The United States’ food system is in crisis. It is propped by agricultural subsidies and programs that promote overproduction of the ingredients for processed and junk food at the cost of fruits and vegetables. Our food policies, which are the de facto health policy, are outdated, unscientific, inconsistent, and wasteful. Worse of all, they are undemocratic—representing the interest of the few and ignoring the needs of the many. In effect, our current food policies are fueling diet-related chronic diseases instead of promoting health.
Food policies are any decisions designed to influence food production, distribution, and consumption and they are present at every level of government. These policies may seem distant and complex, but if you are concerned about who has access to healthy food in your community or how to improve the food environment for your family, there is a way to really make a difference. You can help advocate for sensible policies that prioritize public health and are informed by the best available science. Here are five reasons why food policy change starts with you:
#1: Food matters to everyone because everybody eats!
Not only does food enable our survival, but food also helps to shape our identities. It brings us joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. Cultures have incorporated food into their traditions and rituals for thousands of years. Cuisines have developed to tie people to the abundance of their regions. Communities share food at important events and use food to bring people together to celebrate all aspects of life.. As a consumer, changing what food is available and accessible in your community starts at your dinner table and extends to every food space.
#2: You can influence decisions made about food in your community
The policy process is confusing and convoluted, and there are numerous stakeholders involved along the food-availability spectrum. Our elected officials find themselves balancing multiple priorities on every imaginable issue. Food producers (from farmers to manufacturing companies) must consider their profits alongside consumer preferences, constantly assessing the best way to meet competing needs in schools, public institutions, restaurants, and grocery store aisles. Identifying the key stakeholders and decision makers who influence the availability of healthy food will help you determine how to make your voice heard. Engaging with decision makers helps them make decisions that reflect the desires of your community.
#3: You have science on your side!
The evidence showing what works to improve the quality of food in a community as well as on the relationship between healthy food and better lives exists. Moreover, there are scientists, experts, and researchers all across the country studying the outcomes of food-related public health interventions. By collaborating with scientists and public health professionals and by sharing evidence-based information with decision makers, you can help strengthen their ability to develop food policies that benefit your community and its health.
#4: Power in numbers
The work of influencing public decisions on food cannot be done alone! You have the opportunity to contribute your interest, passion, knowledge, or skills to efforts already underway in your community. And, your voice can strengthen the efforts of others to take action for food policy change. Through broad stakeholder engagement, you can strengthen the voice for change. By connecting with those who have a stake in changing food in your community, you can work together to define shared goals toward which everyone can work.
#5: The route to healthier food policies starts with you
Oftentimes, it can feel like the deck is stacked against us. But with knowledge of the policy process and strong relationships with those who make decisions and input from individuals and organizations already working on the issue, we can transform food policy to better serve our communities’ needs. If you are ready to take the next step on the route to healthier food policies, download the Union of Concerned Scientists’ new resource Healthy Food in Your Community: A Toolkit for Policy Change. With this toolkit, you can decode the often overwhelming world of food policy; learn about the local policy decisions that shape access to healthy, affordable food; and equip yourself to bring food policy change to your community.