. Most of us are not paying attention when these families need breakfast food on a Tuesday in January or July.

The recent election proved that we are very good at disagreeing. I’d like to think we can still agree that it is bad for all of us when families do not have a steady supply of decent food to eat. When it comes to supporting local organizations fighting food insecurity, cash goes the farthest as it allows the agency to stretch it by buying food in bulk. Even in years when I can’t afford to write a check, I grab a bag at the supermarket and load it with peanut butter and canned tuna, chicken, beans and fruit. Feeding people makes me feel good. You might feel better filling bags with baby formula, diapers and toothpaste, but do something.

You can find out more about helping Community Food Share at communityfoodshare.org. Boulder Food Rescue accepts financial donations to support its efforts at boulderfoodrescue.org. Lafayette’s Sister Carmen Community Center operates a food bank and accepts food and financial donations. sistercarmen.org.

Local Food News

I have friends and fellow food writers who have eaten at virtually every eatery in Boulder, but most of us are risk-averse when it comes to dining and we have a handful of go-to restaurants that we trust and revisit. The downside is missing out on new restaurants and cuisines you didn’t know existed. One of the best ways to broaden your roster of favorites is to take advantage of First Bite: Boulder County Restaurant Week, Nov. 11-19. Forty Boulder-area eateries are dishing $29, three-course dinner deals including Colterra, 740 Front, Riffs Urban Fare, Boulder Cork, Farmer Girl and River & Woods. For instance, at Arugula Ristorante you can line up a first course of polenta fritters with romesco sauce followed by garlic chicken breast with Brussels sprouts and polenta and fudge cake with almond butter cream and orange vanilla syrup. Details at: firstbiteboulder.com.

Taste of the Week

I’m going to miss the Boulder County Farmers Market when it closes for the season on Nov. 17. I’ll miss the veggies, the honey, the Szechuan buttons, the beet samples, fresh mushrooms and a truly stellar lineup of local food vendors. I sat at the Boulder market recently and dug into a favorite: Boulder-made cornmeal cakes from Tres Pupusas. One was filled with green chile and cheese and the other with pork canitas. Hot off the griddle they are near perfect with curtido — the crunchy, tart jalapeno-spiked coleslaw with some guac and beans. Tres Pupusas varieties are also available frozen at local supermarkets.

Words to Chew On

“When the sale of pies runs below zero, [you know that] hard, pinching poverty is abroad in the land and that want takes the best seat at the poor man’s table.” — Daily Camera, May 11, 1892.

John Lehndorff is the former Dining Critic of the Rocky Mountain News. From 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Lehndorff will help callers with feast day cooking crises on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org). Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.