Thanksgiving Reflection

At this time of year, it’s popular to think about sharing food and access to food. Our post-harvest holiday traditions reinforce thankfulness and community. Massachusetts has one of the largest gaps in the nation between the wealthiest and poorest households. The Greater Boston Food Bank says that one in 9 people in Eastern Mass do not know where their next meal will come from.

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A recent article in the Boston Globe about inequality in Cambridge talks specifically about food prices. “Housing isn’t the only thing that’s gotten more expensive as Kendall Square’s influence spreads. Johnnie’s Foodmaster, the low-cost grocery store in nearby Inman Square, is now a Whole Foods. Hi-Fi Pizza and it’s $2 slices are gone, soon to be replaced by a Clover Food Lab serving $6 chickpea fritter sandwiches. The dollar store is closed, too.” Meanwhile, the community’s food pantry serves around 1200 people per month. While we continue to plan for wealthy consumers and residents who we think will be moving into these areas in the future, we neglect affordable housing and food for the residents who live in our neighborhoods now.

Agricultural policies are an important part of how we can reduce hunger in urban areas. Including community agriculture, like public gardens, and making sure that zoning in new and planned luxury commercial and residential areas includes allowances for local agriculture.

On a larger scale we need to be thinking about how we source and consume our food globally. Dan Nicke, associate director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, mentioned that “forty percent of all the food in this country never makes it to the table — at a cost of $165 billion to the U.S. economy.” According to the US Department of Agriculture one in seven Americans struggled with struggled with hunger in 2013.

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There is a staggering gap in what is sourced, created and consumed. We have an obligation to bridge the gap between what is being eaten and what is being wasted.

 

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GrubHub Alternative?

As new mobile and web applications change the way we interact with food, The Foodery is looking at new ways to make local, organic meals available to Boston consumers through delivery services. Customers make a weekly order of meals that arrive a few days later, ready to refrigerate. With a focus on local, organic, and sustainable agriculture, these meals are a little different than your average GrubHub order and  probably a lot healthier, too. While the meals, at around $18 per person per meal, are probably more expensive than your average takeout order, they may not be more expensive than restaurant meals.

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As an avid Foodler user, the convenience of being able to open a smartphone app and quickly and efficiently order local foods is unparalleled. My only complaint is not having enough healthy take out options. As a consumer I would be willing to pay a premium to enjoy locally grown, sustainable and potentially much healthier food. In order to stay competitive within the changing market place, these online food ordering services should begin to explore the possibility of partnering with services like The Foodery.

It’s interesting to see the ways that our access to ever-improving and changing types of technology can start to challenge traditional ideas like the “take-out menu” or “fast food” with healthier options that support local farmers more than national restaurant chains. While The Foodery might not exactly be competition for GrubHub now, it’s great to see ideas like this enter the convenience/delivery arena.

I’m really interested to see the way that technology, and particularly mobile technology, continue to change the way we access food. Already there are some apps that are challenging the traditional ideas about access to restaurants. We’re all familiar with the line to get into a fabulous restaurant on a Saturday night and with the process of trying to make reservations at a small and trendy new spot. Apps and websites like OpenTable.com and NoWait allow us to follow that same strategy in a slightly more convenient way, but allowing us to make reservations or get in line at a restaurant faster and easier ways.

But some new websites and apps are challenging even the ideas of lines and reservations. Apps like KillerRezzy, ReservationHop, and Zurvu work by purchasing reservations at trendy restaurants ahead of time, and then selling those reservations back to consumers. While these increase our access to fine dining, they sometimes do so at the expense of dining democracy, allowing privilege and money to edge in.

Other apps approach food access with a slightly more equalizing perspective, including apps like Locavore, which allows users to quickly and easily find farmers’ markets and farms that sell seasonal, locally grown food.

It’s so interesting to watch how these tools of technology are changing the way we access food, think about food, and build relationships with food.

Vote with Your Fork Rally

This month’s Let’s Talk About Food festival kicks off with the Vote With Your Fork Rally on the 26th at Trinity Church in Boston. There will be speakers on hand to talk about why voters should look at food and farming platforms for candidates when casting votes.

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The scheduled speakers include Chef Barton Seaver (Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at Harvard University’s School of Public Health), award winning chef Michel Nischan, Representative Chellie Pingree and Ken Cook the president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Michel Nischan was recently interviewed as part of the National Geographics’ Future of Food series where he talked a bit about the importance of using our collective buying power, as consumers, not just to make healthier choices for ourselves, but also to improve our local economies. Someone made a comment on the interview about the cost of produce at local farmer’s markets still being too costly in comparison to the cost of produce in commercial venues. I thought it was interesting that Michel Nischan had actually addressed this point somewhat in his interview, where he is, I think, calling for a shift away from thinking about the cost of buying the “product” towards thinking about the cost of buying the seeds/plants and growing our own food in individual or community settings.

Personally I find the quality and longevity of the farmers market products to be far more reliable than to those of a traditional supermarket. I have also noticed an uptick in the individuals using government assistance at local farmers markets. Within Massachusetts EBT/SNAP benefits can be used at farmers markets throughout the states.

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Nationally the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is helping to expand this benefit. These programs are helping to provide healthy food choices to families who may be experiencing food insecurities. I’m looking forward to hearing this year’s Vote With Your Folk speakers address these issues further.

The purpose of this blog.

I grew up eating food from nearby farms and our large garden, but when I moved to the city I was happily exposed to all sorts of different flavors, cultures, and ethnic cuisines. Over time, I became interested in how these foods arrived to the stores and restaurants that I frequented. Through this blog, I will be exploring how food production, transportation and consumption has an impact on a city’s health, sustainability, and culture. I’m specifically interested in how social media is used to help food producers, restaurateurs, stores owners, and consumers communicate and change the current food production and consumption climate.

I love that food production and food sourcing is becoming a very big topic. People use sites like Twitter, Yelp, and Urban Spoon to talk about their foods, and to advocate for closer relationships between farm and plate. Before social media these voices weren’t well heard, but now anyone can talk directly to a farm or a restaurateur and ask about their ingredients. This has lead to a lot of new food movements, such as slow food and farm to plate.

For instance, check out this new restaurant I just dined at while visiting Seattle:

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The Walrus and the Carpenter

All of their food is locally sourced, and even the farms producing the ingredients are specifically listed on their website! This is what gets me excited about the use of social media and it’s ability to have a direct impact on informed choice.