Feeding change

Forward Food Summit tackles food insecurity in Boulder County and its intersection with race

Cara Bloome

We waste a lot of food in Boulder County. At the same time, some people go to sleep hungry here. And those people tend to fall into racial and economic minorities.

That was the problem up for discussion at the second annual Forward Food Summit, which took place this past weekend, April 18 and 19. It brought together food insecurity organizations and experts to address how to solve those issues of food waste and food insecurity, and to figure out why they often intersect with racial issues.

The summit was a collaboration between Boulder Food Rescue, an organization that saves good, healthy food from going to waste and delivers it to those in need, and the INVST community leadership organization at the University of Colorado Boulder, a training program for students passionate about social and environmental justice. It took place at the Impact Hub in Boulder.

The official theme of this year’s summit was, “Conversations at the Intersection of Race and Food Insecurity.” Hana Dansky, executive director of Boulder Food Rescue and organizer of the event, says the student leaders chose the topic based on a larger national conversation.

“[We] decided to focus on the intersection of food insecurity and race because with the growing momentum about racial injustice in this country right now, on top of something that’s not talked about very much in Boulder, it seemed like a really good topic to hone in on,” Dansky says, adding that the groups thought focusing the summit on one topic would have the most impact. “We wanted to take a look at how the food system basically disproportionately affects people of color and a lot of that has to do with the intersection of class and race and how economic disparities keeps people from getting access to healthy food.”

One such example discussed at the summit was how the soft drink industry targets low-income groups and racial groups and the correlation of that with a sharp rise in diabetes over the last several decades. Though one in three Americans born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes, about 50 percent of all African American or Latino people born that year will develop the disease.

The summit also held a workshop that delved into the nature of societal power structures, how those power dynamics self-perpetuate and how that influences food security. Whether power lines are drawn on the basis of economics or race, Dansky says, Boulder County has a long way to go to bridge the gap and ensure food security for all its citizens.

“I think that it often goes unseen that the Latino population here in Boulder … tends to be marginalized,” Dansky says. “But also in Boulder, in particular, we are working with lowincome communities and that doesn’t always mean racial diversity.

“I think in Boulder we definitely have more work to do in food redistribution. A lot of food is going to waste here. We’re doing a food waste audit right now for the City of Boulder and hopefully that will help inform where to go next as far as recovering food.”

But one contributor to food inequality that likely won’t be solved by the food audit is the cost of living in Boulder, Dansky says. Studies have shown it would take a minimum salary of about $18 an hour to live in the city, and a looming affordable housing crisis has been well-documented, with an estimated extinction of housing for people who make less than $60,000. That lack of affordability and other rules that prevent folks from making ends meet in Boulder affects their ability to get quality food.

“It’s expensive to live here and a lot of people don’t have houses,” says Dansky. “There’s housing laws that prohibit more than three unrelated people from living together. Affordable housing is an issue that exists, and it causes economic distress, which causes [some people] to be in food insecure situations.”

Dansky says part of the solution to food insecurity in Boulder County will require looking at living wage issues. But there is also a larger yin and yang solution to the problem that Boulder Food Rescue and this weekend’s summit participants are actively pursuing.

“We’re working on food waste and food security issues at the same time,” Danksy says. “It hits environmental and social issues at the same time. The food waste conversation is becoming more well-known in the country. More and more people are understanding perfectly good food is going to waste and getting riled up about it,” Dansky says. She adds that Boulder Food Rescue is trying to build better relationships with grocery stores, many of which produce a lot of food waste that can be redistributed to people in need.

In order to make events like the Forward Food Summit more impactful, and to make the work her organization does more efficient, Dansky says, she’s soliciting people who actually use the service to serve on the group’s board and attend meetings.

“There’s a lot of places where I think we can do better. I’d really like to have people that are recipients of our food involved in the board and as members of our organization. We want to involve people in our organization by taking feedback. Although we put on the Summit, we’re learning a lot too and adjusting our gaps and trying to create fun solutions about how to change that and do good work,” Dansky says.

Going forward, Dansky says the group plans to hold another summit next year with a topic to be determined later. Partnering with food rescue and food security groups in the area and around the country will help to build a better network.

“With food security, we have pretty close relationships with food rescue groups around the country,” Dansky says. “The second day of the summit, all the food rescue organizations got together and discussed what are our common values were — food redistribution, food rescue, distributing resources on bicycles — and how do we hone in on that and use our momentum together to be louder and be part of this national conversation about food security.”