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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fund Progressive Food Programs in Cities that Need Them

In 2010, the City of New Orleans unveiled the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative (FFRI) – a government incentive program based on the successful Fresh Food Financing Initiative in Pennsylvania, designed to attract fresh food retailers to traditionally underserved neighborhoods by providing loans (some forgivable) to those retailers. Although Aimee Quirk, economic development advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, has said that the initiative “is absolutely laser focused on the Lower Ninth Ward," only one project has been funded to date (and it's not in the Lower Ninth Ward).

It's not completely the government's fault. Grocery store operators call our neighborhood a risky investment. The levee breach during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in 100% flooding of the neighborhood and only a 25% return of the pre-Katrina population. They say that, with a population of about 5500 according to the 2010 Census, we don't have enough people in the area to support a even a mid-sized grocery store. Behind closed doors, they also express concerns about opening a business in a low-income African American neighborhood, expecting that theft and vandalism will be a problem. So our community continues to go underserved, continues to suffer, and the burden lies upon those committed residents and nonprofit organizations who believe in the future of the neighborhood more than personal gain. It's...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Education is the Answer, for Government as Well as Consumers

There certainly hasn’t been a lack of policy discussion or federal funding to attempt to get kids eating healthy. Countless employees at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, land grant universities, and state and local agencies have been tasked with supporting healthy eating. Yet here in rural black Georgia communities, it isn’t uncommon to find kids with no understanding of proper nutrition. What is going wrong?

The communities I work with are (through the great work of countless organizations) beginning to have increased access to healthy, affordable food which is a crucial first step. However, there is such a pervasive lack of knowledge about health and nutrition that it often stifles the effectiveness of food access efforts. Additionally, nutrition policies can’t overcome the primary issue that limits good nutrition and health in rural black communities: the dearth of good jobs that provide a living wage.

Given this context, how do citizens, organizations, and government work together locally and globally to create a food environment that effectively supports healthy eating in communities like mine? I suggest a larger focus on education, and a specific focus on education that is culturally tailored to rural African American communities.

It’s not particularly surprising...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Make USDA the People's Department

Does the government have a role to play in creating a fair and healthy food system? Is a fair and equitable food system even possible? And if so, whose job is it? In the current politically charged era, some people, particularly those on the extreme right and the extreme left, question the legitimacy of the federal government and its ability to address the nation’s problems. 

To look forward, it is important to look back and acknowledge the structural racism that has led to the social injustices we face today. U.S. agricultural history began with the expropriation of land from the indigenous people of this continent and further developed with the labor of enslaved people from Africa.

But just as our nation has convulsed with labor pains to deliver voting rights to women and freedom to its citizens of African descent, so too has the USDA been challenged to live up to its promise of being “for the people.” Tremendous inequities persist, and we continue to rely on a system rife with unfair labor practices throughout the food chain, from on-farm labor to unsafe processing facilities to poorly paid food service workers. The recent report “The Hands the Feed Us,” published by the Food Chainworkers Alliance, confirms that ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nurture Grassroots Food Policy Councils

Detroit is an example of what happens to a city that suffers from disinvestment, unemployment, racial inequities, white flight, middle class Black flight, widespread poverty, drugs, poor schools, and shortsighted, sometimes corrupt political leadership. These factors have not only impacted the infrastructure of the city, they have also had a devastating impact on food access and the health of Detroit’s residents. Governments have to be willing to engage with community-driven efforts in order to solve these problems.

Detroiters’ food options pale when compared to the bounty available in many of the more affluent, mostly white suburbs surrounding the city. In 2007, Farmer Jack, the last national grocery chain left in the city, closed its Detroit stores. Far too many Detroit teenagers eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda pop for breakfast. The city’s public transportation system is slow and unreliable. Residents without cars often buy “food” from convenience stores and gas stations.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, these and the multiple other challenges facing Detroiters, many of us are reimagining what Detroit can become, and to think and act creatively and collectively to address problems we are faced with.

One such effort is the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), formed in 2006 to mobilize Detroit’s African American residents...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

At Last: Linking Health Care and a Sustainable Food System (Slideshow)

Dick and Diana Dyer live on an organic farm just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan where they grow garlic, hops and collect honey. They always wanted to farm, but it wasn’t until two years ago that they were finally able to fulfill their dream. What held them back all these years? They needed jobs with access to health care.

Photos by Dan Hemmelgarn.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Support Resilient Solutions to Community Food Needs

When First Lady Michelle Obama announced, in February of 2010, the launch of the Let's Move! Campaign to end childhood obesity, she said that eliminating the 6,500 food deserts that exist in the U.S. would be a central objective of her campaign. However, in the weeks following the campaign’s launch, it quickly became clear that, rather than supporting grassroots community initiatives and small independent grocers, the Let’s Move! Campaign was going to align itself with the nation’s largest corporate food retailers, including Walmart, SuperValu, and Walgreens.

At The People’s Grocery, we were very disappointed by this news, partly because it meant that our own efforts to establish and scale community-based solutions wouldn’t likely be getting much support from the Let’s Move! Campaign. But the real source of our disappointment was that the First Lady had chosen, in partnering with large corporate food retailers, to take an approach that, in all likelihood, probably wouldn’t result in a lasting and resilient solution to the eradication of food deserts.

Supermarket chains face particular problems in developing and operating stores in lower-income urban areas. The real estate barriers in such areas can be high and entail costly and complex development, often preventing a...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Good Policy Means Engaging With Communities

More than once, I’ve told myself or others: “I don’t work on policy issues, they take up too much time to implement and have little impact on my community anyway.” And rightfully so – oftentimes policy initiatives meant to assuage social ills wind up doing more harm than good.

There is a productive tension though, between the belief that policy is a viable mechanism to create change and the belief in innovative grassroots solutions to social problems. While both points of view have merit, it is worth examining where they intersect.  

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created in favor of business, enabling goods and services, along with the accompanying business and jobs, to move freely across borders. As has become painfully apparent since its passing, NAFTA has served above all to inflate the wealth of the already wealthy, andhas hurt working people on both sides of the border. It has reduced the number of small family farms in Mexico and increased low-paying, dangerous jobs south of the border.

Sinking the bottom out of the Mexican corn industry, NAFTA has not only contributed to drastic economic changes for millions; it has impacted food systems and food ways on both sides of the border. US-government backed corn subsidies, alongside NAFTA’s...

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Government Can Start With Women and Infants

The government has a responsibility to help create a healthier and more equitable food system. This is mostly because many of the inequities of the food system were either created by or have been aided and abetted by government policies—and with disastrous results. This is particularly striking in the case of the first food, breast milk, where the government remains an active participant in promoting unhealthy food practices for its most vulnerable citizens.

The government holds much sway over the nation’s infant feeding practices, particularly since the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) continues to distribute more than half the infant formula sold in the U.S. each year.  WIC helps feed 2.14 million women and 2.17 million infants a year, roughly half of all U.S. infants. As the largest purchaser of infant formula in the country, accounting for about 70% of all formula purchases, the government is actively dumping manufactured infant food into the mouths of infants from the most vulnerable, low-income communities across the country. Thus begin the inequities of our food system, just days after birth.

Infant formula, which is provided to WIC at a deep discount, cost taxpayers an estimated $627 million in 2008, but is a booming cash cow for those who manufacture it. Meanwhile, the habits and brand...

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Government Should Follow Our Lead on Food

Earlier this summer, the Association of Food Journalists invited me to moderate a debate on food policy between representatives of the Obama and Romney campaigns at their annual conference in Washington. The Obama team offered up Dora Hughes, a special advisor to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The Romney folks stalled, then asked for some sample questions. When we provided them, they stopped responding to all calls and emails. Radio silence.

It would be easy to write this off as a classic example of Republicans avoiding what seems like a natural issue for Democrats. But a look at Obama’s record shows tepid support for many important food issues, from labeling for genetically modified foods (GMOs) to food safety and food marketing to kids. Only the photo-op-ready White House garden has delivered, and exceeded, its original promise.

Food should be the kind of issue on which the government can easily take the lead. After all, everybody eats. But in our hyper-partisan political climate, where the government’s ability to do anything is under constant fire, it is difficult for even a progressive government to take action. Any move that limits personal choice or even suggests that the government wants to “tell Americans what to eat” are made to seem as radical as calls to legalize prostitution.

This was not always the case....

Friday, October 26, 2012

A quick-read nutrition label? It’s out there.

First published in the Washington Post.

Bon Appetit Management prides itself on staying ahead of culinary trends. In 1999, the food-service firm, which manages cafes at U.S. universities, museums and high-profile companies including Google and Twitter, implemented a farm-to-fork program that mandated chefs buy 20 percent of their ingredients locally. In 2005, it required that all its eggs be Certified Humane. Three years ago, it was the first in its field to sign a deal with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay Florida tomato pickers a higher wage and to guarantee better working conditions for them.

But when clients started asking for nutrition information, company executives were stumped. Bon Appetit serves 500 locations in 32 states. Unlike most food-service companies, its chefs don’t follow corporate recipes or menu cycles that schedule meatloaf on Mondays and tilapia on Tuesdays. They cook based on what is fresh and in season. Moreover, executives weren’t sure that standard nutrition information — labels that list calories, grams of saturated fat and milligrams of sodium — were doing much to make Americans healthier. According to the Centers for Disease Control, since 1980, the number of Americans who are overweight or obese has...

Meet the Fellows

Brahm Ahmadi

Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of People’s Community Market, is a social entrepreneur redesigning food retail to better engage, serve and support food desert communities.

Ideas in focus

Cultivating Leadership and Equity in the Food Movement

April 2013

The IATP Food and Community Fellows Program is coming to an end, but it's springtime for our work growing equity in the food system and cultivating diverse leadership in the movement.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

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