A couple days ago I received an email from an Executive Chef at a retirement community, in which he admitted that he has “a very enthusiastic gluten free and health conscious population here that still likes dessert!” As we work out pricing for new fans, navigating the realm of frozen shipping and distribution, I am reminded of food security issues around the world- and here at home in the US. While everyone deserves good, nutritious food, and even an occasional treat like a GF Flourless Chocolate Petit Four, not everyone has access. Every day we pull out our hair to find the best way to get our celiac and gluten free friends and fans our desserts, but that is just one food-related problem. What about those right here in our country who don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis?
Last year in San Francisco in January, we took a break from the Fancy Food Show to hit a local establishment for a little food and drink and to watch some football on TV. Outside the window, we saw someone hand out pizza crust scraps to people in the park who accepted them gratefully. Pizza scraps. Really. Someone’s crust, after eating the rest of the pie from inside it. Whatever feeling that image brings a person, there is no doubt that there is something quite wrong here. (Related, the Specialty Food Association, which hosts the Fancy Food Show, also regularly promotes endeavors to relieve hunger in this nation, including this year members donating nearly 35,000 pounds of food after the Winter Fancy Food Show.)
As we engage with our professional organizations, it’s important to keep a bigger picture in mind. Many years ago, when I worked in the field of education for homeless and at-risk youth, one year when I attended the annual NAEHCY (National Association for Education of Homeless Children and Youth), as my colleagues and I sat at a nice catered lunch at the conference hotel in a major US city, suddenly someone entered the dining room and began to walk around speaking loudly about how could we be sitting in that room enjoying that sumptuous lunch while the very people we purported to serve were going hungry? Of course we all learned from each other, and brought new ideas and initiatives back to our own home programs, where we served children and youth locally- my own employeer was a non-profit full service agency that included a homeless shelter with meals, free clothing, medical and mental health care, educational and job services- but point taken, guy.
And beyond our professional lives, the importance of the bigger picture remains. Recently I returned to northern New England for a sorority reunion. There were over 150 women assembled, and before our big reunion dinner we attended a meeting in which two people associated with our alma mater spoke. One encouraged us all to take part in an initiative on campus to provide meal plans for students who cannot afford them. That’s right. College students who can’t afford to eat. The age old jokes about starving artists and starving college students persist, but in these days the college experience, including at public institutions, is becoming more prohibitively expensive. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, college tuition at public four-year schools has increased by 213% in the past 30 years since I graduated with my bachelors degree. (Private universities have increased tuition on average 129% in that time.) (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html) Whaaaa..? No wonder kids can’t afford to eat.
Just last evening as I left the evening bird ID program at my local Audubon society meeting, packing up the box of napkins and coffee cups I bring back to the office for the next month’s meeting (Gem City Fine Foods donates desserts to the meetings, so I hand off then collect the box with the month’s offering each time the chapter holds an evening program), a young man, college freshman, noted that the Carrot Cake tasted pretty good and there was some left over. I asked if he would like to take it with him, and his immediate answer was that he’d be pleased to have the extra cake because he had no food in his dorm room. Even those students who have a meal plan deserve a little extra sometimes, and not always is that little treat affordable. Imagine those who can’t even afford a meal plan. How can they learn and achieve without proper nutrition? If they’re worrying about how they will eat?
No doubt, you all have stories you could tell. If so, I’d love to hear them. Please contact me at the email address on our Contact Us page, or visit with me at the Sandy Nourished Festival weekend after next. For those of you who don’t know, hunger and homelessness are issues close to my heart. I worked with at-risk children and youth for many years before changing careers and eventually becoming CEO/ Sales and Marketing Manager at Gem City Fine Foods. While I am absolutely committed to being able to provide delicious treats to those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and other food allergies, I recognize a wider need to feed people right here at home.
Hunger is real. According to USDA-ERS, in 2017, nearly 12% (15 million) of American households were food insecure, meaning that “at times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” (https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx)
We all have our causes. This is one of mine, and I am fortunate to have a platform for talking about it. I hope that bringing up the reminder will encourage others to help build a bridge across the gap from those who have plenty to eat to those who may have little- to none.