Iowa Hunger Summit 2021: All Voices Matter

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This past week, Eat Greater Des Moines had the opportunity to attend the Iowa Hunger Summit. The summit addressed the societal and economic causes of hunger across Iowa and opened conversations that challenged the traditional food system.

An article published by Iowa Public Radio highlights the important voices of Zuli Garcia, the founding president of Knock and Drop Iowa, Christina Blackcloud, Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Coordinator, and Monika Owsczarski, the founder of Sweet Tooth Community Fridge. Too often, their voices are drowned out by perspectives that are blind to the gaps that people who are working directly with the community, especially disenfranchised communities, experience.

As a student at Drake University, I have had the privilege of participating in conversations about the importance of people of all backgrounds and identities having equitable opportunities in all spaces. Faculty and students at Drake strive to understand and respond to contemporary calls for inclusivity. The same needs to be done for the food system. All voices need to be heard and represented and there needs to be urgency when talking about equitable access to food.

Eat Greater Des Moines sees the diverse voices of identities and backgrounds as a fundamental part of supporting a stronger food system. Garcia noted in a panel that many traditional food channels require an Iowa ID to receive food services. This policy often hurts marginalized communities and keeps people who need services out.

“At the end of the day, we are all human,” Garcia says. “We all need food. I need food to survive. You need food, you need water. It shouldn’t matter how I look or what’s going on out there. It needs to come from higher above and from our hearts to say it doesn’t matter what identification this person has or not, we need to be able to help them.”

The food people eat is connected to complex social issues, beyond hunger and food insecurity. In order to promote equitable access to food, policies like these need to be readdressed and reconsidered. Benefitting some parties is not the answer. Benefitting all parties is the only way to make a productive change in our communities and in the food system as a whole.

Owsczarski commented on the USDA Farmers to Family Boxes program that came to fruition after COVID. The increase in people that her community fridge was able to serve was abundant to the community she worked alongside.

“We still don’t really have access to the spending power of a Food Bank so being able to utilize the USDA boxes and put them in the community fridge, we were going through 30 to 50 boxes a day,” Owsczarski says. “It was a time of abundance that was really really helpful for us. To lose that resource was a hit.”

As the communications intern at EGDM, I have had a front-row seat at hearing stories of people benefiting from programs like the USDA boxes. Programs like these that understand the needs of the community play a pivotal role in providing equitable access to food to those who need it. Food is powerful. Not only does it nourish our bodies, but food also affects how we feel physically and emotionally. It evokes powerful memories from times past and connects us to long-held traditions. Most importantly, it brings people together to share experiences and perspectives at the same table. Read more about the Iowa Hunger Summit here