By Mike Gioscia.
There aren’t many things we need to address three times a day, everyday, like we do food choices. Not only is it important to choose the right foods, but also to avoid the unhealthy ones.
In any city, finding the right choices can be difficult. Often, inner-city families simply don’t have the options that those in the suburbs have, they sometimes lack full-service grocery stores and fresh produce, or don’t have adequate transportation to stores beyond walking distance. And in all geographic areas, food waste is an enormous problem.
Food is a resource that should never be wasted; yet the most recent Government surveys have found that 80 billion pounds of food is wasted in the US each year; about 40% of everything we grow! 80,000,000,000 pounds!! That number is incredible. However, there is a new business model growing out of Boston that believes wholesome and affordable food should be available to all, utilizing unused food to help fight hunger and get nutritious meals to those in need.
In June, Daily Table opened its first not-for-profit retail grocery store in Boston’s Codman Square/Four Corners neighborhood of Dorchester. Daily Table’s unique model brings affordable, nutritious, prepared meals and groceries to this inner-city community. Daily Table secures wholesome, healthy food that is excess or overstocked from grocery stores, food suppliers, manufacturers, restaurants, and growers, and then blends that with food that is also purchased from manufacturers, growers, and distributors.
Founded by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, Daily Table is designed to reach those who are struggling to afford to eat well, in a bright retail setting that empowers customers. “Hunger in America is primarily not a shortage of calories; it’s a shortage of nutrients. Because it’s so tough to find wholesome, healthy, nutritious foods at a price the food insecure can afford, they are struggling with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” Rauch told me. “The challenge is to create an opportunity for affordable nutrition delivered in a manner that engenders dignity and respect.”
By providing residents with tasty, convenient, healthy, affordable food, Daily Table can help address the challenges of hunger and obesity. Many of us take for granted the various food shopping options we have South of Boston, and may even enjoy a local CSA, farmers’ market, or have space for a garden, but for many in the inner-city, there are few options for nutritious food. The group also found that low-income zip codes have thirty percent more convenience stores than middle-income zip codes; convenience stores tend to lack healthy options.
“We consider ourselves a nutrition program working as a grocery store”, says Fredi Shonkoff, Senior Director of Daily Table, “we have a ‘Nutrition Task Force’ that helped us set guidelines for healthy levels of salt, sugar, fat, and fiber,” she added.
Daily Table believes that everyone deserves a dignified way to provide wholesome food for their family. The bright atmosphere, friendly staff, and overall selection act as a garnish to the large functional space. Just like a piece of parsley or lemon can make a dish look more appetizing, a store that looks good can make people actually feel better about shopping.
Affordability is important as well because those on limited incomes are sometimes forced to eat cheaper, high-calorie, less nutritious foods. In addition to groceries, Daily Table provides delicious, wholesome, culturally relevant ‘grab-n-go’ meals that are prepared on-site in the store’s commercial kitchen and are priced to compete with the fast-food alternatives in the neighborhood. When we visited we found fresh pasta, kale flatbreads, cream of squash soup, garden salads, BBQ chicken with brown rice, beef brisket with rice and gravy, chili, baked fish, curried chickpeas and rice, Korean BBQ chicken, pork sausage stir fry, black beans and rice, turkey sandwiches, and so much more, all for under $2 a plate! Shonkoff calls that a “WOW” price point.
Suppliers change day to day depending on their inventory, and the day we visited both local and regional vendors had contributed to Daily Table including South Shore favorites, Alfred Aiello Italian Foods (Norwell, Quincy, Canton), South Shore Organics (Pembroke) as well as Nashoba Brook Bakery, Stonyfield, Fair Foods, Teddie, and Food For Free.
Pam Denholm, owner of South Shore Organics in Pembroke, sees the benefits of Daily Table on many levels. “Not only do we make weekly donations of fresh food to the Daily Table ourselves, we also help Daily Table source more fresh food from farms on the South Shore.” explains Denholm, “Weir River Farm and Lang-water Farm both offer up their excesses when they have them. The store may not technically be on the South Shore, but they are still our neighbors, and we are all connected. I am proud that we are able to share what we have in abundance.”
South Shore Organics participates because “we want to fulfill our long-standing commitment to improving access to local farms and because reducing food waste creates a more sustainable and healthy food system for all of us.”
Eva Sommaripa, of Eva’s Garden in Dartmouth, also contributes to Daily Table. “Huge quantities of good food would be mowed and turned under without this opportunity to share it,” Eva says. “Many vendors are aware of the waste, but not the solutions, which this program provides.”
A study by non-profit group, The Food Trust, found evidence that fresh food markets can create jobs, bolster local economies, and revitalize neighborhoods, leading to increased economic activity in the surrounding communities as well. Daily Table has helped the community by providing 30 neighborhood jobs, and has over 20 volunteers helping as well. One local volunteer was beaming as she helped in the kitchen, seeing what a positive neighborhood addition Daily Table has become. Currently, Daily Table is serving over 300 people per day during their ‘ramp up phase’, with expansion plans for two other stores in Boston. “The need is everywhere,” added Shonkoff, “and we’d like to have other communities benefit from this one-of-a-kind program.”
To share this business model and its successes, Rauch is a featured keynote speaker at the 2015 Connecting for Change (CFC) two-day seminar. Sponsored by the local Marion Institute and being held in New Bedford on Friday, October 23rd and Saturday, October 24th, CFC is the annual gathering of thinkers working toward positive changes in food and farming, health and healing, spirituality, sustainability and Rauch will be presenting A Different Approach to Hunger Relief and Food Recovery at Friday’s noon session at the Zeiterion Theatre.
The food waste issue is an environmental one too. According to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. A 2012 NRDC report states reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than twenty-five million Americans every year. Twenty-five million!
Daily Table is certainly doing its part.
450 Washington Street
Dorchester, MA 02124
Connecting For Change
Downtown New Bedford, MA
October 23-24, 2015
Mike Gioscia aka ‘The Green Dad’ is a writer, indie filmmaker, dad, DJ, and advocate for GMO Labeling. He is also Vice President of The Soule Homestead organic farm and education center in Middleboro.