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Letters to the Editor

Jamilka Borges: Farm Bill important to feed the hungry

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, 7:03 p.m.
Chef Jamilka Borges
Chef Jamilka Borges

It’s the holiday season, and families are running errands, revising prep lists and researching the best brining method for their turkeys. As a chef, I’m carefully planning what I’ll be cooking, and returning calls from friends and family who want to learn how to roast Brussels sprouts. We are busy with the joy of friendship, family and food. This is the reality for families. Most of us, anyway.

There are currently 1,599,520 individuals who struggle with hunger in Pennsylvania.

That’s one in eight people, and one in six of those are children. Think about that for a minute. We struggle with hunger in our communities, yet 62.5 million tons of food will go to waste. Just in Pennsylvania, it is estimated that $821,658,000 more is needed per year in order to meet food needs. Meanwhile, according to the ReFed Report on Food Waste, $218 billion a year is spent “growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten.”

While these numbers can be heart-wrenching, I like to think that there’s plenty of hope. Here in Pennsylvania, we have seen an incredible amount of action from nonprofit organizations to help alleviate food waste, hunger and food insecurity. For example, local nonprofit 412 Food Rescue addresses the disconnect among food waste, hunger and environmental sustainability. Its app shows users possible rescues that anyone with a car or a bike can claim and keep from the landfills. The rescued food is then distributed to public housing communities, shelters and other food-insecure communities.

This is a win-win situation, engaging citizens who want to help their community and forcing them to go out of their comfort zone and see the reality in their city. 412 Food Rescue just expanded its presence to Philadelphia and is looking to keep expanding partnerships and sponsors. I’m proud to be on its advisory board as an ally, supporter and advocate.

Locally, Just Harvest partnered with Philadelphia-based The Food Trust to offer a program called Food Bucks that incentivizes the purchase of fresh produce by offering SNAP users $2 vouchers for every $5 spent at the market , and it’s running at 22 markets across America . This can be huge, especially when kids and adults are introduced to methods to prepare fresh produce. There are many ways we can achieve that, from having demos with chefs at farmers markets to after-school programming in schools.

SNAP and other food and agriculture programs that benefit families in our community are supported by the Farm Bill. Fortunately, after months of negotiations and tough compromises, Congress recently passed a bipartisan Farm Bill, which preserved overall funding for conservation programs and funding, benefits, and eligibility for anti-hunger programs like SNAP. The bill provides permanent funding for healthy food incentives and local, organic and beginning farmer programs for the first time. Thankfully, it also rejected anti-environmental riders and harmful barriers to anti-hunger programs proposed in earlier versions.

However, no farm bill is perfect. Far more funding is needed to reward good stewardship on working lands and to provide a strong safety net for families struggling against hunger. The bill also expanded subsidy loopholes which will further tilt the playing field against the family farmers that our farm safety net should serve.

As we celebrate all that we have to be grateful for this holiday season, let us keep in mind the importance of protecting a food system that supports healthier, more delicious and more sustainable lives for our families, our neighbors and the farmers who feed us.

Jamilka Borges is a food waste recovery advocate and executive chef of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor in Pittsburgh.

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