Growing Community: There’s enough food for all tables

This column ends up with a blatant commercial, so apologies in advance.  

This week, we want to talk about food. Food: that endless source of controversy, topic of discussion and fascination in modern life. If your home is anything like ours, the acquisition, preparation and consumption of food are the only topics discussed more than homework. Remember that old proverb, ‘Eat to live, not live to eat?’ It’s interesting to think about how many of us truly practice that,  and also how our own attitudes toward food influence those of our children.

We live in a society that has a ridiculously complicated relationship with food. Food, in copious amounts and extraordinary variety, is everywhere in our media and our lives. Much of our food is highly processed and comes to us through complex chains of production. There’s so much food consumption and waste that our great-grandparents would probably shake their heads in amazement, were they able to see our shopping bags and refrigerators.

Feeding children is one of the more stressful — or at least less appealing — aspects of parenting. From stressing about whether our babies are eating (and not spitting out) enough solids to frustration at how picky and unadventurous our kids can be (and let’s not even delve into the unfathomable eating tendencies of teens), there’s always something to worry about. Eating disorders, allergies, inadequate nutrition, excessive eating … food has myriad ways of getting us worked up.

And now, there’s a small matter of a pandemic. Stockpiling pasta and ramen may not be totally rational, but to make sure we have enough food to feed ourselves and our families, it is entirely human and understandable. Cooped up at home during lockdown this spring, millions of us turned to food: nurturing sourdough starters, exploring obscure recipes, feeding our families, eating way too much (we speak here for ourselves) and Instagramming every step of the process.

Well, it’s all pleasantly distracting, for sure, but of course food is also hugely comforting as well as sustaining — and in a time of crisis, many of us turn to our friend, the fridge.

So not having enough food can induce real anxiety. It’s hard to imagine that there may be members of our community for whom that anxiety is all too real, but sadly, it is. Even in Aspen — a place of health and wealth, the home of the Food and Wine Classic, where elementary school kids namedrop ‘Matsu’ and local restaurants provide locally sourced, artisanal and beautifully plated offerings — one in 10 of our high schoolers reports food insecurity.

That’s right. In a recent survey, one in 10 high school-aged kids in Aspen reported that they had gone hungry in the last 30 days because of insufficient food at home. And for Latino high schoolers, that rises to over 19%. This tells us so much about how difficult it is for so many hardworking local people to make a living here and support their families, and it is a source of collective shame that we should all take time to consider and rectify.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Many of us are experiencing major economic stress and underemployment — and have never had to seek assistance. But truly, this is the time to get expert advice from Pitkin County Economic Services, who can help with entitlements to many benefits.

And good-quality, additional food supplies are available, and (here comes the commercial) we urge families and individuals who may need them to take advantage.

Every Wednesday at Buttermilk (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.) and Thursday at Crown Mountain Park (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.), the Food Bank of the Rockies provides a mobile food distribution staffed by Aspen Family Connections and SkiCo volunteers. The food provided by Food Bank of the Rockies is nutritious and will help any family supplement whatever else it is they are buying at the grocery store.

Driving through the food distribution is — we hope — a warm experience. Our volunteers are no different from anyone, and many themselves take advantage of the additional support. We are all determined not to make people ashamed or stigmatized. It’s just some extra help, and we urge everyone who needs it to please come by. If driving through is impossible, we will always try to deliver — a message left at 970-205-7025 is the best way to get that sorted out.

Food, the essence of life. Something that comforts and binds us together and that will help us through these difficult times. Please let us share this food with you.

Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at shirley.ritter@cityofaspen.com or Katherine at ksand@aspenk12.net.

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