Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Food for Thought: New York Food Policy Round-up

I'm fully embroiled in the holiday season. I find myself spending more and more of each day planning for Christmas and shopping. Buying gifts for the kids. Sprucing up the apartment. Picking out a tree.  Washing the good china. Planning my locavore menu. 

As an antidote to holiday consumerism, I put together a reading list -- a round up of articles and reports -- which address current food policies and the challenges of hunger, food access, affordability, child nutrition, and diet-related disease on millions of less fortunate Americans.  

Christmas is a time of giving after all. Not in the way that the department stores would have you believe, but in the more traditional sense. Giving to those less fortunate -- your time, your money or your homemade (good and local) food -- starts with being informed. 

Here's what I'm thinking about...I hope you will too. Happy Reading!

A few weeks back, Newsweek's article "Divided We Eat" did a great job at highlighting the contrasts and disparities between lower income food access issues and middle and upper middle class foodies and locavores and their indulgence in local food, and near obsession with where their food comes from and how it is grown. Author, Lisa Miller , highlights the rapid growth of Americans on food stamps, up nearly 60% in 3 years, and correlation between social class and obesity. She also talks about the "nanny state" debate over Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent proposal to ban soda from the federal food stamps program (it's not so easy for a mayor to change a federal program without approval from Congress) and quotes the godfather of all locavores Michael Pollan. 
"Even the locavore hero Pollan agrees. 'Essentially', he says, 'we have a system where wealthy farmers feed the poor crap and poor farmers feed the wealthy high-quality food'.”

Over on Huffington Post, my good food advocate colleague, Daniel Bowman Simon, tackled the food stamps and soda issue in a thoughtful way and uncovered some interesting background on the original intention of food stamp policy in the 1930s which was to give poor farmers and others vouchers to purchase excess produce. A brilliant way to help the needy and increase the sales, for the very farmers who were struggling, of perishable and locally grown food before it went bad. Mark Bittman, of the New York Times, calls the 1930's food stamp subsidies, "a federally-run CSA"(and a far cry from the paradigm we have today that Pollan describes).

I'm proud to have played a tiny role in the recent passing of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act -- I helped with some document editing and lobbied members of Congress in Washington with the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition. Under the tireless leadership of one of my New School food policy classmates, Kristen Mancinelli of New York's City Harvest, New York City Congressional leaders were armed with the facts and fought hard for an unprecedented increase in funding for child nutrition ($4.5 billion) and for healthier food in our schools. Associated Press outlined the bill.

Locally, the New York State Food Policy Council issued its 2010 Report to the Governor on its accomplishments with respect to making connections between locally grown food and food access for lower income New Yorkers. A broad range of issues from food stamps at farmers markets, fluctuating dairy prices, new farmer programs, and food production and infrastructure issues are covered in the 2010 report. (Many of which are the similar to the 2009 report that I wrote about last year). One of the largest accomplishments was to get more federal nutrition dollars to the state by helping to sign up eligible eaters for food stamps, WIC and other benefits.

NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's FOODWORKS initiative was announced several weeks ago. In the comprehensive report, policy analysts tackle agriculture, food processing, health, hunger, food access,  and post-consumption waste. Civil Eats analyzes FOODWORKS in a broader political context in this article and quotes Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (who previously launched a food charter and food pledge for NYC issued two reports and held two conferences that I am credited with editing and co-authoring. Read Stringers 2009 and 2010 reports). I agree with Stringer...
Stringer has released a statement in support of Quinn’s initiative:
“I commend the speaker for her work on this important issue, and am heartened that her recommendations echo many of the same proposals as outlined in our February 2010 report FoodNYC. I look forward to working with the Speaker on these and other vital initiatives related to the city’s food supply system which if done right can improve both jobs and health. Given the range of policies and programs in the City surrounding food, I renew my call for the creation of an Office of Food and Markets to coordinate and lead systematic reform of the City’s food and agricultural policies.”

For more food policy, check out a few of my favorite blogs:
Sustainable Table's Ecocentric Blog

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