Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Food security panel discussion at FareStart – Downtown, Seattle

Posted on: Thursday 17 November 2011

I attended a panel discussion on food security at FareStart a couple of weeks ago. Moderated by Matt Gurney, FareStart Director of Business Operations, it was a passionate and positive conversation on food security in Washington State.

Located on the border of Downtown and South Lake Union, the FareStart building is a restaurant, catering kitchen, office and classrooms. On the ground floor is the restaurant where lunch is served on weekdays and Guest Chef Night held on Thursdays. As you enter, the feature wall displays colourful plates with names of donors, and framed black and white photos of guest chefs.

The event was held in the banquet room on the mezzanine level. Complimentary lunch was a buffet of salad bowls, make-your-own sandwich platters and potato crisps. I chose a seat at a table at the front with my plate of pasta salad, and a prosciutto cotto and Swiss cheese sandwich.

The panellists were:
* Rachel Butler – Agency Relations Manager, Food Lifeline
* Richard Conlin – Seattle City Council President
* Tim Crosby – Director, Slow Money Northwest
* Sarita Schaffer – Director, Viva Farms; Coordinator, WSU Northwest Latino Program

Megan Karch, FareStart Executive Director, welcomed the attendees. The fourth in a deep dive education series, this is a gathering of leaders of the city to discuss the challenges and opportunities in local food systems. Each panellist introduced themselves and made a brief statement on the issue of food security.

Rachel Butler explained the mission of Food Lifeline, a member of Feeding America, is to ‘end hunger in Western Washington by engaging communities and mobilising resources’. In 2010 Food Lifeline distributed food to 745,000 individuals in Western Washington.

Richard Conlin referred to the Local Food Action Initiative and how they relate to the councils’ core principles of social justice, economic development, environmental stewardship and community. Mr Conlin also mentioned the ‘hunger-obesity nexus’.

Tim Crosby combines enterprise and philanthropy to connect investors with food and farming businesses utilising financial instruments.

Sarita Schaffer declared that ‘farmers are the foundation of the food supply chain’. The average age of farmers in Washington is 57 years old and this is a global trend. Her work is focused on training the next generation of sustainable farmers.

Questions discussed include:
* What is the definition of food security?
* What is food security in a national context?
* What are the trends in food security?
* What is the cost of food to an individual?
* What does food security mean in the Pacific Northwest?

Rachel Butler
* Food insecurity is about individuals and families ‘not knowing where their next meal will come from’. There is enough food being produced.
* The challenge for food banks is the capacity and cost to distribute.
* In 2010 seventy per cent of food distributed by Food Lifeline was classified as nutritious which equates to thirty five million pounds of fresh produce.

Richard Conlin
* The Farm Bill is the reverse of the food pyramid. The pattern of subsidies has to change.
* We need to take into consideration emergency preparedness for the inevitable earthquake.
* In the 2010 census the number of farms increased over a decade for the first time in 120 years.
* Of the 14,000 acres designated as farm land in King County, only 3,000 are in agricultural production. There aren’t enough farmers but farmers markets have tripled in the last decade.

Tim Crosby
* People are going to food banks because of the economy. The cost of input is increasing. ‘We’re exporting food while struggling to feed ourselves.’
* It’s about optimising resources available, not maximising output. Changes to decentralise supply systems has to be gradual and not a sharp turn.
* Diabetes costs the country $194 billion in 2010. It is projected to more than double to $500 billion by 2020.
* The price gap between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food has remained the same. This should to be inverted.

Sarita Schaffer
* The centralisation of distribution and consolidation of ownership is affecting the supply of food with the cost and energy to transport magnified. 1.2 million people are producing the food for the entire country.
* The true cost of food has to be paid for. It’s better to pay for the food and not environmental degradation or poor labour conditions.
* Washington has the best soil to grow food in prime agricultural land. A collaborative distribution network with shared transport and storage will support farmers.
* Consumers are empowered, stores will response to demands. It is a ‘new spirit of food consumption’.

A query on food stamps (SNAP) was posed during the Q&A. The panel detailed how a privately funded program, Double Up Food Bucks, match the value of food stamps if spent at farmers markets.

Sincere thanks to FareStart for hosting an informative event on food security.

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