Having access to good, nutritious, and affordable food needs to be on the New York City Council agenda. The City needs to build strong food systems connecting farms to people, urban food spaces to growers, training and opportunity to teens, vegetables to kids. Food justice is the right to grow, buy, sell, and eat healthy food. But food justice is also: economic justice, racial justice, and environmental sustainability. Recent reporting found that 2 million people in New York City are either going hungry or are at risk of going hungry.
Establish a Food Justice Committee on the City Council and a Food Agency
Incorporate food education, vegetable gardens and salad bars into all NYC Public schools
Expand the Health Bucks program to support local food retailers and encourage healthier food options
Free soil testing to help start community gardens and encourage local food production
The City Council needs both a Food Justice Committee and Food Agency to tackle complex food justice issues.
From working with community organizations, to reviewing proposals for food-related education curriculums and tackling zoning practices that make food more unaffordable and inaccessible: we need a dedicated committee on the council. We need a food agency to make sure that food justice issues get the attention they need while carrying the power of the council. While everything is connecting, we see through the issue of food insecurity that big problems fall through the cracks. For example, CUNY students in dire food insecurity; how do older adults access food? what to do about the 40% of our food that is wasted daily and can reducing waste also help close the insecurity gap?
Mayor-appointed food officials don’t have the power and funding to work on systemic food issues. All the beautiful mutual aid work that arose from the pandemic is just the bandaid. The City needs to fix the food system so that the band aids aren’t relied on so heavily.
Incorporate food education, vegetable gardens and a salad bar into all NYC Public schools.
Put a salad bar in every school. Give children the opportunity to eat fresh vegetables and close the nutrition gap. Provide schools the resources, both financial and professional, to bring more varied, healthy, and fresh foods to young people in the Bronx each day.
We should teach kids in school how to grow food and eat healthy meals. We are hearing form the communities that the Abuelas and the Dads (and all the adults) should be included - to come learn how to add healthy vegetables to meals. We should give teens access to experiential education to prepare them for jobs in the food system from soil to table and a lifetime of healthy eating. A study showed that school gardening programs increased long-term fruit and vegetable consumption by children into adulthood. When kids can prepare food that is culturally appropriate, it’s called food sovereignty. Given that New York City is one of America’s most diverse cities, a focus on food sovereignty is fundamental to improving food access and pursuing food justice.
In the fight for food justice, we need to expand existing programs for food affordability like Health Bucks, and institute a new Healthy Bodegas initiative.
Food affordability and access are major challenges. The Health Bucks program — which provides $2 for every $5 spent at a farmers market using SNAP on an EBT card — encourages healthy, fresh food and alleviates issues of affordability. We can do more. What if bodegas were encouraged to devote at least 25% of their space to healthy food as a new, more comprehensive “Healthy Bodegas'' initiative? What if we allowed Health Bucks to be used at those bodegas only if they kept up the fresh food, removed pipes from the windows and created healthy environments for the community? That would make the foods available in our city healthier, decrease issues of accessibility, and tackle affordability all while supporting our locally-owned and operated corner stores.
Now, tie it together with a free city testing program for urban soil to help reduce barriers to community gardens.
The City Council can facilitate testing and mapping of all urban soil in the Bronx to remove the first barrier to local urban gardens. Urban gardeners need to have the soil tested to know whether it is safe to grow in. The City can partner with the Cooperative Extension to test soil and report it to the public to grow the opportunity for edible plants and gardens all across the borough.