Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Toward a New National Food Policy

On April 23rd, The Commonwealth Club will examine the future of food in our city, state and country, and the impact that reforms may have on the hungry.

Local food luminaries such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters have advocated for radical changes in U.S. food policy. But those changes could have a surprising impact on people living in poverty.

According to the San Francisco Food Bank, 150,000 people in San Francisco (one in every four children) are going hungry, and the United States Department of Agriculture recently reported that more than 36 million Americans are “food insecure” – hungry.

As unemployment continues to rise, food banks are seeing the line between donors and clients blur. PBS’s “Newshour” reported that “Food banks and charities around the country are experiencing shortages as the economy continues to slide. Demand is up 25 percent over last year, and many food banks have closed after running out of money and supplies.”

Paula Jones, the director of food systems at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, agrees that there’s ever-growing demand for food pantries and other emergency food assistance. Jones says the city is also working, simultaneously, to address an overabundance of cheap junk food that drives obesity, diabetes and other health problems, particularly in poor neighborhoods where affordable, healthy food options are hard to come by.

As federal and state budgets tighten, the most vulnerable San Franciscans will also see cuts to federal nutrition programs. The San Francisco Department of Public Health reports that some 40,000 San Franciscans are eligible for, but not enrolled in, the food stamp program. Luckily, $1 million came to the city from the USDA to improve food stamp access, and the city has found ways to enable low-income residents to use food stamps at local farmer's markets.

City leaders have been brushing up on the impact of federal policy on local food systems, and San Francisco has begun advocating for changes in the federal farm bill, calling for enhanced nutrition programs, regional support for fruit and vegetable growers, and more support for ecologically sustainable farming.

San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer Erin Allday detailed the coming changes in San Francisco food policy in her November 30, 2008 piece, “S.F. food policy heading in a healthy direction.” According to the Chronicle, the idea is to decrease reliance on imported food and create stronger ties between local farms and their immediate market, and to get a lot more local produce onto the plates of anyone served a public meal, especially schoolchildren and jail inmates. And Allday suggests that “the ideas are likely to stretch well beyond just supplying fresh produce to San Francisco” and could grow into new partnerships with farms that produce solar or wind power too.

Another of our panelists on the 23rd, Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, has been working with the city’s Urban-Rural Roundtable, a collaboration of urban and rural food producers and policy leaders. In his address to the roundtable March 31st, Dimock suggested that current economic straights are causing more people to go hungry, but “the tight state and city budgets [could] help to ensure a more thorough alignment of interests and a careful crafting of action. In order to ensure fundamental change, our actions must elevate food and agriculture on the list of competing priorities.”

Other panelists for the event include A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco Food Bank. Food Blogger Amy Sherman will be the moderator. Join us at G&E Theatre, 245 Market St on the 23rd as these panelists offer their recommendations for crafting a food policy that ensures nourishment reaches the neediest of citizens.

Brush up on some of the issues with this presentation by Bay Area food writer, Marion Nestle:


Anonymous said...

This panel was really informative and I look forward to hearing it replayed on local public radio.

Anonymous said...

I hope this panel will be aired on KQED. It's the first time I've had the opportunity to hear the "foodie" community engaged in conversation with hunger advocates. It's important for those who care about food to also care that everyone has enough to eat.

Kei said...

Sounds like this was a great discussion - I wish I'd had the chance to catch it. I'm hoping to hear it on KQED.

Emlon said...

I hope not only KQED but other outlets will pick up this broadcast, and widen the discussion nationally.

Anonymous said...

I am excited to hear people talking about such important issues, wish I had a chance to share with more people.

Anonymous said...

This was a great panel discussion - a good introduction to the competing interests that exist when it comes to debating sustainable food policy. I hope that more people become engaged in this important discussion. Looking forward to future panels!

Holly said...

This sounds like a wonderful conversation. Thanks for posting it.

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