Coming to the Table: Fixing Food to Combat Inequity

, food systems & health analyst | January 14, 2016, 3:02 pm EDT
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Earlier this week I was in Atlanta for Wholesome Wave’s Transforming Food Access Summit. My colleague Amelia Moore and I rendezvoused with our good food advocates to discuss equity and racial justice in the food system. We also released UCS’s newest report: Fixing Food: Fresh Solutions from 5 U.S. Cities.

Cities are at the frontlines of a food system that offers a plethora of nutritionally-deficient foods that are cheap to grow, easy to sell, and contribute to a wide-range of diet-related chronic illnesses, including diabetes and obesity. Unfortunately, these cities bear the brunt of this system’s unhealthy, unjust outcomes, which disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income Americans.

Fresh Stop Market in Louisville, Kentucky

In Louisville, KY, community-run Fresh Stop Markets provide local, healthy produce at an affordable cost in low-income neighborhoods. Participants pay one week in advance, using a variety of payment options, including SNAP. Photo: James Bennett.

In response, many local governments and community leaders are launching innovative efforts to make healthy food more available and affordable. Fixing Food is a story: a story about the problems our food system creates—yet it also foreshadows how smart public policies and innovative programs can solve them. It presents case studies of initiatives in five U.S. cities (Oakland, Memphis, Louisville, Baltimore, and Minneapolis) that are helping residents grow and sell healthy food, training the next generation of farmers, and bringing healthy food to places where people gather.

While at the conference, I spoke with many passionate individuals and organizations heading wonderful initiatives in their own communities to improve affordability and access to healthy food. I spoke on a panel with Tamara Jones, a farmer and strategic planner working with rural communities and farmers of color, had dinner with Susan Pavlin, Director of Common Market Georgia, and listened to the keynote speaker Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and White House Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, talk about the importance of healthy food and food assistance programs.

In addition to hearing about many wonderful programs and initiatives going on across the country, I also had conversations with the conference hotel staff about food. When I travel to new cities, I always like to talk with people who live there. They usually give great recommendations for places to see, music to hear, and food to eat! So while sitting in the hotel restaurant casually discussing restaurant options in the area with one of the waitresses, she asked me “Well, what kind of food do you like?” I smiled and told her: “Good food!” She nodded her head in agreement and said, “Oh…you want some clean food?—The kind of food my grandparents ate—straight from the garden!” She didn’t need to be a conference attendee to know that our food system has changed dramatically in the past fifty years. In my research and advocacy work, I have found that many people recognize that something is amiss with our food system, and it’s making us sick. However, they aren’t always sure how to change it.

That’s where UCS steps in—we have been working with partners across the country to launch Plate of the Union. Because cities like the five we profiled shouldn’t have to undo the damage done by outdated federal farm and food policies, this campaign is urging the next president to adopt a smart national food policy that would ensure all Americans could access healthy and affordable food that is also fair to food workers and sustainable—a food system that is good for people and good for the planet.

If you haven’t already, lend your voice to the campaign by signing our petition.

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