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It was only last month that we wrote urging the community to step up and help out with the crisis challenging our local food banks. 

The food bank run by the Emergency Family Assistance Association was facing the “perfect storm.” Soaring inflation had driven up the cost of food and basic necessities, making it more difficult for people to buy extra to donate, while also forcing more people to rely on the food bank. 

The situation had gotten so bad that Walter O’Toole, the food bank’s manager, told the Camera he was going through his back stock faster than he could replenish it and that inventory was getting perilously low. To help out, he called on the community to host food drives. 

Our community stepped up. Within a few days of the food bank’s request, “boxes from our Amazon Wishlist started overflowing on our doorstep,” EFAA Communications Manager Julia Woods explained. “Several local coffee shops, fitness studios, apparel shops, schools and neighborhoods hosted food drives. Our phone lines and inboxes were flooded with messages from generous folks asking how they could lend a helping hand.”

It was a victory. And a victory well worth applauding. 

But the fundamental problems facing our community that led to the bare shelves earlier this summer have not gone away. Inflation slowed in July and may be coming off its peak, but prices are still rising — just at a slower rate. Unemployment is historically low, but with purchasing power plummeting, wages aren’t going as far as they used to. In fact, according to one study, the value of the federal minimum wage is the lowest it’s been since 1956.

So, while there are glimmers of hope — the TABOR rebate and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act are also among them — the need throughout our community is still sharp. 

In Loveland, the House of Neighborly Service has seen the number of people seeking help in 2022 nearly double over prior years’ numbers. And last week almost a dozen representatives from Boulder County and Broomfield County food bank agencies sat down with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse to detail their concerns and perspectives about the surge in hunger and food insecurity

What we need, then, are more robust and systemic changes to the way our community — and our society — views food and hunger. 

A great place to start is with food waste. Food is precious. It is nourishment. And it is — for far too many — scarce. But in the United States somewhere between 30% and 50% of all food is thrown out, which amounts to about $1,600 of food per household. According to a 2016 food waste audit from the Boulder Food Rescue and researchers at CU Boulder, “even with conservative estimates, there is likely more than enough good food being discarded in Boulder and Broomfield counties to meet the caloric needs of all of the food-insecure individuals in the area.”

The good news is that answers abound. 

The startup space is bountiful with potential solutions. One startup with a Boulder connection, Do Good Foods, makes use of some of the food that goes to waste in grocery stores by collecting it and turning it into chicken feed. It then raises chickens on the feed and sells those chickens at retail, turning food waste into food. 

Another relatively simple step is at the policy level: prevent food from being thrown out for being too ugly. By some estimates, one-third of produce waste is due to appearance — retailers believe we won’t eat ugly food. Small policy tweaks to prevent perfectly nutritious food from going to waste could go a long way. 

And one of the most effective ways to combat food waste is by altering consumer behavior. Certain solutions, like cutting back on eating meat, might be a bridge too far for some people. But being more deliberate about what we buy and how we store our food can make a deep cut into what goes to waste and how we ensure that there is enough to go around. 

Another behavioral change we can adopt is to make sure we are all doing our part to give and volunteer when and where we can. Soaring inflation and weakening purchasing power have hit everyone, but undoubtedly some of us still have the capacity to donate food and other necessities to our local food banks. And those without the financial capacity but who may find themselves with time to give can volunteer, either by lending a hand at a food bank or hosting a food drive. 

Systemic changes, though, do not happen with singular actions. Boulder is affluent and healthy, yet even Boulder and Broomfield counties 12% of children are food insecure. That’s 9,000 kids who can’t count on their next meal. Between the two counties, some 46,000 people are hungry. To solve a problem on this scale will take deliberate, persistent work — from the community, nonprofits and local government. That means volunteering and donating regularly, shopping and consuming consciously and intentionally, and voting for officials who will do the work necessary to ensure our government does its part. 

The causes of food insecurity in our community are myriad, but so too are the solutions. If we work together to stop precious food from going to waste and do our part to give what and when we can, we can make sure our community — no matter the national economic situation — does not let hunger go unchecked, that no one ever has to worry about where their next meal is going to come from. 

—Gary Garrison for the Editorial Board