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The Politics of Food and Charity

The Politics of Food and Charity

 Matt Clifford • October 11, 2015 • Progression • 

If the machine, as we have grown to observe and study it, is systemically responsible for disenfranchising large demographics of its inhabitants by blocking access to basic necessities and services, how does that reflect on the nature of “charity” and what are the political implications? A country that disposes of a third of their food supply while a sixth of its children live in hunger has made its priorities as clear as a slaughtered pig buried in a Great Depression dirt pit. Ask the homeless fellow with an illegal blanket in the cold outside an empty building. Wages have not risen since the 70s and now we have unlimited derivatives gaming the supply chain with removed financial middlemen, no regulation. Segregation in city planning, selective law enforcement, high fructose subsidies, austerity. The system goes on.

Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) is addressing the symptoms of a larger problem. Bicycle – market – unmarketable nourishment – bicycle – recipient – bicycle. As such, and with all due respect to their 501c(3) legal status, the classification and assumptions of a traditional charity are deeply challenged. Feed the poor, as though the poor are incapable of feeding themselves. Charity infers hierarchy. The privileged surplus and access, subordinate need. In this immediate sense, BFR, somewhat uncomfortably, fits its bill as a charitable organization. The dialogue of privilege \ how to disown, or responsibly use, the amount one has been born with or acquired. Being a structural distinction, privilege requires the construction be addressed at its root. Enter political element. “Food justice as process,” Hana Dansky, BFR co-founder and executive director. Though careful to avoid any overt political posturing, the organization does hope their work will bring an added awareness to the absurdities of food waste and the avoidability of hunger in history’s richest civilization while disturbing underlying assumptions about the program’s beneficiaries.

Pickups_Snow Alfalfas in Boulder, CO - Evan Welty

Mylène Jacquemart – BFR volunteer

And what is the process of food justice? The Boulder Food Rescue follows in the tradition of community based participatory research, the wild idea that community members be involved in addressing matters affecting the community. “We ask people what they want and what the barriers are to getting it,” says Dansky. “Ideally, the organization would be run by the recipients of the food.”

An executive position designed to eliminate itself. Jesus said the poor will always be with us and his churches offer careers. In the community rooms of low-income elderly homes, the inhabitants are DIYing pantries and building local networks of communication and distribution with BFR as backend support system, absent but when for necessary. The schedule, perceptions, transportation, all manifested appropriate to the context of those in it, living it, working it, driving forward. Determination not superimposed by a savior nanny culture in the control of its own image.

Healthy options. A grocery in the neighborhood. Life in a food desert. Bananas are three times more expensive at seven-eleven. Why is the real stuff so far away? Why is diabetes so costly, obesity so easy? What the hell is “good” cholesterol? What are they hiding there?

Boulder Food Rescue in Boulder, CO

To be seen not concealed. A few turns off Boulder’s main roads are blocks of dead ends. Trailers behind high fences under tall trees. Have you ever been there – why would – what is being hidden? Ten thousand Hispanic and Latino residents; six figure population and the college kids don’t vote here. How do we all fit with so many Open Spaces?

To be seen and accepted. Downtown will allow a few buildings to blend in if everybody stays inside. Fashion as probable cause, the harassment of crust punks sharing bread crusts like ducks, the criminality of free stuff in a buyer’s market, Food Not Bombs declaring peace at the food trucks, a beautiful day by the creek in central park.

Other goals: Source to stomach in an hour. Catch the spoilage the larger banks and pantries can’t handle.

Accept the dented and unusual. Supermarket produce lined up like tabloids, modified and homogenous standards of beautiful. Fear of the rotten we buy the unripened, psychology of damaged apples forces managers to purposely display too many so the last one ever unwanted ia always present never sold. Consumer safety.

Boulder used to be an orchard.

Everyone in America could be fed off of the country’s food waste.

Spread the model in alliance, it is simple and obvious.

BFR -rain or snow- food carriage in Boulder, CO

Boulder Food Rescue delivery system

Find more in the Huffington Post, the Boulder Weekly, KGNU, 9News, see the awards, Boulder Food Rescue is famous and awesome. Charity is maddening and confusing. Reactions to problems that don’t have to exist in. The potential and perversity of privilege. Helping becomes political, aiding and empowering those disregarded meant to fail by system. Redistribution of food and conviction led from the bottom. No justice without action, no change without process, no knowledge without effort, the best attempts at answers. Wheels in motion. And spokes and tubes and bins. And time. There’s a lot of food being thrown out, there’s a lot of hungry humans. Be pissed.

Boulder Food Rescue

Photography by Ethan Welty

Ethan Welty


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  1. This problem would never exist, if all people cared for each other as we should, but that not being the case it is wonderful to read and feel inspired as I do right now. Usually I feel anger about this entire situation, but this reminds me that there are ways to help. Loved the article.


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