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Seeking Higher Ground: Thoughts about ‘food insecurity’

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Despite a childhood marred by divorce, frequent moves and a parent’s attempted suicide, I have never gone hungry. And until Mary Kenyon mentioned it in a March meeting, I had never heard the term “food insecurity”.

According to the Colorado Health Institute, half a million Coloradoans experience “food insecurity.” That means that they “lack consistent access to a reliable food source during the past year.” Moreover, a 2017 study by the anti-hunger group Feeding America found that nearly 8 percent of Americans aged over 60 were “food insecure”. 

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I’m pretty sure that coronavirus has kicked those numbers way up. 

I began my self-imposed house arrest on March 8, after calculating that, due to age and health issues, COVID-19 would quickly deliver me to the grim reaper. Eleven days later, when Governor Polis closed all but essential businesses, food shopping suddenly became a problem: my 89-year-old husband, who had solemnly agreed to shop just once a week went three times in one day, each time hoping the truck would arrive to fill City Market’s barren shelves.

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That really hit me in the gut.

The Colorado Health Institute reports that food insecurity in our state is largely a rural problem, one that’s due to higher poverty and unemployment rates and one complicated by a lack of public transportation. That pretty much nails what was (and to a lesser degree still is) going on in Carbondale in this time of coronavirus. Panic buying, people trying to minimize shopping trips and the fact that Carbondale lies at the far end of City Market’s delivery route have added to our local bare-shelves problem.

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My personal insecurity about food led first to online carping, to 98 replies from similarly stressed locals, and then me personally emailing the CEO of Kroger, imploring him to improve our local lot. Thanks to frenzied organizing — by Dave Reed, who put together the Carbondale Mutual Aid Group on Facebook, an effort broadened and deepened by Katrina Byers, Ashley Weitzel, Amy Kimberly and Mayor Dan Richardson — Carbondale’s quarantine picture has brightened considerably.

Carbondale’s elders and the health-challenged now have special shopping hours. The Carbondale Emergency Task Force is hand-delivering flyers that list available food, mental health and financial services. Mary Kenyon, who had already alerted the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) about the fact that 3,500 Garfield County seniors had no access to home delivered meals, is now personally delivering food to 27 households. 

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There’s even a daily City Market stocking report on Facebook, courtesy of Peter Merz. (Merz wrote an April 1 opinion piece for this paper explaining how and why he’s providing this service.) All along, City Market assured Merz that its supply chain was intact and that trucks would keep arriving — as they indeed have. 

But the experience of wondering where my next meal was coming from got me to thinking a lot more about where my FOOD was coming from in general. Lately, it’s come from some unexpected places, most of them hyper-local.

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After my online rant, eight different people, two of them strangers, offered to shop for me. Two neighbors gave me eggs. I gleaned pears and Yukon gold potatoes from a box on Village Road bearing a “free” sign. My friend Alegria has appeared on my porch more than once bearing edible gifts. 

(I suppose all this makes me a highly “gifted” writer. I’m deeply grateful to have helpful friends, a reasonably secure income and transportation. These are all unearned gifts that many “food insecure” seniors don’t have.)

My friend Alegria lives in Missouri Heights, down the road from Felix Tornare, owner of Louis’ Swiss Bakery. Felix is one many local restaurateurs who have been abruptly plunged into a struggle for survival. The Aspen restaurants that have bought his pastries for the past 30 years have closed. Felix has kept his AABC shop open for takeout while exploring other ways to keep his business from starving. He roasted the chicken and baked the whole wheat bread that Alegria brought to me — along with her request that I “mention it”. Loudly. 

For environmental reasons, I have long favored locavore eating. But my recent quarantine has delivered a gut-level understanding of social and economic reasons why it’s important to support our local food producers, purveyors and restaurateurs.

Given how much things have changed in the last month, it seems appropriate to end this column with a shameless commercial plug — something wholly out of character for me. So here goes: Louis’ fragrant and heavenly (but un-holey), sprouted wheat bread is now available from Mana Market.  Go try some!

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