Metro Caring Hosts Dozens for Slow Food Nations Panel on Food Rescue and Food Security

From left to right: Reuben Gregory, Jennifer Casey, Jason Babbie, Laura Jellum, Andy Fisher

From left to right: Reuben Gregory, Jennifer Casey, Jason Babbie, Laura Jellum, Andy Fisher


During the weekend of July 14th, food lovers from across the world descended on Denver for the city's first-ever Slow Food Nations. Amidst panels featuring such luminaries as Alice Waters (on nutritious school food) and Alon Shaya (on red beans and rice) was Metro Caring's own panel discussion: 'Food Waste to the Rescue!'

This discussion, moderated by Metro Caring's Reuben Gregory, included leading national experts on the issues of food security and food recovery:

Jennifer Casey, Executive Director, Fondy Food Center

Jason Babbie, Deputy Director of Urban Solutions, National Resources Defense Council

Laura Jellum, Outreach & Communications Manager, Food Forward

Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups

Below are some of the most interesting or provocative ideas from Metro Caring's 'Food Waste to the Rescue!' panel:

Laura Jellum: I realize that “food waste” is a hot topic – John Oliver has covered it – and people are finding us that way and they want to get involved because of that. But we try never to use “food waste” when we’re talking about food we’re rescuing. We try to say “food that would otherwise go to waste” just to give some context, but [waste] has such a negative connotation. We’re picking fruit right off the tree. We’re getting produce at the end of the farmers market that would have sold, but just didn’t, and it’s as fresh and organic and lovely as you can imagine. So we never want to have such a negative connotation around what we’re providing [hunger-relief] agencies with.

Andy Fisher: I came in as the interim Director [of the Portland Fruit Tree Project] and I immediately tried to move the organization away from ‘food security’ and ‘food waste’. For one, the poundage that we were doing really wasn’t going to solve food insecurity and I don’t think that a box of free food – or lots of free apples or oranges – are going to solve the problem at all. They’re a nice addition to a family’s larder, but the solution to hunger and food insecurity is power – it’s about political power. It’s about addressing the root causes of poverty. Free food is going to solve the problem for today but not if it doesn’t do anything for the long term. In fact, it just perpetuates the problem. It creates a hunger-maintenance industry. So, in many ways, I believe that a lot of this work is a distraction from the real efforts of addressing poverty. But I also realized that the work that we were doing, the greatest benefit we were providing was community building and social capital. We were bringing over two thousand people to these harvesting events – people from different races, different classes, different ages, different backgrounds, who were getting together. That, in and of itself, because Portland is very segregated, provided a huge amount of value. I think the community-building aspects of food recovery are much more important than its food-security benefits.

Jennifer Casey: We’re looking for a world in which everyone has access to food. I think the solutions are different in every community. We’ll build a better, stronger, more resilient local food system by supporting local, small producers. That’s something that each one of us can do. It doesn’t end there – you demand a government, also, that supports local food. It can’t just be on consumers – especially low-income consumers – to pay more and make sure that small producers have an active role in fair wages. But I would just say that working locally is where the momentum is, where progress is.

Jason Babbie: Not only is local where the progress is in the short term, I think it’s ultimately where the solutions lie. There are things we can be doing to scale ideas and practices from place to place while allowing them to be changed with local appropriateness. We could create a better network to be able to share our goals, successes, life lessons, and learning so that another place or organization doesn’t have to start from the beginning – they can start from the 3rd or 4th step. We can better and better transfer our knowledge.*

*Metro Caring has surfaced as the foremost organization in Denver taking on the challenges of food insecurity, malnutrition, and poverty. We have become a model for not only addressing people's immediate need for nutritious food, but also preventing future hunger, through comprehensive, wrap-around programming and education. For those interested in learning from – and potentially replicating – our practices, we have produced a toolkit highlighting some lessons we have learned along the way.

To learn more about this toolkit, contact our Sustainability and Strategic Partnerships Coordinator Reuben Gregory at 303-638-2375 or [email protected].

Metro Caring