The New York City Council plans to boost food security in America’s most populated city—more than 1 million New Yorkers currently go hungry or lack access to healthy, nutritious food. With this new plan, Council speaker Corey Johnson plans to improve food policy, nutrition in schools, and make fresh produce widely available.
In Johnson’s Growing Food Equity in NYC agenda, the council members stress the city’s hunger problems hit hard low-income and color communities. Proposed solutions target feeding all residents better while cutting food waste, boosting urban agriculture, and food education.
“Food is a human right, which means as a city we need to establish food policies to help ensure that none of our residents are going hungry or relying on unhealthy foods to survive because they don’t have the means or access to nutritious meals,” says Johnson. “I want to create a better New York where equitable food policies are front and center in everything we do.”
Providing all New Yorkers with more coherent, in-sync food policies is a priority in the agenda. The Council plans to enable the Office of Food Policy to create a citywide food plan and oversee all food strategies across the city. It also aims to scale up successful food programs, such as those targeting school nutrition and the Health Bucks Program, which provides low-income residents with coupons for fresh fruit and vegetables.
More neighborhoods lacking grocery stores will qualify for the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program, so more people can access affordable, healthy food. Since 2009, the program encourages retailers to set up big shops where produce takes about 10 percent of the retail space and perishable foods take up 30 percent. The Council aims to use a Supermarket Need Index to spot and slash more of the city’s food deserts.
In 2020, NYC Council will fund a US$1 million pilot program to help students at the City University of New York (CUNY)—half of whom declared themselves food insecure in the past month in a recent survey—eat enough nutritious food. City authorities will also lobby for the state of New York to give college students bigger availability to food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
The council aims to create an Office of Urban Agriculture to manage a new Urban Agriculture Plan in order to expand and reap all the health, environmental, and economic benefits of community gardens, while empowering community gardeners. According to Johnson’s report, “the office will… recognize that parks, community gardens, urban farms, and green roofs are key tools in combatting and adapting to climate change.”
Further solutions include requiring food-purchasing city agencies to create food waste prevention plans, improving meal quality in middle and high schools through more deli-style cafeterias, boosting budgets for school kitchens and running awareness campaigns for underused summer meal plans.
Local councilors, leaders of NYC food initiatives, non-profit organizations, and academics hailed the agenda and pledged their support for projects.
“The Office of Food Policy shall develop a 10-year food policy plan [which] will aim to reduce hunger, improve nutrition, increase access to healthy foods, reduce food waste, increase urban agriculture, and much more,” says Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “For the first time, New York City is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling food issues and addressing hunger in our City.”