The Good Food New York Bill may have the potential to enable New York’s public institutions to buy food based on what’s best for local communities, workers, farmers, animals, and the planet. If passed, the Bill will make New York the first U.S. state to install a values-based approach to food purchasing.
Introduced by State Senator Michelle Hinchey, the Bill provides public institutions with a 10 percent budget increase to source food from vendors that align with five core values. It intends to support local economies, environmental sustainability, a valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.
Currently, New York’s public institutions, including schools, senior centers, correctional facilities, and hospitals, are barred from buying anything but the cheapest option—which usually means from large corporations.
One of the organizations hoping to change this by supporting the Bill is the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA). “Many of our public institutions are pushed to choose the cheapest bid, often from low-road employers and labor violators,” Christina Spach, Food Policy Campaigns Coordinator at FCWA, tells Food Tank. “We have an opportunity with the Good Food N.Y. Bill to lift barriers so that institutions can base their food contracting on more than just cost, including the health and safety of workers along their supply chains.”
Spach explains that if passed, the Bill could lead to more contracts with unionized workplace and worker-owned cooperatives, as well as divestment from companies that break labor laws and “pay the lowest wages than any other industry.”
Lawmakers haven’t updated New York’s food purchasing laws since the 1970s, while municipalities spend well over US$1 billion dollars to purchase food.
“This Bill is a blueprint that provides direct pathways for public institutions to reward climate-forward food production, source from producers who respect workers’ rights, support small farms and BIPOC businesses with a direct benefit to local economies, and elevate nutritious whole foods as the high-quality standard our communities deserve,” Senator Hinchey announced.
Hinchey hopes the Bill will empower localities to use their publicly funded purchasing power to support circular food economies and give back dividends to students, seniors, and other community members.
Alexina Cather, Director of Policy Advocacy and Sustainability at The James Beard Foundation, tells Food Tank that to make an impact across the Bill’s five core values, New York City must improve its transparency. “The city needs to improve their data collection to understand how city departments are spending their food budgets.”
“Currently, data on food procurement exists for less than half of the total purchases due to lack of traceability. Improving data collection will take immense efforts but is imperative to transparency,” Cather explains.
In February, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed two executive orders, formalizing the city’s commitment to good food purchasing. The first order, Executive Order 8, Commitment to Health and Nutrition: Food Standards and Good Food Purchasing, tasks the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy with revising the City Agency Food Standards. The second order requires that all agencies’ food advertisements feature healthy food.
In September of 2021, the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy released the report, Citywide Goals & Strategy For The Implementation of Good Food Purchasing. The report found that across the five core values, New York City has the greatest need for improvement in environmental sustainability and animal welfare. Only one percent of food purchased by New York City’s public schools met the standards for environmental sustainability and three percent for animal welfare.
“We are committed to helping New Yorkers understand more about their food, and to a procurement strategy that inspires new ways of thinking about our food and drives positive change across the local, regional and even global food system with the purchasing power of The City of New York,” Kate Mackenzie of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy stated at the release of the report.
Across New York, more than 80 labor and food organizations are mobilizing around this Bill. On March 3rd, Senator Michelle Hinchey held a press conference, where she stated, “Our purchasing power is one of the strongest powers we have as a society, and my bill will help communities in every corner of the state harness that influence in their food purchasing decisions, revolutionizing the way we feed New Yorkers through a values-based model driven by sustainability, equity, fairness and inclusion.”
“If the Good Food NY Bill passes it will greatly influence procurement practices in other U.S. cities and states,” Cather tells Food Tank. “New York City has long been a leader in progressive food policies that have influenced other municipalities. Policies enacted in NYC around nutrition, sodium reduction, universal free breakfast and lunch, banning plastic straws, and improving the safety of food delivery workers have already paved the way for other cities to do the same.”
New York’s constituents can send in letters to state senators and assembly members to vote yes on the Bill.