Last Saturday was Poughkeepsie’s first foray into the Feeding the 5000 campaign to combat food waste, with an event called “Feeding the Hudson Valley.” Although the day was overcast, spirits were high as volunteers passed out hundreds of free meals to pedestrians meandering through the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
The event was funded mostly by Feedback, an environmental organization dedicated to transforming the food system, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Pollution Preventative Institute. It was organized by the Hudson Valley Regional Council and a host of other social and environmental organizations, including Second Chance Foods, Inc., the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Dutchess Outreach. Volunteers from Vassar Food Rescue (VFR), also came out to raise awareness about food security.
Visitors could enjoy a free meal as they wandered along where the sponsoring organizations were tabling. They could take a turn on a bicycle outfitted to power a blender, simultaneously mixing a smoothie and getting some exercise. An interactive “zero waste” station encouraged conscious waste disposal. Local chefs participated in a cook-off, while Cathy Young and Jack DePietro lent their music to the festive atmosphere.
The event championed local food and educating people about accessibility and waste. According to one of VFR’s founders, Siennah Yang ’18, “All the food [cooked at the event] is gleaned and rescued from farms, food distributors and food establishments.” In addition to the meals handed out to passersby, several hundred meals cooked at the event were donated to local soup kitchens and shelters. Development Associate at Dutchess Outreach Sarah Salem wrote in an emailed statement, “We do not have a final count of meals served but we went WELL over our target.”
VFR, formerly known as Just Food, is a pre-org dedicated to reducing food waste and improving food security and accessibility. They salvage leftover food from on-campus events, vendors and local restaurants to donate to local shelters and food banks. VFR had been planning this event, along with local collaborators, since last spring semester, in hopes of forging a connection between Vassar and Poughkeepsie to work towards food security.
VFR executive board member Liza Ayres ’18 commented in an emailed statement, “A lot of people came for the event, but so many other people were just passing through, so we had the opportunity to inform them about what was going on and the issues of food waste and food insecurity.” Food insecurity, defined as a lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food, is an issue of particular concern in Poughkeepsie. Ayres explained, “In Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties, 1 in 10 people receives SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits and face difficulty getting enough to eat everyday, and in the City of Poughkeepsie alone, one in four households are food insecure by USDA standards.”
In an area that is in need of nutritious, safe food, waste is an unaffordable luxury. Salem described, “The City of Poughkeepsie has a food insecurity rate of 26.8 percent, a rate that is outpacing the levels for the U.S. on a whole, which is super alarming. Dutchess County has more than 30,000 individuals that are considered to be food insecure, that’s 10.4 percent of the population. Meanwhile, we’re tossing food in the trash. It’s not right.”
Ayres agreed, “Food waste [in Orange, Dutchess, and Ulster counties] makes up 18 percent of our waste stream. If we can get more of that food out of the waste stream and accessible to those who are food insecure, we could help so many people in Poughkeepsie and nearby.”