Fill the Food Gap – The Mission of Meals on Wheels in Boulder, CO

Meals on Wheels America (MOWA) delivers affordable, healthy noon meals to seniors in their homes or at MOWA-sponsored group dining locations. In that single instance each day MOWA fills the food gap between the point of preparation and the point of consumption for seniors. And with that meal come the only calories some seniors will have for the entire day.

What if a local food system delivered ALL the calorie needs for each person in that community every day? Kind of a MOWA on steroids! Yet as far-fetched as this proposition might seem, it is the challenge every community faces if its members choose a sustainable path. After all, everyone NEEDS food and to not have it puts survival at risk.

How might a single meal everyday for everyone system work? The Meals on Wheels of Boulder, Colorado offers a glimpse. The MOW of Boulder mission is

…to provide tasty, nutritious meals to residents of our community who need and want our service, regardless of age or income.

That’s quite a statement. Add “affordable” and “familiar” to the description of the meals and the stage is set for meeting the food needs of the community.

The current MOW of Boulder tagline reads, “Building a Future, Nourishing Our Community.” Formerly, it read, “We Deliver Energy”! And that’s exactly what nourishment is—energy in the form of calories for the human body!

Here’s the rub, though. On average, each of us needs 2,000 calories per day. Those calories are delivered via three meals plus a snack. Like all MOWA chapters, MOW of Boulder delivers one meal per day for a sliding-scale fee based on ability to pay. If we take the cost of a meal yielding 600-700 calories times three in order to meet the 2,000 calorie daily requirement, the total cost may well exceed the threshold of $10 per day. That brings us back to the challenge of affordability each community faces if it is to have a self-sustaining local food system.

The key to the solution rests in how well value-added operations throughout a local food system fit and function together. As a result, sustainability depends on the successful integration of local food preparation and distribution, such as what MOW of Boulder provides, with upstream local food processing and food production. When done effectively, the result is a flexible, interdependent food value chain that stretches from the points of consumption to the points of production. Interestingly, MOW of Boulder shows significant progress enrolling value chain partners with the inclusion of several Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and other fresh produce from local farms and community gardens.

The community of Boulder has a long way to go before its local food system has the capacity to serve all members and be sustainable. But the efforts of MOW – Boulder and its partner organizations has given it a tremendous leg-up in the process. Keep it up, Boulder!

What can YOU do to help YOUR community establish a Meals on Wheels chapter? And if there is a MOW chapter already up and running, what can YOU do to help it extend its scope to fill the food gap wherever it exists in YOUR community?

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 28, 2010

2000 Calories for $10 / Day

Everyone needs food. The average calorie intake level for adults is 2000 / day. But that may vary given one’s unique health profile. The How Many Calories Should I Eat blog lists several tools one can use to target a specific number of calories that address particular health conditions and personal circumstances. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services’s Healthy People 2010 Final Review, the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offer in-depth information about the impact of diet and nutrition on health and wellness. Please check them out.

Food needs to be affordable. The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Cost of Food at Home report for June 2010 and a University of Washington study estimate the average American spends $7 / day on food. Depending on one’s economic circumstances, that average may drop as low as $5 / day. All too often the nutritional value of the 2,000 calories drops along with the cost as stated in this March 1, 2010 Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy article, “Cheap food policy contribution to childhood obesity.” Unfortunately, cheaper calories contribute to greater instances of obesity and related health issues.

An informal comparison between a 2,000 calorie typically “Western” menu and its healthier “Mediterranean” counterpart conducted by U.S. News & World Report writer, Katherine Hobson, pegs the average cost at $10 / day for the Western fare. Ms. Hobson alleges it could be done for less with more judicious planning and shopping.

To that point, the My Money Blog author does an interesting riff on the prices of several food items each in 200 calorie increments. He concludes we could eat reasonably well on substantially less than $10 / day.

Lastly, the USDA reimburses schools $2.72 / lunch (2010-11 school year) for those students who meet the National School Lunch Program guidelines. Each fully prepared lunch provides at least one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calories and essential nutrients. That suggests that $10 / day for 2,000 calories delivered in three meals plus a snack is a reasonable estimate.

Can one make a profit as a supplier to school systems? Revolution Foods, a food service provider based in Oakland, CA, says so–at least according to the USA Today article, Healthy, Organic and Cheap Lunches? Order Up.

Given the above argument, 2,000 calories for $10 / day is the upper limit of affordability for the average person. However, at this level these same 2,000 calories must be accessible, available, nutritious, tasty, familiar, quick, convenient, and safe. If otherwise, the risk is run that the consumer will default to a less healthy option that is easier to come by, less expensive, and tastes better.

Can local food systems routinely deliver 2,000 accessible, available, nutritious, tasty, familiar, quick, convenient, and safe calories for $10 / day to each person within them? A topic for a later posting!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 21, 2010