Taking food systems out of theory and into hungry belliesGetting food into the bellies of the hungry was the goal for more than 500 attendees at the Food Access Summit last week at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
By: Naomi Yaeger, Duluth Budgeteer News
Getting food into the bellies of the hungry was the goal for more than 500 attendees at the Food Access Summit last week at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
The summit strove to bring together leaders from agriculture, education, health and hunger sectors from across the state to focus on increasing access to healthy food for underserved Minnesotans.
In his welcome speech, Minnesota Health Commissioner
Edward Ehlinger said 23 million Americans live in a food desert, a place without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.
“But food swamps are a bigger problem,” Ehlinger said, defining the term as an area with an abundance of fast food and high-fat, high-sugar foods.
“We are here to talk about everyone having access to healthy food,” he said. “That should be a right. Our state depends on healthy food.”
Ricardo J. Salvador, director and senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that society created the food system we now have and that society can fix it. But he said it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis of the food access problem first.
“If you don’t get the diagnosis correct, it is impossible to get the correct prescription,” he said.
Salvador gave a quick history lesson on groups of people around the world who starved — not because of a lack of resources but because of policy issues that prevented them from obtaining food. He said it’s important for people to understand the history of food production and distribution.
“Never has there been so much food produced as there is now. Yet, the food system is inequitable because not all who have a stake in making the system possible can benefit from the abundance they help to generate,” Salvador said.
The conference was “a great place to meet like-minded people,” said Jesse Davis of Grand Rapids, who is program and outreach coordinator of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association. He said farmers in his association not only provide the food but need it for themselves.
“One-half of the people who sell at my farmers market would qualify for SNAP,” he said of the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Sarah Nelson, another attendee, is on the board of the Duluth Community Garden. She also said the conference was a good way to network.
But, she was asked, can conferences like these really end hunger?
“I think it can help move things along,” she said.