Food Equity and Composting

Food equity is the concept that all people have the right to healthy and fresh food under quality standards. The idea is that no matter if richer or poorer, or where you live, you have the right to access food that will benefit the health of you and your family; without question. It’s a concept that has been discussed for years, but has blossomed into a form of its own alongside the environmental movement. 

Food is a staple in human life than cannot be skipped or replaced. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, food serves as the basic foundation of human life, next to water, warmth, and rest. Without it, humans are unable to focus on other pillars of society: work and careers, self-accomplishment and exploration, belonging and community. 

In a spiritual sense, food is a uniting force that brings people together and creates a common bond. It also strengthens (figuratively and literally) the one society that we all share.

So, how is it that we can expect our nation and society to function at its highest potential and progression, if over 41 million Americans, including 13 million children, are food insecure this year? Inequality is not only seen in political, institutional, or gender-based realms, it’s seen in every community in regards to who has access to food.

Food access is not the only issue. Food equity is measured based on the quality of the food in distribution. Many of us have the luxury of living close to supermarkets. If we don’t, we have the luxury of transportation to get us there. We may even examine our food labels, searching for organic, certified local, or natural products. For the 41 million Americans mentioned, that luxury isn’t an option. Many need to choose between food or rent, food or medications, food or clothing, food or heat; the list goes on. Communities and households who are food insecure are more likely to experience mental health issues, domestic violence, sickness, and more. 

What happens to people without cars, or enough money for regular public transportation? What happens to residents in rural communities, whose closest food retailer may be a local store with limited options? What happens to those who are disabled and rely on others, or programs, for their food needs? These are important questions to keep in mind when discussing food equity - quality food access for all. 

When every member of a household or community has ongoing access to nutritious foods that promote healthy, active lifestyles, this is food security. To be food secure benefits the people. Furthermore, it prevents numerous diseases caused by cheaper options such as highly processed and fast foods.

The goal of food security is to have as many people as possible with continuous food access that promotes better health, narrowing the gateway to a multitude of negative health implications caused by the limited availability of quality foods.

So Where Does Composting Come In As A Solution?

40% of everything grown and harvested in the United States is not eaten; it either spoils before it can be sold, is left in fields due to physical deformities in shape or color, or is thrown out by us in our homes. With 41 million Americans experiencing food insecurity, it’s mind-blowing to digest the fact that over ⅓ of what we produce is wasted.

Compost collected by curbside programs or via member drop-off turns into nutrient-dense fertilizer, perfect for growing crops. Realistically, composting alone won't solve every problem in relation to food insecurity. But it is a foundational element in creating community systems that foster food production and distribution; even in economically disadvantaged environments.

Community composting is a project design that can be replicated in nearly every neighborhood. We can develop local composting programs with community members under volunteering hours, local government-sponsored programs, grants, or local voting that diverts tax-dollars to increase the production of healthy, locally grown food provided at no cost to community members in need.

Additionally, residents could participate in community garden spaces with the sole purpose of providing food for elderly, disabled, or lower-income members as volunteers or hired staff to help manage and assist with the planting, upkeep, harvesting, and distribution of grown food.

It may seem like a far-fetched, expensive, and impossible idea, but we’ve seen many of these exact programs popping up in rural and urban communities all over the country. The best part? No food is wasted. Any food that spoils inside of the garden spaces is turned over to the composting systems on-site; only to repeat a sustainable cycle for the next growing season. Rates of food insecurity decrease, and the overall health and the feeling of true community increases.

We know food insecurity is a discussion full of differentiating factors; climate change, politics, etc. However, a little community can go a long way in the fight to ensure everyone’s right to food that is not only affordable, or even free of charge, but healthy and nutritious. A population that is healthy and well satisfied helps to lower the spread of disease, improves the economy, boosts job rates, lowers crime, and can improve totality in the mental health arena.

Would you try community composting? Does your community have a garden program? 

Do you compost? If not, what are you waiting for?

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