Food networking: Citizen innovators use mobile tech to attack hunger
by Kathleen Wong, News.mic, 9/16/16.
… according to a Sept. 12 report from the Urban Institute and Feeding America, some 6.8 million people ages 10 to 17 have only “impossible choices” — “from saving school lunches for the weekend or going hungry so younger siblings can eat, to stealing, or trading sex for money to buy food.” These young people are among the 12.7%, or 15.8 million, of U.S. households designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as food insecure, or having “limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
The impacts of food insecurity are pervasive, including childhood development, chronic malnutrition and cyclical poverty. And yet, while so many Americans live in food insecurity, how is it that up to 40% of food in the U.S. is still thrown away, making it the largest single element of municipal landfills?
“Hunger’s this tangled mess of causes,” said hunger activist Maria Rose Belding in an interview. “There’s a million different things that can cause hunger at varying degrees in different people’s lives based on their life experience. There isn’t one fundamental thing that causes hunger. That’s because hunger’s not about food.”
It’s about losing a job when supporting a family, Belding explained. It’s substance abuse or returning from military service and struggling to re-assimilate to civilian life. It’s living in a food desert or struggling with mental illness…
But while the causes and complications associated with hunger and food insecurity are complex, Belding is among those working to simplify ways to route food to those who need it before it goes to waste. Through grassroots efforts and the same technology that makes it so convenient for so many of us to get food whenever we want, Belding and others are finding elegant, citizen-led solutions to this persistent problem.
Connecting supply and demand. At a time when so many desires can be instantly gratified by technology, Belding couldn’t help but wonder why there seemed to be no hack for hunger.
While in Washington, D.C., for a fellowship to address hunger, Belding connected with Grant Nelson, a friend’s brother who happened to know how to code. In February 2015, the two created the MEANS (matching excess and need) Database. MEANS is a sort of Craigslist forum for food donations, where donors can post donated items for nonprofit food providers to claim. On average, it takes about an hour for a food donation to be snagged, according to Belding. So far, MEANS has helped to rescue almost 50,000 pounds of food in more than 45 states.
Belding recounts one instance where 4,000 pounds of pizza sauce packaged in individual one-ounce packets were accidentally ordered by a pizza parlor in rural New Hampshire. With the best of intentions, the pizza parlor left the packages on the front steps of a local church, which had neither the space to store nor any idea how to use them. Using MEANS, the church connected with an organization that had a use for it and saved the sauce from the dumpster…