Got Compassion?: Ashland’s Anti-Hunger Community

Words by Kokayi Nosakhere

People change; conditions change.

Nowadays, at 28 years old, he is an established local poet, with a monthly open mic for his fellow wordsmiths called the Rogue Valley Speak Easy. His material is the substance of this life; the highs and lows, the ins and outs. Being so erudite, when asked what specific life conditions contributed four years ago to a period of food insecurity when he first arrived in Ashland, Blaine Alexander Lindsey was not at a loss for words.

“Being a young, over-worked, under-payed, malnourished kid with no money for college (for higher wages),” he answered. “[The] high cost-of-living and no experience in how to manage money properly, or how to nourish yourself properly – [this] should be taught in high school.”

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Blaine Alexander Lindsey, who manages the Rogue Valley Speak Easy

Inside the conservative political worldview, deprivation is a prerequiste to growth in the individual. What else generates the necessary inner desire to act to change one’s condition? Society cannot use force, especially in Dr. King’s America, where nonviolence is the definition of civilization. The only way society can inspire an individual to change his/her behavior is through giving and withholding resources.

Capitalism is designed for individuals to create their own opportunity. Find a need and fill it. If the person is creative and finds alternative resource streams, good for them. That person can continue living whatever lifestyle he or she wanted. If not, then, to gain access to resources, conformity to the social contract is the expectation.

Lindsey responded accordingly, choosing to grow through the experience, rather than wallow in pity.

“Adversity inspired me to learn and experience new things,” he said. “At low points I chose to steal food from grocery stores to survive that day or week. I began researching food, diet nutrition and permaculture. I began seeing the countless problems in our local and national food web, looking in to what systemic issues cause such problems.”

What Lindsey is describing is popularly called dumpster diving. It is based on the actual fact American business wastes a tremendous amount of prepared foods. Over forty years ago, when food banking began, it was discovered grocery stores must discard “old” food products. A certain time is allotted per food safety standards. Yet, few who are hungry fail to see value in a four hour old pizza? Or a two hour hamburger? What about a 30 minute salad?

Fortunately, there exist those who do not agree with the conservative world view and believe a social safety is existential for the social contract to work. Some business owners might interpret dumpster diving as theft. After all, their dollars paid for the discarded merchandise. Why should someone be rewarded for choosing to boycott the business?

The anti-hunger community exists somewhere in the tension of those in need, food handling requirements and customer-driven policy decisions. A quick google search reveals several Ashland options – Ashland Food Angels, Ashland Emergency Food Bank, Ashland Food Project, Uncle Food’s Diner and the Community Peace Meal – to access food outside the commercial food network, as grocery store chains are called, inside the anti-hunger community.

Blaine learned about the Food Angels and Pamala Joy’s work addressing food insecurity through his relationship web.

“A roommate was a volunteer in a household of five (students, non-students, elders) that all were food insecure,” Lindsey said. “He was moving out and I was curious as to how he always brought home salvaged produce to help feed himself. So, I asked and went and volunteered [at Ashland Food Angels] myself. I found not only a way to help my own food insecurity – volunteers receive food in trade for work – but I found a wonderful way to be pro-active on the issue and help other hungry people every day!

Food insecurity ultimately was what propelled me into spiritual awakening; opening my eyes more to the world around me; determining which diets I would adopt and what situations I would put myself into. This led to boycotting all non-organic or animal foods for many years, which brings more food insecurity, because feeding yourself [organic food] becomes more expensive and less available. This can be addressed by growing our own foods, wild harvesting and preserving food through drying and fermenting, also by shopping frugally and sharing meals with friends.”

Best Practice Suggestions
There are many ways to be pro-active in our community about food insecurity!

  • Organize potlucks or share home-cooked meals with friends.
  • Waste less food in your own life and redistribute it before it goes bad.
  • Say “yes” with your dollars in ways that align with your core values. Buy local and organic. Donate money to Pamela Joy & The Ashland Food Angels, our Ashland Food Bank, Jason and Vannesa Houk at The Community Peace Meal, Maren Faye at the Uncle Foods Tuesdays meal!
  • Donate your time and energy as a volunteer! It can be a very enriching experience to your life and to all the people you impact through your service! All of these organizations are full of kind and authentic people who’d love to hear from interested neighbors!

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