After 2021 and the socially distanced holiday season, I should probably be writing about some frivolous food trends or the latest kitchen gadget. But I can’t. Not when one in six people in Southwest Colorado is hungry right now. It seems more appropriate, with the pandemic and political madness still raging, that we consider something more sobering. Another wrong to right in 2021. How to boost local food security.
It is interesting to me, that food security is defined by its inverse. Food insecurity, as defined by the Colorado Health Foundation, is someone eating less than they felt they should in the past year because there was not enough money for food. While I am not a fan of defining terms by their negative, this definition does hit on the complex issues that comprise food security.
- Someone – there is a face of hunger on children, elderly, every race and creed in our community.
- Eating less than they should – Nutrition labels and calorie counting are meaningless when there is not enough food or good quality food to satisfy someone’s hunger.
- Not enough money for food – this may seem the simplest issue but points not only to income and access to good quality food, but the cost of food. Also, in an agricultural region like ours, a just food supply that pays fair wages and does not exploit workers.
As with other forms of social injustice, the pandemic exposed our food supply problems. Whether it was closed schools that normally provide free and reducedprice breakfast and lunch to more than half the schoolchildren in Montezuma and Dolores counties or the food banks that saw skyrocketing demand, this year left few questions about the dismal state of food security in our region.
But it is not all bad news, the past year saw record response and creative solutions to reduce hunger locally. All children in Montezuma-Cortez schools, regardless of their eligibility status were able to receive nutritious meals at no charge in the fall. The school kitchens even stuck to their commitment to include local fruits and vegetables in their meals whenever possible.
The Sharehouse Community Food Center opened in downtown Cortez this past spring with the mission of “making space for an equitable local food system.” Housing the Good Samaritan Food Pantry as well as Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative, the Sharehouse brings together farmers, community groups, and hungry people of all ages, income, and backgrounds to provide access to healthy, local food. Luckily, it was also a passable fruit year, so some of those forgotten fruit trees even saw some love and harvest tending. The Good Food Collective organized volunteers who gathered two tons of local fruit and vegetable for local community groups and pressed 66 gallons of apple juice for distribution.
And finally, while we did not want to stop visiting our local restaurants, last year brought new opportunities for cooking, and eating at home. Some were able to experience the “Joy of Cooking” and dust off old recipes or rekindle family cooking traditions. There is nothing like a sparse pantry to spark a creative meal… what can I make with pinto beans, a jar of olives, and stale bread? Tapenade, of course! Speaking of pinto beans, a nation-wide peak in demand for long-storage foods was a bonanza for local bean farmers as well as the Cortez Flour mill with the home-made sourdough bread craze.
Will all this food goodwill last in the new year? It must. We have too many hungry someones in our community to ignore the state of food security in our community any longer. If anything, we need to find ways to address the underlying causes and expand our efforts. I will be using this column in 2021 to highlight the sources and solutions for addressing food security in our community.
So, let’s put 2020 in the rear view, and welcome the new year with a vision for a happy, healthy, and well-fed community.
Carolyn Dunmire writes, cooks, and gardens in Cahone, Colo.