EAT4Health Fellow Presents in Washington

April 22, 2014

As part of the Everybody at the Table for Health (EAT4HEALTH) initiative, on Monday April 7th, I presented a policy brief for equitable food & agricultural policy in Washington D.C.  The EAT4EHALTH initiative is a national food and agricultural policy project with focus in four local communities, Detroit, MI – San Antonio, TX - New Orleans, LA and Glassboro, NJ shaping federal policy to improve and enhance the quality of life of low-income communities of color.  Public policy at its core has to do with our tax dollars and the promotion of the general health, safety and welfare of all of us.  Examining the current conditions in Detroit and seeing the cross cutting issues which impact our community food system in Detroit the policy briefing focused on the significant intertwining of our environment, health and economy.

I presented on a food system refrained into energy and environmental frames because the largest energy footprint in the world is what we eat.  Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life stated; “Each food items in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles....If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” We can no longer separate our food and agricultural systems from our energy and environmental systems, good solutions solve multiple problems.  We need a multi-faceted view of our health, environmental and economic challenges to build greater synergy into lasting solutions.

In the policy brief I called for the full funding for local food system infrastructure via investments in FOOD HUBS, and smaller farming and urban agriculture operations to improve the local/regional sourcing of food for institutions and retail markets.  This is key to making sure we engage local food sourcing and eating in a more local/regional fresh food profile.  This has economic as well as environmental benefits.  To make for more systemic change in the federal policy arena, I also recommended that the federal government, share data and information across federal program mix to allow for local actors to build more synergy in meeting supply and demand mix, and eradicating food deserts in urban areas.  We will not have a vibrant local/regional food system without improving participation of small scale food system operations via focused actions to increase entry of new and young farmers in agricultural operations, and increase program utilization by including nontraditional agricultural operations in USDA programs which helps to support the production point.  We have been inundated with junk food & fast food messages which have increased our consuming of these highly processed foods, and contribute to an over burden of chronic conditions. We also, need to improve the investment in food & nutritional literacy and access to fresh/minimally processed foods in low-income communities to enhance health and well-being via focusing and tailoring messages, and programs from the “inside out” in communities.  In fostering a more relevant and health promoting federal policy space, we need to build a “National Performance Framework” for existing food system programs to check and evaluate for racial and economic disparities which trap populations in perpetual poverty, reduced quality of life and create significant barriers for small operators to fully participate in programs.  Economics play a key role in “food deserts” and low fresh food access communities.  The federal government should analyze all projects, programs and initiatives through the lens of poverty eradication and not just “poverty servicing”. Federal policy must be formed, implemented, and evaluated on how well it eradicates poverty and alleviate systemic economic disparities throughout the full food chain.  Lastly, we need to promote better environmental stewardship via funding bio/photo remediation of contaminated areas of urban, peri-urban and suburban lands which are brownfields, and superfund sites, which has hampered full ecological resilience in our postindustrial cities, and hampers efforts to develop urban & regional agriculture.

In Detroit we can no longer afford to contaminate our environment with 68 superfund sites, 281 facilities releasing toxic chemicals, poor air quality with high particulate matter well above national and state averages and soil contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, lead, & cadmium.  The cumulative impact of this pollution is literally killing people. 

We must continue to work to empower the Detroit community to value the air, land and water ecology.  Our food system is directly nested in our environmental/ecological systems & worldwide energy footprint and in the JUST TRANSITION campaign we are calling for a transition from our extreme energy economy to a JUSTICE centered, localized, resilient economy.  Policy has a significant role to play in this shift towards resilience and must be leveraged to build transformative solutions. 

We are calling the full community to join the discussion, work and campaigns to help shift our food system and all of our public systems into a climate conscious, local/regional centering. We need solutions which will promote and enhance environmental justice, health & nutritional well-being, and economic equity.  This requires a triple bottom line food system which has justice in every element, our quality of life and the earth requires it.