Every day, thousands of Mainers work to get nutritious food to those in our communities who cannot afford the makings of a healthy diet. Pantry volunteers and food donors, hunger relief agencies, supermarkets, gardeners, farmers, gleaners, drivers, teachers, and many others contribute time and resources to make sure their neighbors don’t go hungry. Hunger affects more than 200,000 Mainers; one-quarter are children. As this number creeps ever higher in our state, the task of ensuring access to healthy food grows ever larger. Maine’s charitable food system now distributes well over 20 million pounds of food a year, and still too many Mainers don’t get the sustenance they need.
Day after day, we feed as many hungry people as we can, knowing we are addressing hunger for today but not for tomorrow. This is the perennial question: How can we solve the problem for the long term? How can we eliminate hunger in Maine? The causes of food insecurity are varied and often complex, and there are no quick fixes. Systemic changes are no doubt needed—a living wage for those who can work, a reliable safety net for those who cannot, and policies at all levels of government that promote strong and resilient local food systems. Thousands of Mainers are working on these issues as well, and their efforts are particularly critical now, as federal and state officials are once again looking to slash funding for hunger relief and other safety net programs.
Spreading the word about the prevalence of hunger and food system issues is one thing we can all do to bring new people with fresh ideas to bear on these challenges. Last October, a coalition of Maine nonprofits organized Feeding the 5000 Portland, Maine, to celebrate local food while raising awareness about ways to reduce both hunger and the amount of food that is wasted in our communities. More than 250 volunteers gleaned some 4,100 pounds of produce from 17 local farms, prepared the ingredients, and then served 4,392 bowls of nutritious stew made from the gleaned food. Free servings of the nutrient-dense stew were part of a day-long festival in downtown Portland that featured inspiring speakers, cooking demonstrations by prominent local chefs, and educational activities involving creative food rescue. This wildly successful collaboration continues to bear fruit (and vegetables!) through the work of the Portland-based Food Recovery Coalition and its partners, including a vast increase in gleaning activity across the state supported by the Maine Gleaning Network.
This year, the Food Recovery Coalition and the Maine Gleaning Network have organized a series of events to again highlight our local bounty, the persistence of food insecurity in our communities, and opportunities to prevent fresh, healthy food from going to waste. The First Annual Maine Gleaning Week begins Saturday, October 7, with volunteer gleaning and educational events occurring throughout the week and across the state, and wraps up on Monday, October 16. For more information and a statewide calendar of Maine Gleaning Week events, visit www.mainegleaningnetwork.org.
October 16 is also World Food Day, which marks the 1945 founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO’s mission is to eliminate hunger and malnutrition for the 800 million people affected worldwide, with a goal of Zero Hunger by 2030; the organization is working around the globe to build sustainable food systems that can meet the nutritional needs of a growing population in ways that conserve resources and recognize the challenges created by climate change. One of the FAO’s current strategies is to reduce the proportion of food that is produced but never eaten.
A free, public event, World Food Day 2017 Celebrations, will be held in Rines auditorium at the Portland Public Library on October 16, beginning at 4pm with Kristen Miale (President, Good Shepherd Food Bank) and Steven M. Finn (University of Pennsylvania, LeanPath) discussing the intersection between hunger relief and wasted food. Maine Gleaning Network members will present the results of Maine Gleaning Week, with gleaned refreshments provided by Food Recovery Coalition partners. Following the discussion, at 5:30pm, the Food Recovery Coalition, supported by Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare Foundation, Healthy Acadia, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Quimby Family Foundation, will present the Maine premiere of WASTED! The Story of Food Waste. For more information on the film, see www.mainegleaningnetwork.org/wasted.
Please RSVP at www.mainegleaningnetwork.org/worldfoodday (for planning purposes only).
While rescuing surplus food from the fields won’t eliminate hunger in our communities, the First Annual Maine Gleaning Week and the World Food Day 2017 Celebrations offer opportunities across the state to get involved and learn about food insecurity and food waste in Maine. Let’s all celebrate World Food Day 2017 by doing what we can to reduce food waste and support our local food system.