Ideas Fest

For the first time, unused food from the Aspen Ideas Festival will be donated locally instead of heading to the landfill or compost.

Unused food from the Aspen Ideas Festival will be donated and distributed to food insecure residents in the valley, the Aspen Institute announced Monday, marking the first time uneaten meals from the 10-day event will be diverted from the compost bin or landfill. 

The Aspen Meadows Resort is partnering with the Food Bank of the Rockies and the Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance (SANA) to deliver daily meals in Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield counties.

“It’s something that I’ve always thought of doing,” said Jason MacEachen, catering director for the Meadows. “My chef and I looked into this and all the feedback we got from the local areas was we don’t have the bodies or the resources to come to you, so if there is anything you have you have to come to us. We just couldn’t do that, we didn’t have the time or resources to leave property and deliver it.”

Beyond the manpower, there are also other regulations that make it hard to donate food from a festival. If something has been plated or brought out to a buffet it cannot then be donated, and pantries and shelters are often looking for non-perishable food because they often don’t have the means to store and reheat fresh meals.

This year, however, General Mills, a sponsor of the festival, reached out to MacEachen directly and requested that food be donated to area food banks. He in turn got in touch with the Food Bank of the Rockies, which agreed to donate a refrigerated box truck to help with food storage. City Market agreed to donate a portion of its cooler space for food storage. 

Each day, volunteers from SANA have met MacEachen and his staff at the Meadows to pack up meals and bring them to area residents. They use temperature guns and transport the meals in hot or cold food-safe blankets. 

“It was really exciting to hear that these people had a plan in place to take the food that we did not consume today and be able to reuse it even as early as tonight for meals for people that need it,” MacEachen said.

In Pitkin County, 10 percent of the population is food-insecure. Janie Gianotsos, with Food Bank of the Rockies, said food insecure doesn’t necessarily mean someone is starving. 

“You may be making choices to eat less, you might skip a meal, you might buy really, really cheap food and ration it,” Gianotsos said. 

Statewide one in 10 people are food insecure and the number goes up to one in seven for children. 

During the 10 days of the festival, volunteers are recording how much food is being diverted from composing or the landfill by delivering it to those in need instead. Between Aspen Ideas Health and part one and two of the Aspen Ideas Festival, MacEachen said he serves about 500 people per meal. Each day there are an estimated 800 to 1,000 attendees on campus. 

“Not knowing how many of our thousand attendees that are here for the festival are going to eat on any given day, it’s just really hard to figure out how much food to actually produce in the day for the day,” MacEachen said.

MacEachen is a valley native and has worked at the Institute for 17 years. He said he hopes to continue partnering with volunteers to turn excess food into meals for the hungry year round, not just during big events.

“You know there is just such a story within the hospitality business especially and what we produce, what we serve and what is consumed, and I think they are really hoping since we opened our door to this opportunity and this challenge, that if they make it easy for us hopefully they can help other hotels in the area do the same thing,” MacEachen.

Once the summer onslaught on campus slows down, MacEachen is even excited to try more ways of getting food donated throughout the community, including an app that connects volunteers and area kitchens. For now, he is focused on the 10 days of the Aspen Ideas Festival as a pilot program that he has dreamed of for years.

“It feels really good being a longtime local and actually seeing this come to fruition,” said MacEachen. “Hopefully we can help more people out throughout the valley that really need it.”

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.