Feeding Boston

Programs Address Food Insecurity, Waste

By Emma Demers

All across Boston, people are turning away from their trans-fatty burgers and fries in search of a new kind of fast food — namely, a more healthy, green, and convenient variety.

More people are demanding that these nutritious meals be available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status, citing the need. In eastern Massachusetts, 1 in 9 people are “food insecure,” meaning they struggle to provide themselves with enough nutrients to live a healthy life, according to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Panera Cares, a non-profit agency committed to combating food insecurity, is well on its way to continuing this trend. The organization provides a place for a variety of patrons to eat a meal with dignity and comfort. The food is produced and distributed by the Panera Foundation, but payment is not of the norm— the store runs on a pay-what-you-can model, allowing customers to decide how much they can afford to spend on their meals.

Patrons can also pay using a meal ticket, awarded after an hour of volunteer work. But, these customers are still treated like traditional patrons at a regular Panera Bread, eating the same pastries, breads, and soups. The agency’s cafe in Boston near Government Center has partnered with several homeless shelters and mental health institutions to provide their residents with work experience. Under manager Bob Zykan’s leadership, Panera Cares has crusaded the idea that everyone deserves to eat healthy.

“If we all do what we can, we can have everyone sit across from each other as equals,” said Zykan, who knows firsthand the struggle of food security, having grown up in a poor area of Missouri.

Fruit for sale at the Daily Table. (Photo by Emma Demers)

Fruit for sale at the Daily Table. (Photo by Emma Demers)

With the same idea of convenience and health, the Daily Table Emporium in Dorchester, which opened in early June, is able to serve the low-income residents of the Greater Boston area. The Daily Table seeks to provide affordable and healthy pre-packaged meals while also limiting the estimated 80 billion pounds of food entering the waste stream every year, according to the Daily Table website.

The “TJ Maxx of food”, as described by their website, is able to do this by using donated surplus crops and foods that were thrown away but not spoiled. While the use of expired food may seem like a contradiction to the healthy food trend, food labels in Massachusetts can be misleading, according to Steve Clark, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association media representative.

“Many ‘use by’ dates are manufacturers recommendations and the food is wholesome and would provide a community benefit,” said Clark.

According to Chris Graham, sous chef at the Daily Table, the biggest challenge is keeping the food on the shelves. Customers are attracted to the combination of price, taste, and nutrition facts.

“I can see more stores opening, not only local but nationwide, because there’s so many people we can reach out to,” said Graham.

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