Edible equity

By Michelle Chen Jul 02, 2009

The New York City Council is considering a resolution to promote environmental and social justice in the city’s food system through a "foodprint" initiative. The goal is to “encourage the maximum local food production, maximum sustainability and to involve the citizenry in the process,” said Council Member Bill de Blasio on the local WBAI news. The idea stems from a report, "Food in the Public Interest," issued earlier this year by the Manhattan Borough President’s office. While environmentalists have been discussing the concept of a community’s “food print” for a while now, New York City may be among the first municipalities in the country to try to implement a coherent food policy that tackles climate change, economic development and public health together. It’s far from a done deal, but the recommendations of the report center on key themes of local self-reliance, racial equity and food justice: Urban agriculture:

A food policy that harnesses regional agriculture for urban consumption and encourages local farming would address three of the most pressing challenges facing the city and the nation – the environment, public health, and the economy. • The environment: Common commercial farm practices, such as using chemicals and raising large numbers of livestock in confined spaces, can contribute to air pollution. Further, food that travels extraordinarily long distances from farm to plate requires more fuel, storage and refrigeration, all of which consume energy. • Public health: Locally grown and distributed food is likely to be fresher, more nutritious, less subject to intensive pesticide use, and less processed…. The city and state must work together to promote greater urban and regional food production. …In addition to creating necessary manufacturing and distribution infrastructure, this means supporting urban farms, community gardens, greenhouses, and backyard and rooftop gardens.

Equitable food distribution in marginalized communities:

Many residents in low-income neighborhoods are suffering from diet-related illnesses. In response, community leaders and health advocates have demanded that fresh produce be available throughout the city, either through traditional outlets like grocery stores and bodegas or new models such as green carts.

Integrating workers’ rights and food justice:

there is a shortage of healthy food outlets in low-income communities and communities of color. Some three million New Yorkers are caught in ‘food deserts’ – areas with limited access to fresh produce…. The benefits of healthy food outlets should prompt government intervention, and like most market failures, there must be ways to correct these problems in order to ensure that healthy food is available in every neighborhood. At the least, food outlets funded by the government, must accept food stamps and WIC…. Many of the policies needed to strengthen the local food economy require government investment and regulation. To maximize government subsidies, private companies must consult with and be held accountable to the local community…. In addition, community benefits agreements should be required for new food retail developments of a certain size, to address the need for living wage jobs, benefits, and local hiring practices.

Some grassroots initiatives are already working to encourage local food sustainability. The city is dotted with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, which create partnerships between responsible farmers and neighborhoods, ensuring a steady supply of quality food and stable business for growers. At the Bushwick CSA, community members pool money on a sliding scale to purchase food from the farm of Sergio Nolasco. With roots in Puebla and Queens, the father of four graduated from a local program to help immigrants start-up small farms, and he brings his family’s long farming tradition to Latino communities in the Bronx and Brooklyn. A sustainable urban food system may sound radical, but the basic idea is pretty simple: you are what you eat. Image: Bushwick CSA