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Hunger Action Week, Eat Local Challenge, and urban food innovation

There are no simple answers to food justice issues. I can understand spending $4.50 a day on food or spending $10 at the farmers market instead of the grocery store. But food deserts and cycles of poverty start getting fuzzy.
Warehouse at Feeding America West Michigan

Warehouse at Feeding America West Michigan /Wendy Hammond

Upcoming Events

Vote with Your Fork! Conversations with a Locavore

Thursday, August 29, 2013, 7 PM

Grand Rapids Public Library

Hunger Action Week

September 8-14

Eat Local Challenge

August - October

Typical local-food fare, Bistro Bella Vita

Typical local-food fare, Bistro Bella Vita /Wendy Hammond

Feeding America West Michigan would like to challenge you to spend $31.50 for the week on food and beverages (the average amount of assistance received by an individual enrolled in SNAP). Local First wants you to pledge to shift $10 a week for 10 weeks to local food. Tomorrow’s GR Reads program will feature a conversation about our local food system, the environment and the local food economy. That’s a lot of Grand Rapids food talk going on!

I can’t help but wonder how all of this is interrelated. Is it possible to do both the Hunger Challenge and the Eat Local Challenge? Is it ironic that groups like Slow Food West Michigan, who support “a good, clean and fair food system,” host dinners that cost more per person than one can spend for the entire week of the hunger challenge? And if food is so scarce that organics “can’t feed the world,” why does so much of it end up in landfills, at the Feeding America warehouses or a biodigester in Fremont?

Two years ago I wrote about how the hunger challenge misses the mark. My main complaint was not so much about the challenge itself, but about how it seemed to simplify the issues around hunger in West Michigan. Food banks are great, but they don’t address the root causes of poverty and they are a hand out, not a hand up.

I work for World Renew, an organization that does its own World Hunger awareness campaign in November. Internationally, it is pretty well accepted that sending food aid is not the answer, except in genuine disaster situations. Teaching people better agriculture techniques and job skills is a much better investment. Why, then, is that same principle not recognized in North America?

What comes to mind when thinking about fighting hunger in West Michigan? I’m guessing most have participated in things like canned food drives or volunteering at food banks. But how many of us have taken the time to volunteer for organizations that provide skills and training, or even know what organizations in Grand Rapids are trying to help people make positive changes? Everyone has heard of Kids’ Food Basket, but how many have heard of Our Kitchen Table or Partners in Community Transformation?

Perhaps it is because there are no simple answers that we reach for the things that are most easy to understand. I can understand spending $4.50 a day on food. I can understand spending $10 at the farmers market instead of the grocery store. Start talking about food deserts and distribution systems and cycles of poverty and things get fuzzy.

Real and lasting change takes digging deeper. So yes, participate in the Hunger Challenge and the Eat Local Challenge. But don't let it end there. Also take part in the conversations around our food systems. By working together as a community, we can make a difference.

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