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Day 3: 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Welcome to Day 3.  Please be sure to read about the challenge here before posting comments, and view Day 2 at this link.

What do race and racism have to do with the food system, from your perspective?  Read: The Grocery Gap: Who has access to healthy food and why it matters.  If you would like to go deeper, read:  Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD) Commentaries on Race and Ethnicity in Food System Work.

After you have read the articles, was your perspective changed?  If so, how?  

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Food and privilige

I travel for work and some of the areas we go are very remote are in the center of a reservation. Not only are grocery stores very few and far between, they also do not have a great stock or selection. For example, one community we go to is over 95 miles away from the nearest grocery store. That grocery store does not have even a third of the amount of fresh food selections that the stores nearer to my home have. Which also have much less selection than if I travel to a larger city.
It's a real problem for Native Americans. There are extremely high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other medical issues that I consider to be food related on the reservations. There are, I think multiple issues on this. First, there is very little availability to purchase fresh whole food items, Second, even if the option is their, with areas of the reservation reaching 80% unemployment, the people may not have the funds to buy the healthier items. Then finally, even if you have money and the options, how do you store it? How do you transport it safely? Added to this is the issue of people not knowing how to prepare the foods. If your parents were poor and lived out in the middle of nowhere, and primarily had cheap, heavily processed food, you might not have any idea how to prepare anything else.
Add to this, the way our society looks down on people who are overweight and judges them quite harshly as being "lazy" or "stupid", etc. this makes it harder for these people to find work which, makes it harder to buy the healthier foods, creating a vicious cycle.
I am glad you shared this, it's important for people to see how much food and access to healthy food impacts members of our society. I think too, it's good to think about how a person's access to food can determine what they eat so maybe we can step away form the stereotypes and assumptions we have about people and why they eat the way they do.

Food and privilege

This is such a valuable discussion, thank you Renee! I've thought a lot about this issue after I became vegan, which prompted me to learn a lot more about our food system in general. There are many, many problematic white vegans - the type who shame people who aren't vegan, mostly because they're not aware of the nuances that shape our behavior around food. For example, not only our socioeconomic status, but the culture and family we were raised in, food accessibility, the time and energy one has to shop for and prepare food, access to information, etc. I know a small number of POC who are vegan, the vast majority are white, which speaks volumes

I also think about how the harmful factory farms that produce most of our food disproportionately harm low income communities which are often also communities of color. Pollution from the farms can cause severe illnesses and often the low income workers who staff the farms and factories are mistreated.

Judging others is a habit we have to break.

I’m so grateful for the increase in thoughtful comments. Because I’m eating healthy food, I sometimes am critical of people who don’t, forgetting that good food may be unavailable, too expensive, too time-consuming to prepare, etc. It takes conscious effort to examine our own prejudices. I hope that 21 days does establish the habit.
It’s no surprise that there is a correlation regarding lack of access to good, affordable food between race and income. My own sense is that economic forces have been instrumental in generating and establishing racism, as well as in exploiting poor whites, and that we won’t be able to eradicate racism without replacing our capitalist system. I’d like to see food “socialized,” produced and distributed to meet human needs rather than for profit. In the meantime, since changing our economic system and culture is a gargantuan task, anything we can do to make good food available to everyone is a plus. The personal challenge is to avoid criticizing people who don’t take advantage of our “good intentions.”

Food Equity

I love this discussion! I happened to have served on the Alliance for Food and Racial Equity, which evolved out of the New York City Food Forum, collaboration of more than 80 food-active organizations that came together during the last Mayoral election to achieve their shared vision of a better food future for every New Yorker. NYCFF held the first ever mayoral forum on food, to find out the candidates' position on various food issues and created a Food Primer to encourage our new Mayor to lead us towards a better food future for every New Yorker.

The Forum was effective, but it became very apparent that seriously lacking in the conversation was the concept of food equity. So we created a task force to work on reforming the mission of the forum to ensure that voices left out of the conversation were invited and heard and that equity and sovereignty were brought into the food system discussion.

The steering committee held an equity forum and workshop with all the food active organizations, held listening sessions in the boroughs by engaging grass roots organizations to formulate the agenda and process. We were using this process to find ways to:
• Support food-active and other organizations in being accountable to those communities most impacted by inequities and in working to advance racial equity;
• Collaborate with and convene community leadership to uplift (or “place at the center”) the voices and wisdom of historically-marginalized (or –excluded) communities; and
• Create/shift policies and practices that will generate solutions to build an equitable food system in NYC.

During this process, we learned from the communities themselves what they felt were assets and obstacles in their community. One thing I have heard repeatedly is that the concept of "food desert" is well-intentioned, but it insults the community and fails to recognize the many assets of people, traditions, desire for self-determination, etc., ignores the reality of the mass of corporate junk food and farm policy that pushes bad food on those who have no voice at the table (so often the term food swamp might be more descriptive, albeit perhaps also insulting). Meaning, we chose our words based on how communities described themselves, recognized their assets, and such.

That said, food access is just one part of the food justice equation. Ensuring there are affordable grocery stores that sell healthy food is only one tool in the food policy toolbox. I'll add more in a bit, but I just wanted to present the idea of what food justice/equity might look like.

Food Equity continued

I can't figure out how to attach a document, so I am going to paste the text from a NYCFF document called, "Tale of Two Plates," that does spell out the proposed food issues that the city government/council could address and who to engage. This was BEFORE the real focus on equity, because so many of the resources listed are grasstops and white privileged organizations that don't really have inclusion and equity at their core. But it does show the types of goals and actions that can improve a food system like NYC's. 



Create a strong, new structure to meet the City’s food challenges and opportunities

Establishing an Office of Food

Issue: Food governance in our City encompasses conservation, production, processing, distribution, hunger, health, economic development, procurement, food service, and waste management.  In addition, a sustainable and resilient food system requires that the City have a strong relationship with its regional, New York foodshed.  During the past decade, the City has paid increased attention to and made progress on food issues and food policies.  Yet, food has not been institutionalized in the City’s formal policy structure, there is no comprehensive food plan for the City, and food-related challenges persist – hunger, diet-related illness, inequitable financial and physical access to healthy food, and the loss of regional farmland.  The magnitude and complexity of the City’s many food–related responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities call for an empowered, adequately resourced, open, and inclusive Office of Food to guide and coordinate the City’s food policies, goals, and actions.

Action: Building on the existing Office of Food Policy and inter-agency Food Policy Task Force, create a new, empowered structure by establishing, via Executive Order, an adequately resourced, publicly funded Office of Food with broadened responsibilities, headed by a Director reporting to the Mayor’s Office. 

Benefits: An empowered and adequately resourced Office of Food would have the capacity to comprehensively address the City’s food-related challenges and opportunities.  The Office would produce and regularly update a comprehensive City Food Plan, pursuant to section 197-a of the City Charter, and an expanded, goal-oriented Food Metrics report.  Further, the Office would convene an expanded inter-agency Food Task Force including City and non-City public entities engaged in food-related activities.  The Task Force, working as a whole and in coordinated, issue-focused committees, would develop agency food goals and facilitate inter-agency coordination.  The Office of Food also would serve as a vital central resource for those working on City food issues.

NYCFF Resources: Food Bank for New York City, Food Systems Network NYC (FSNYC), Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNYS), New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH)

Initiating a Process to Create a Food Council

Issue: New York City is home to diverse public, private, nonprofit, and community stakeholders working in every aspect of the food system - production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste.  These stakeholders have deep and wide-ranging experience in food–related issues and are uniquely positioned to advise City and other public entities that create and implement food-related policies and programs. While coordination among governmental and non-governmental organizations exists, it is not uniformly organized and there is no recognized and inclusive mechanism for New Yorkers to inform the City’s food policies and programs.  A Food Council, consisting of food-active professionals and community members, working as a whole and in issue-focused committees and engaging with the Office of Food, would provide an mechanism to harness the expertise of a wide range of stakeholders.

Action: Initiate, with the City Council, a participatory design process to create a new, independent, publicly funded, governmentally integrated Food Council to include New Yorkers from throughout the food system.  A Food Council design process would identify the many ways that New Yorkers at the City, borough, and neighborhood levels are currently engaged with and organized around food issues. The process would determine how to build upon these efforts to structure a Council that will best complement the activities of food-related work happening within and outside government agencies and offices. Information gathered in this design process will inform the Council’s mission, membership, structure, and relationship to the Office of Food, the City Council, and the City’s Food Plan.

Benefits: A participatory design process will allow for the creation of an effective and thoughtfully organized Food Council that builds upon existing food-related organizing and activities throughout the City.  A thoughtfully organized, broad-based, inclusive Food Council and an engaged and empowered Office of Food would be mutually beneficial, providing the opportunity for input, advisement, and coordinated action across the public, private, nonprofit and community sectors.

NYCFF Resources: Food Bank for New York City, Food Systems Network NYC (FSNYC), Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNYS), New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH), The NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College

Reduce the significant and growing problem of hunger in NYC

Improving Access to SNAP and other federal nutrition benefit programs.

Issue: One in 6 New York City residents and 1 in 5 kids and 1 in 10 seniors live in homes that cannot always afford enough food. In 2010-2012 nearly 1.4 million (16%) of New York City residents were food insecure. The average SNAP recipient is on the program for less than one year. The average SNAP benefit is less than five dollars a day. At least half a million NYC residents remain eligible for SNAP but do not receive the benefit, costing hungry families and the local economies hundreds of millions of dollars annually that could have been used to buy food.

Action: The City and HRA should take full advantage of federal waivers and options to make it easier to residents to obtain and maintain SNAP and other federal nutrition benefits. For instance, waivers to:
• allow unemployed abled bodied adults without dependents to continue to receive benefits as they look for work;
• limit requirements for in-office interviews for SNAP applicants; and
• extend time period for recertification (e.g., 3 years for seniors).
• Other options include expanding the use of Paperless Office System (POS) for SNAP applications and re-certification at an expanded number of community-based agencies and offices.

Benefits: SNAP is the single most effective anti-hunger program, helping to lift people out of poverty. SNAP boosts the economy and has an estimated return of $1.70 for every dollar invested. In just one month (Dec. 2013), SNAP brought more than $266 million in  our federal tax dollars back into our community, reducing hunger while increasing purchasing and jobs at local food stores.

Additional Resources: New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Action Network of New York State, Food Bank of New York City

Increasing Funding for EFPs and other nutrition benefit programs

Issue: More than 1.4 million New York City residents utilize emergency food programs. The demand for emergency food in NYC has doubled since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. There are 250 fewer food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City today than at the start of the Great Recession - a loss of 25 percent. More than 2/3 of the programs have experienced a drop in food donations while almost all (89%) report an increase in demand. More than 20% of the guests are seniors, while more than a third are children and a third the working poor.

Action: Increase funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) to $15.4 million for food and index funding to inflation. Ensure adequate city funding for home delivered meals and congregate meals for older New Yorkers, and peg future funding increases to the rate of inflation.

Benefits: EFPs are the last line of defense against hunger in NYC, especially for households not otherwise eligible for federal nutrition benefits (e.g., immigration status). Seniors and children are especially vulnerable to health problems due to improper nutrition. Reducing health problems associated with hunger will reduce public health costs to treat related illnesses.

Additional Resources: New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Action Network of New York State, Food Bank of New York City

Increase physical and financial access to healthy food in underserved and vulnerable communities

Making Healthy Choices Easy and Affordable

Issue: Access to healthy food is more than grocery stores. While the City of New York has put in place several programs to help improve residents’ physical access to food, having a vendor in close proximity to one’s home that sells healthy food is little help if one is unable to afford that food. The Mayor should support and expand programs that make healthy food the easy and affordable option and choice for struggling families.

The Health Bucks program of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is the largest City funded and coordinated nutrition incentive program of its kind in the country, but requires expansion in order to meet the need of low-income New Yorkers and make up for the drastic new federal cuts to SNAP and to make it more affordable to purchase healthy foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, in other retail venues 

Action: To significantly scale-up the Health Bucks program, the City can take any or all of the following actions:1) increase its funding for health bucks and related nutrition education programs through city budget allocation, as well as explore New York State funding streams that could help reduce the impact of federal cuts to SNAP and SNAP-Ed 2) expand the program to incentivize both SNAP and the WIC Vegetable and Fruit Check, 3) increase the distribution venues for Health Bucks to include other community food organizations, such as CSAs, food coops and food pantries, and 4) explore possible expansion beyond farmers’ markets to include other access points sourcing and supporting local fresh produce growers.

Benefits: Studies have shown that the Health Bucks incentive has increased the use of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets in New York City. This means more low-income New Yorkers are using their federal benefits to buy fresh healthy food from local farmers and producers. The Health Bucks program thus improves the overall health of low-income city residents while supporting a stronger local food economy.

Additional Resources: Just Food, NYCCAH, FBNYC, HANNYS, FSNYC, PHS, Bronx Health Reach

Healthy Food Choices in Grocery Stores

Issue: Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are major health problems in low-income neighborhoods with rates far higher than in more affluent neighborhoods. Children from low-income families are twice as likely to be overweight as those from mid- and upper-income families. Improving the food options and choices in underserved and vulnerable communities in New York City remains a high priority. New York City’s Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) has helped to open over 15 large grocery stores around the city, but smaller food retailers, where many of our residents shop for food, find it difficult to upgrade or reconfigure their stores to promote healthier foods, increase selection, or make healthy products affordable.

Action: Increase financing and expand programs that support both new healthy food retailers and existing small grocery stores to renovate to sell healthy foods.

Benefits:  Numerous studies have shown that better access to healthy food corresponds to healthier eating and lower rates of obesity and diabetes. The transition to healthier food offered at existing food retail outlets and the development of new fresh food retailers will improve the health of New Yorkers across all income levels and reduce the enormous health care costs to the City and its residents that are derived from food-related illnesses. Food retail initiatives that promote healthy food sales are both an economic development tool and an effective way to modernize small local stores that want to carry healthy foods for their customers. [Can possibly reference job section

Additional Resources: Partnership for a Healthier NYC, Bronx Health Reach, City Harvest, Karp Resources; NYC Foodscape; Strugatz Ventures; Waste to Wealth Ventures, Public Health Solutions, (See also, Food Trust, Philadelphia)

Mobile Market and Healthy Food Businesses
Issue:  Mobile markets and other healthy food businesses are nimble, low cost ways to get healthy food into underserved and vulnerable neighborhoods. A number of small entrepreneurs have attempted to launch these mobile businesses, often with an educational component such as cooking demonstrations or recipe kits, only to be met with impenetrable administrative obstacles. Businesses that do not fit the Green Cart template do not qualify for vendor’s license and face prohibitive costs and/or a five+ year wait for a food truck license.

Actions: Increase the number of licenses and decrease the cost of permits for mobile healthy food businesses issued by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene annually and reduce the waiting time for mobile healthy food businesses that operate underserved and vulnerable  areas.

Incentivize direct sale small business partnerships between farmers and low-income residents by easing permitting requirements for mobile market vans delivering healthy food by the box and other mobile fresh food delivery systems, buying clubs, food coops, and CSAs.

Benefits: Loosening restrictions and increasing licenses would bring many new small healthy food businesses into the very neighborhoods where they are needed most. These small businesses have the flexibility to pilot innovative sales models, the ability to create many jobs, and the low overhead and operating costs to keep healthy food affordable.

Additional Resources: New York City Food Truck Association, BLK Projek, Corbin Hill Farms, NYC Foodscape, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, Karp Resources, (See also: Food Trust, Philadelphia), Bronx Health Reach.

Preserving Community Gardens

Issue:  City-owned community gardens in New York remain at risk of development. GreenThumb provides programming and material support to over 500 community gardens in all five boroughs and over 20,000 gardeners in New York City. But many of these gardens have been and remain at risk of development until they are made permanent. Despite a “Memorandum of Agreement” signed by Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in September 2002, calling for preservation of a number of gardens, over 100 gardens were classified as “subject to development following the garden review process.” The city—and its gardeners—have lost over 40 gardens since then, including several important and cherished children’s gardens, and many remain classified as “Subject to Development.”

Action: Begin a process for making existing Green Thumb and other city-owned community gardens permanent and free from development threat.

Benefits: New York City’s gardening scene has exploded and gardens are now seen as important tools in improving not only the local communities in which they are located, but as essential tools for making our city a greener, more livable, healthier place for all. Making community gardens permanent would provide numerous health and other benefits to gardeners, to fellow residents and the City overall by:
• Giving residents access to fresh, healthy food
• Reducing gardeners’ monthly food costs
• Improving resident health through healthier eating and physical activity
• Creating social activities for isolated seniors
• Reducing crime and drug activity in the vicinity
• Teaching basic vocational skills
• Empowering youth and disabled residents
• Creating income opportunities for entrepreneurial gardeners
• Encouraging water conservation, waste reduction and recycling
• Beautifying communities
• Increasing overall area property values

Additional Resources: NYCCGC, GrowNYC, NRDC, NYC Foodscape, Trust for Public Lands, Green Guerillas, New York Restoration Project.

Address student hunger, nutrition, and attentiveness

Citywide Universal Free School Lunch

Issues:  The current system for determining eligibility for free school lunch links school food with family income, imposing a stigma which mounts as students grow older.  While 81 % of NYC elementary school children eat school lunch, only 61 % of middle school students and 38 % of high school students do so.  250,000 of the students eligible for free meals are among the 400,000 students who fail to eat school lunch on an average day.  Further, many students from families with incomes above the cut-off ($36,000 for a family of three) are struggling to get by.  New York City can pay for universal meals with an additional investment estimated to be about $20 million annually or .0025% of the city’s current education budget.

Actions:  1) The Mayor can institute universal free meals immediately by ending the collection of students fees for lunch. 2) the city can implement federal incentive programs that reduce paperwork and maximize federal reimbursements (Provision 2 and the  Community Eligibility Option).

Benefits:  Students will be better nourished and ready to learn. Families will be better able to make ends meet. For every 10 % increase in participation, employment equivalent to 500 SchoolFood jobs is created and local economic activity is enhanced. A 20 % increase in participation would bring an additional $59 million in state and federal funds.  Schools can redirect the time and resources not spent on collection forms, identifying students, and  trying to collect  missing fees.

Additional resources: Community Food Advocates, Lunch4Learning Campaign, NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College

Breakfast After the Bell

Issues: Childhood hunger is a serious problem in New York City. One in five NYC children lives in a household struggling to put food on the table, and 30% live in homes with incomes below the federal poverty line. School Breakfast can help, but the current system of scheduling breakfast 30 minutes before the start of the school day excludes children who arrive too late. In a recent survey of 63 of the nations’ largest cities, New York ranked last in school breakfast participation.

Actions: Institute breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast, or some other variant of breakfast after the bell in all NYC schools.

Benefits:  According to research gathered by the Food Research and Action Center, Students who eat breakfast are more alert, better behaved, make fewer visits to the nurse and shoe improved math and reading scores. Increased participation would bring additional federal dollars into the city’s economy and generate additional employment.

Additional resources: Foodbank for New York City, NYCCAH, Citizens Committee for Children, Community Food Advocates

Create living wage jobs and ensure the supply of fresh, local food

Creating Good Food Jobs
Issue: The growth of the city’s food production and distribution sector has been a relative success story, with 33% growth over the last decade.  Many of the more than 325,000 jobs in the food economy, however, fail to provide adequate wages and safe working conditions, and economic development in this arena has seldom considered the nutritional quality and health impact of the food these workers prepare.  In fact, many of these jobs involve the production of the foods most associated with diet related disease.

Action: The Mayor should appoint a Good Food Jobs Task Force to foster and coordinate public, labor, commercial and non-profit efforts to create “Good Food Jobs”- jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions, promote sustainable development, and make healthier food more accessible to New Yorkers. 

Benefits: By better aligning its economic, workforce development, food production and distribution, and health policies to create Good Food Jobs, the new administration has the opportunity to improve the health of New Yorkers and develop a new model of smart, intersectoral economic development for cities across the U.S.

Additional Resources: The NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College has produced a guide to the creation of Good Food Jobs, entitled Jobs for a Healthier Diet and a Stronger Economy: http://nycfoodpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/JOBS_WHOLEREPORT.pdf; Food Chain Workers Alliance; Karp Resources; Hot Bread Kitchen; Local 1500, UFCW; NYC Foodscape; Srugaatz Ventures; Waste to Wealth Ventures

Supporting Local Food
Issue: In a city renowned for its chefs, culinary schools, farmers’ markets, community gardens, and progressive food-health policies, few city residents realize that just beyond the boroughs lies an agricultural state, which ranks amongst national leaders in dairy, fruit, wine, and vegetable production and boasts average annual sales of more than $4.4 billion. The city is key to the growth of New York’s agricultural economy. Through increased commitment to local food purchasing by the city, NYC can support state and local economies while bringing needed jobs and fresh food home to its residents.

Action: The Mayor should strengthen and build upon the local laws put forward in the 2011 “FoodWorks” package by: Making food metrics reporting by food purchasing agencies mandatory instead of voluntary; Increasing the purchase of local food by city agencies by implementing a geographic preference in future food purchasing contracts; Reengage the Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood to identify ways to incorporate more local foods in DOE contracts and SchoolFood recipes.

Benefits: In 2010, New York City agencies spent approximately  $175 million on food. By procuring food that is grown, produced, harvested, or processed regionally, the city can support the local economy and create jobs in the growing food industry. For example, locally raised beef currently makes up only 1% of the NYC beef market, but sourcing just 5% of SchoolFood beef locally would create demand for an additional 10,000 local cattle and increase consumption of local beef by nearly 50%.

Additional resources: Cornell Cooperative Extension; American Farmland Trust; Food Systems Network; School Food FOCUS; Just Food

Investing in the City’s Food Distribution Infrastructure
Issue:  The recent seven-year extension of the Hunt’s Point Terminal Market’s lease provides only temporary relief from the threat that the market would be moved to New Jersey. According to Crain’s Business (1/5/14): “The stakes are huge if the market is uprooted. It employs about 3,500 union workers and supports another 7,000 jobs—for people who deliver or pick up food there—and it generates $2.4 billion in annual sales, providing food for some 23 million people within a 100-mile radius. What's more, the city's … plan … would be seriously compromised if the produce market moved to the Garden State.” The City must act to both save this critical infrastructure and improve it to make it a better resource for local growers and the city at large.

Action:  New York needs to quickly design a financial plan and program strategy to redevelop the City’s food distribution infrastructure to support a large-scale wholesale farmers’ market as part of a modern, energy-efficient Hunts Point Market, redesigned to accommodate the efficient distribution within the City of meat, fish and produce from the region and beyond. 

Benefits: Increasing the capacity and efficiency of the market would encourage business growth and create jobs, and would also improve the air quality in the Hunts Point neighborhood, which currently suffers from one of the country’s highest asthma rates. Further, an expanded and co-located wholesale farmers’ market would allow local growers to sell their products directly to purchasers, and would also help to meet New York City’s estimated $860 million in unmet demand for local food.

Additional Resources:  GrowNYC, NRDC, others TBD

Conserving the Region’s Farms that Supply the City with Fresh, Local Food
Issue: Development pressure, fragmentation, the conversion of farms to estates, and rising land prices undermine the continued supply of fresh, local food to farmers’ markets, schools, groceries and restaurants.  If the region’s farmland is not secure, the rest of the food system in which New York is investing remains at risk.

Action:  The Mayor should adapt the DEP’s existing watershed protection program to also conserve working farmland in the City’s “foodshed.” These investments will leverage substantial federal, state, local and philanthropic support.  A NYC/Hudson Valley Foodshed Conservation Plan to guide the effort already is in place and may serve as a valuable resource in this process.  (www.scenichudson.org/foodshedplan).

Benefits: With more than $600 million per year of unmet demand in the City for healthier food, and plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the City's food distribution infrastructure, the cost to conserve these farms is a modest insurance premium to ensure the continuing supply of local food. These initiatives will generate jobs and job training opportunities through programs such as GrownNYC’s Youthmarket and FARMRoots. 

Conserving the City’s "foodshed" also will reduce its "foodprint," meeting the Mayor’s call for “a citywide initiative to increase the use of locally grown, healthy food and decrease the amount of pollution caused by food transportation, shipping and packaging.”

Additional Resources: Scenic Hudson, American Farmland Trust, Food Systems Network, GrowNYC, NRDC, others TBD


Thank you!!

I was wondering what the other side of the conversation would be and am thankful you could bring that view.  I think it is easy to think we know how to solve the problem and forget to involve those that are actually affected.   I look forward to reading more from you or even resources on where to learn more.  Thank you!!


Indeed, the whole food equity conversation starts with privilege. Why are we white "do-gooders" telling black and brown people how they should structure their own communities businesses, etc. and what they "should" eat when they don't even have a seat at the table, let alone the access to levers of power and sources of finance and the sovereignty to use their own community's existing assets to strengthen their own food system. 

whitesplaining trap

I want to help and my privilege gives me space and to learn and think about things and I want to bring my learnings to others to help them not suffer.   I am good up until then...then I fall into the trap.  I believe that I know the answer (forgetting it is from my perspective) and all I have to do is tell them how to make it better....instead of learning from what they see their challenges and suffering come from and what help they feel then need.  I start whitesplaining the solution and gloss over the fact that I do not really see their view until I listen to them and the system does not support others voices in the conversation.  

It is challenging as a white liberal to learn to step back and encourage voices and learn from others - especially because I have no real skills around inviting this conversation and I am far outside the systems work in these areas.  


I am one of the worst whiteplainers...I know what the issues are, I understand privilege and what equity means, but I still fall into the same trap. I need to develop my listening skills big time and not just impose my perspective. 


Day 3 - Food

My neighborhood is 20% white upper middle class, 80% immigrants from S. America and Southeast Asia. The produce is abundant and cheap but very poor quality. Having lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where every corner deli has organic, local, fresh, and free-trade products, I was really surprised. There is a weekly farmer's market which provides the neighborhood with wholesome fruit and vegetables and a very overpriced "health food" store that has some decent (but not great) options.

Accessibility on all levels

I had never really heard of the food desert concept until I did this 21 Habit Building for the first time. I found this great map that shows where food deserts exists on a detailed level to see how my local area was impacted.

However, I wondered if the accessibility to the stores was really enough. As I read about the advantages of grocery stores revitalizing a neighborhood I wondered about how financially accessible those foods were the neighborhood. When a neighborhood goes through a revitalization, it can mean that rent goes up pushing out the people who can't afford to live there.

There is also the skills and habits that have to change. I will admit that I choose to stop by the corner store or the pizza place rather than making a healthy meal because it is easier and sometimes cheaper than if I made food and I have grown up with accessibility and eating healthy food. If you have only had access to cheap quick food what will inspire you to make big changes in eating.

I found these kids in Minneapolis that wrote a wrap song about changing their eating habits. These are some of the lyrics:

“See in my hood there ain’t really much to eat. Popeyes on the corner, McDonald’s right across the street. All this talk about guns and the drugs, pretty serious, but look at what they feeding ya’ll that’s what’s really killin us.”

I am rambling a little bit because issues are complex. Is the food in the new stores affordable? Do the people who have never had access suddenly know how to change their eating habits? Does the neighborhood revitalize and become unaffordable?

What about poverty and food security?  Access to grocery stores still assumes a level of income, there may be a store but can you afford to buy food?


I never even thought about all of this and now that I have I realize there are many aspects of equity and accessibility that need to be addressed.

Innovative strategies

I am very fortunate that, although I live in a decidedly blue-collar neighborhood that is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, there are two well-stocked supermarkets within two miles or so of my house. Both offer a full range of products including organic foods and plenty of fresh produce.

This subject of food inequity came up for me most recently about a month ago when I saw a Ted Talk given by Ron Finley about something really innovative he started doing to reverse food inequity in his neighborhood. He started planting and tending vegetable gardens in empty lots, street medians and other public spaces. He also put one in his unfenced front yard.

Amazing how the City of Los Angeles initially tried to shut him down. They accused him of "vandalizing" city property.

Back to me personally, my daughter grew up with two "rules" for grocery shopping.

  1. Anything with only one ingredient was automatically fair game. She had blanket permission to put it in the cart without even asking. That would include almost everything from the produce deparment, plus the meat and fish departments (back when we still ate meat and fish) but also eggs, rice, beans and so on. If it had more than one ingredient, we looked at the ingredients list together to decide whether or not it deserved a place in our cart. I'm not completely anti-junk food and we did buy some but I wanted to ingrain the idea in her that food buying is a matter of health, not of convenience. She's now 21 and living on her own and now buys her own food this way.
  2. I always aimed to spend around 50% of my grocery budget in the produce department. I was never anal about it. Never used a calculator or anything like that. Some trip we did not make that goal but it was always the milestone we aimed for and, I'm proud to say, we were successful more often than we weren't.

None of this really offers a solution but perhaps it can be one tiny piece of the mosaic that does.

One thought that came to mind

One thought that came to mind reading the linked literature you provided above is that the root of this problem goes back to money. Nearly every commercial venture in a capitalist society has, as one of its central aims, profit-making. Most target the wealthiest strata of society. So it seems natural that grocery stores, which are profit-seeking commercial enterprises, would cluster more densely around wealthier neighborhoods.

I'm not advocating communism or socialism as a solution because I think that would introduce a whole new set of problems. Truthfully, I don't know what the ultimate solution is but I do know that Wal-mart became the largest retailer in the world because it recognized and exploited a similar dynamic. Initially, and for decades, almost all Wal-mart stores were found in small towns and rural areas where they faced little competition.

Might some grocery retailer employ a similar strategy? And would it be for the betterment of those communities served? We can only hope.

Yes money, but also exposure and skills

If you haven't been around fresh food your whole life, you have to learn some brand new skills.  A real opportunity is to help make healthy food not seem like such a privilege and very accessible with recipes and understanding of how to cook it.  

privilege to shop

You reminded me of how privileged I am that I never shop anymore with a calculator or food stamps. Another aspect of food accessibility and equality that is so easy for me to forget and directly related to food security and poverty.

When I was young I had very little money and used to know what it meant to have no money and no food left and waiting for payday.  Or even the last few days eating really cheap really bad food because it was what I could afford.   I would shop based on pennies never based on food.

Food had such a desperate feel to it during that time that I had completely forgotten about as it is so easy for me now.

Yes. We've both been in that

Yes. We've both been in that boat. Even as recently as my late 20s and after Sydney was born, I made so many of my shopping decisions based entirely on price. The climb out of that abyss was gradual. My own first step was to begin looking at price-per-unit, not just final price tag. In that way, I was able to start getting more bang for my buck. Of course, I sometimes still had to balance final price and price-per-unit but eventually the tide began to turn.

I'm grateful that so many stores now post price-per-unit and make it relatively easy for those who don't have a mathematically-inclined mind to employ this same strategy. I wonder how many actually do.

One giant cost of eschewing "convenience foods" is time. It takes time to actually prepare proper, fresh food. Sadly, this is another commodity that is more scarce in low-income communities than in wealthier ones. Yes, we theoretically all have the same 24 hours in a day but those who walk or rely on public transportation spend a good deal more of those hours just getting places. Or they may work two or three jobs to survive and support their families, thus robbing them of more time.

So this is a large, complex issue with no simple solution.

Being us back to food desert

All this assumes you have a store you can get to.  Food desert means you have no store you can get to without a car.  The level of inequality for those families is so severe And who are the people in those communities?

Good look into privilege 


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