During a recent event hosted by New York University Steinhardt and Food Tank, food advocates and policymakers discussed the challenges and opportunities New Yorkers face in building a nourishing, equitable, and resilient food system.
Keith Carr, Senior Policy and Government Relations Manager for City Harvest, explains that conversations that avoid the root causes of hunger result in the persistence of inequitable and unsustainable food systems.
Carr also argues that the current charitable model of addressing hunger fails to work. Instead, he says, they contribute to the vulnerability of the city’s food system. “We should not be paid to do what the government should do.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the fragility of and challenges in the food system, speakers also identified points of optimism.
Naama Tamir, Co-Owner of the Brooklyn restaurant Lighthouse, believes the pandemic forced the hospitality industry to address issues that have always existed. For many years, Tamir says, the sector has not done “right by its employees, by its communities, [and] farmers.”
Kate MacKenzie, Director for the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, agrees, noting that more people understand the nuances of food policy. It “became more than just making sure that kitchens and pantries were stocked,” MacKenzie says. Stakeholders began to consider the roles that restaurants, grocery store workers, truck drivers, and more play in the food system.
To build on this growing awareness, the speakers argue for a number of solutions, including better support for farmers.
Marcel Van Ooyen, President and CEO of GrowNYC calls for better investment in producers, especially BIPOC growers, to help them “thrive and expand.” This includes providing resources, training, and access to markets. “Farmers are the most innovative people in the world,” Van Ooyen says. But demand for farmers’ products must exist if they are expected to grow crops that support the health of people and the environment.
The speakers also advocate for policies that address the systemic inequities, with MacKenzie noting that the Mayor’s office is turning their attention to issues of racial injustice in all of their work.
“If you’re not talking about [and] really looking at the causes of food insecurity and hunger — the systemic injustices, the racial injustices that feed into it — nothing is going to change,” Carr says.
Tying everything together, Tamir reminds everyone that takes multi-sectoral approach to food systems change is key. “I think the first step is to start connecting the dots, to start thinking about holistic, circular, cohesive systems,” she says. We need to work with each other, we need to work with the city.”
Watch the full event here:
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Megan Bucknall, Unsplash