• Common Roots

Food Policy Councils

Written with Lauren Azotea, VISTA at ServErie and co-chair of the Erie Food Policy Advisory Council

As a society, we’ve decided that housing and health are priorities in need of oversight and policy to ensure people are treated fairly and taken care of. Food policy is designed with trade in mind: growing mega monoculture crops and shipping them all over the world, which uses up an absurd amount of resources, contributes to global warming, and kills off natural ecosystems all while not feeding people affordably or paying farmers appropriately for, you know, feeding the entire world. And the numbers are clear: 1 in 10 households are food-insecure. In Crawford County alone, 10,690 households are considered food-insecure. Most can’t afford food, much less good food. Food policy in its present form has very little to do with this problem, since its primary concern is in maximizing profit on the food we produce.

That’s why some communities are banding together to figure out how they can improve their own local food systems. These groups are called food policy councils. They promote local food, encourage local institutions to buy more whole and local produce, demand their leaders help bring wholesome food to food deserts, and take grocery stores to task for buying food from abroad instead of the farm down the road growing the same product. Some food policy councils are run by governments, most by concerned citizens, some under cooperative extensions. The main idea behind a council is that food is very important and affects most of life, but no one organization oversees it.

The Detroit Food Policy Council was established by the Detroit City Council. Today it educates Detroit residents on a healthy food system and examines city policy and its effect on the food system. For example, the Council prepares a report on how people in Detroit get their food, how much schools spend on lunches, and where the food in markets comes from. They also interviewed candidates for city positions in 2013 on food-related issues and released the conversations in a voter’s guide so Detroit voters can influence policy themselves.

(From the Detroit Food Policy Council's Facebook page)

You don’t have to live in a big city to develop a food policy council to affect your local food system. Erie has its own, and the VISTA responsible for its inception shared how a food policy council comes to be.

Step 1: Find people who care and get them around a table together. It helps if they are familiar with the details of a local food system, but community members are really important, too. The plan the Council develops needs to be something regular people want to and feel able to implement. Describe the problems you’re experiencing with the local food system. Brainstorm solutions together.

Step 2: Figure out how to enact those solutions. Because the Council works through local policy (rather than independent of local government or through business plans for profit), you can use city governmental power to enact the changes you don’t see state or federal government enforcing to improve your food system. True facts, the Erie VISTA says: there will be hiccups. If it were easy, we would have already done it.

If it were easy,

we would have

already done it.

Step 3: Describe these hiccups as you go. Research how other councils or similar entities have resolved the hiccups. True facts: those hiccups will have hiccups. Question all your life choices. But rinse and repeat, because you and your council care about improving the local food system.

Where in Meadville can we go with comments on our food system? Is this an issue close to your heart? What can you offer locally to enact change?

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