If you’re not familiar with the concept of food justice, let Molly Patterson explain.
“At a very basic level, food justice would mean that everyone has access to the food that they need, and not just any food, but healthy food,” South Hills Interfaith Movement’s operations coordinator said.
“And to me, it means not just that people can get food from the food pantry at SHIM. Certainly, those emergency sources of food are important and needed for folks in crisis situations or are going to be low-income for a sustained period of time. But ideally, everyone would be able to afford this food on their own.”
Patterson was among the participants in a recent panel discussion at Mt. Lebanon Public Library, in partnership with the nonprofit Repair the World Pittsburgh, addressing the efforts of regional organizations in helping to ensure as many people as possible are fed properly.
The event, the second in a series of four Repair the World-led programs at the library, drew an audience of about three dozen, with some contributing well-received ideas about getting food where it’s needed.
One audience member, for example, suggested a “pay it forward” program, by which a customer could make a food purchase on behalf of someone who could use an extra item or two. And a supermarket employee offered to help her store make provisions for food that otherwise would go to waste.
That’s the mission of 412 Food Rescue, represented at the panel discussion by chief program and impact officer David Primm.
“These are people who are taking perfectly good food that otherwise would have entered the waste stream, people who are taking time out of their day to save that food and take it to one of our nonprofit partners,” he said, and those number more than 500 throughout the region.
Also on the panel was Khara Timsina, executive director of the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, which works toward strengthening the quality of life for the area’s 5,000 residents who are refugees from the Asian nation of Bhutan.
“To me, food justice is also making food available to people when they want it and where they live. Not all people have the capacity to drive to or take a bus to a store and buy food, even if they have money,” he said. “There might be neighborhoods that don’t have food stores. And if they don’t have the food they like in the neighborhood, it is not justice to me.”
One component of food justice is providing access to culturally appropriate foods, and Timsina spoke about some of the challenges in that regard.
“I also see language as a barrier to food justice,” he explained. “Many of us come to the United States without English. And when you don’t have English, even if you have transportation and affordability, you don’t know how to ask if the food you like is available in that store. So sometimes we end up finding nothing, because we don’t know the name.”
Another component, as Patterson mentioned, is access to food that is healthy and nutritious.
“Hunger, especially in the United States, is also connected to chronic diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity: kind of counterintuitive,” she said about the latter, “but because the cheap food is often highly processed and not great. And so we want to make sure that while we’re feeding people, we’re not contributing to that problem, which can be challenging.”
SHIM is working on rectifying the situation at its food pantries, in Bethel Park, Baldwin Borough and Whitehall.
“We’re really trying to take a look at what we offer, making sure we give people good, healthy choices, and then making sure they understand the benefits to that,” Patterson said.
Moderating the panel discussion was Zack Block, executive director of Repair the World Pittsburgh. The organization’s final two events at Mt. Lebanon Public Library are on April 14, addressing education inequity, and on May 19, with the theme “Take Action!” Both are from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
For more information about the library, visit www.mtlebanonlibrary.org.