At Food Tank’s inaugural bi-monthly conversation about food and agriculture on Capitol Hill, moderator Danielle Nierenberg guides a discussion on the intersection between food and health, breaking down the silos between the two to support better practices in governance and the food system.
Panelists Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University; Dr. Robert Graham, physician and founder of FRESH Med NYC; Gregory Cooper, Manager of DC Central Kitchen; and Representative James McGovern (D-MA) inform legislators about the role that fresh, healthy food plays in individual and community health. “We need to show legislators that food can be seen as medicine,” says Graham. “And it is important to bring farmers, doctors, health policy makers, nonprofits, and chefs all to the table to talk about that importance—so that we can actually put the right plate on the table.”
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According to Merrigan, the right plate is one that regards healthy eating differently than balancing food groups and counting nutrients. For example, policymakers in Brazil are taking on not only what is on each plate, but the environment surrounding the plate. “They show pictures of food and talk about the importance of dining as families and communities—the communal aspect of food,” says Merrigan. “How can we bring that aspect of community back into food? Young people are yearning for it, and I think we’ll get to health if we look at food differently.”
Yet the panelists agree that U.S. policymakers do not yet envision the intersection between food and health. “We have these debates here in Congress that rip us apart over the high costs of health care, and yet one of the best ways to control health care costs is to make sure that people have access to good quality nutrition,” says Rep. McGovern. As the highest ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee’s Nutrition Subcommittee and co-chair of the bipartisan House Hunger Caucus, McGovern advocates for better food policy to support communities beyond the reach of consistent access to healthy food. “We need to come to grips with the fact that the benefits that we provide people who are struggling are inadequate,” says McGovern.
For better food policy, Cooper notes legislators are well aware of the issues limiting families’ access to medicine through food. “But legislators don’t invite the individuals whose lives are impacted by this to the table with them, to actually hear about how this has gone from generation to generation and is affecting health, mental states, and wellbeings,” says Cooper. “Individuals really want these foods: we need to make it happen for them, and do more.”
Conversations About Food: Food Tank Live from the U.S. Capitol is a bi-monthly event in Washington D.C. The next event on July 10 will focus on the intersection of food, AI, and technology. CLICK HERE to claim your free ticket.