By Christina Guarino
“Eat well. Live well. Be well.” This is just one of many sayings about how a healthy diet is essential to having a happy life. What often remains unconsidered when talking about the benefits of eating healthy is the accessibility and cost of nutritious food. Healthy food is often more expensive than convenient fast food and less accessible to people of lower socio-economic status (SES). In some places, people of lower SES have no other option than to eat processed foods. These places are called food deserts, which are areas without a single supermarket. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, around 23.5 million people live in food deserts, nearly half of them having a low income. When I first heard about food deserts, I imagined a literal desert where there was only one gas station that provided all of the food for anyone who lived nearby. Although this is the case in some circumstances, cities are often the places of food insecurity. People often forget that there can be food insecurity, especially in places like Boulder, where it is assumed that everyone is able to eat. In fact, right here in Boulder County, about 13% of the population is food insecure; this amounts to about 41,520 people. So, what is being done about this? In Colorado, there has been a proliferation of initiatives to counter this problem. In recent years, indoor greenhouses, food banks, and mobile markets that specialize in fresh, healthy food have become more prevalent, especially in areas where there is a higher population of people that don’t typically have access to these foods.
In response to food inequality, many initiatives have been created to mitigate these issues. In Denver, the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood has a total population of fewer than seven thousand people (83% are Latino) with 28% of the people living in poverty. GrowHaus, a non-profit indoor farm, located in the heart of Elyria-Swansea, offers healthy food for everybody in the Denver community, particular residents of the neighborhood. On the opening page of GrowHaus’s website, the first line that a visitor reads is, “Healthy food is a right, not a privilege.” This statement encompasses GrowHaus’s mission, which is to “catalyze a neighborhood-based food system in our community that is healthy, equitable, and resident-driven.” GrowHaus grows fresh produce throughout the entire year, offers food education workshops, sells food boxes, and has a Free Food Pantry. Providing healthy food at affordable prices, as well as having food education classes, has offered much-needed support for this Denver area that was once considered a food desert.
Other organizations that are based right here in Boulder County are Community Food Share and Boulder Food Rescue. Community Food Share helps to reduce food waste and makes healthy food more affordable and accessible to disadvantaged groups. This organization is located in Louisville and gets “ugly” fruits and vegetables, then provides them to people who couldn’t otherwise get nutritious food. Did you know that almost a fourth of the fruits and vegetables grown in America never make it off the farm because they don’t look good enough to be in grocery stores? By getting food that otherwise would have been wasted, Community Food Share is reducing both the amount of water and resources used and the work required by farmers to get only the perfect looking fruits and vegetables. This organization was founded in 1981 and has been providing disadvantaged people healthy food ever since. Almost 90% of the food that they get is from food rescue, which is food from “retail grocers, farmers, producers, distributors, and foodservice operators” that is not “profitable to sell, close-dated, overstock, seasonal, or cosmetically damaged.” Community Food Share also has a Mobile Pantry which brings healthy food to people in need in Broomfield and Boulder.
In a similar fashion, Boulder Food Rescue also obtains food that would have been wasted and redistributes it to people who need it. They work with over 28 local businesses to donate this “soon-to-expire or overstocked food,” which is primarily fruits and vegetables. Every single day, volunteers for this organization “load the donated food into bike trailers and haul it directly to one of [their] 40+ recipient sites that is scheduled to receive it.” In fact, 82% of all the food pick-ups have been performed by bikes, regardless of the weather conditions! Boulder Food Rescue has been very successful; to this day, they have redirected 2,175,309 pounds of food that would have gone into landfills. Having this network of organizations working to redistribute food and reduce waste helps food insecure populations access healthy food.
Although people can complain about Whole Foods being too pricey, or a certain vegetable not being organic, it is important to realize that many people in this country do not have fresh produce to begin with. With the help of our communities’ organizations, such as Denver GrowHaus, Boulder Food Rescue, and Community Food Share, healthy and nutritious food can start to become more affordable and accessible to people who once could not dream of affording these types of foods. Future organizations and companies can learn from these examples to continue to allow people of lower SES to eat healthy food. Eating well does, in fact, make one live well and be well, so more people should have the opportunity to have access to fresh, nutritious food. In fact, it should be their right.