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CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute Seeks New Staff

CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute Seeks New Staff

 

The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute is seeking two new senior staff positions. The Director of our Food Policy Monitor will coordinate our policy analysis and advocacy projects and oversee development of policy briefs, policy forums and the newsletter. The Director of Evaluation will provide scientific and programmatic direction to the Institute’s evaluation projects. Closing date for applications is March 9 or until position is filled. For complete job descriptions see the links below or email UrbanFoodPolicy@sph.cuny.edu.

Director of our Food Policy Monitor

Director of Evaluation

Food Policy in New York City Since 2008: Lessons for the Next Decade

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For more than a century, New York City has led the nation in using the authority and resources of municipal government to make healthy food, that most basic of human needs, more available, affordable and safer for all city residents. In this report, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute takes stock of what has changed in food policy in New York City since 2008. The goal is to provide evidence that can inform more equitable solutions to urban food problems in New York City and elsewhere.

Food Policy in New York City Since 2008: Lessons for the Next Decade seeks to answer several questions:

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the cumulative recommendations for food policy that New York City and State officials have made over the last decade?
  2. To what extent have the policies monitored through the New York City Food Metrics report since 2012 been implemented? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this monitoring system?
  3. What is the evidence on the implementation and impact of a broad array of public food policies that have been approved by New York City or State in the last decade?
  4. How have key nutrition and health indicators for the New York City population changed over the last decade? What do these changes tell us about the success and limitations of current food policies?

To find answers to these questions, we reviewed four public sources of evidence. First, we identified all major reports on food and food policy prepared by New York City and State public officials or agencies between 2008 and 2017. We identified 20 such documents with 420 recommendations, which we classified into six broad categories based on their primary goals. These recommendations proposed city and state policies to: (1) improve nutritional well-being; (2) promote food security; (3) create food systems that support economic and community development; (4) ensure sustainable food systems; (5) support food workers; and (6) strengthen food governance and food democracy.

Second, we reviewed the six annual Food Metrics Reports produced by the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy between 2012 and 2017 as mandated by a 2011 City Council law. We describe the findings, strengths and weaknesses of these reports, and examine changes that might make the metrics more useful for improving food policy in New York.

Third, to broaden our understanding of the implementation of city and state food policies, we identified 40 major city and state food policies implemented in the last decade and summarized available data on their implementation and impact.

Finally, we reviewed public data on five key health and social outcomes to analyze changes in New York City in these indicators over the last decade: fruit and vegetable consumption, sugary beverage and soda consumption, rates of obesity and overweight, diagnoses of diabetes, and the number of individuals meeting the USDA definition for food insecurity. Our analysis seeks to determine time trends in these indicators rather than to attribute observed changes to any specific policy.

Each of our methods and sources of data has strengths and weaknesses. By using multiple sources of data, this report provides a comprehensive overview of food policy change in New York in the last decade. Together the evidence presented constitutes the most thorough analysis to date of the food policy landscape in New York City over the last 10 years.

Key Findings

Improving nutritional well-being has been the most consistent food policy goal of city and state public officials. Goals that could benefit from greater policy attention and more involvement of diverse constituencies include reducing food insecurity, protecting food workers, and strengthening food governance and food democracy.

The six annual Food Metrics Reports show measurable progress on 51% of the 37 indicators and sub-indicator that are monitored, providing some assurance that a bare majority of food initiatives that the New York City Council selected for monitoring are moving in the right direction. However, these reports could be more useful to the food planning process by including more data, presented in ways that more clearly show progress or setbacks; disaggregating data geographically to enable communities to identify local problems; and made available in forms that facilitate further analysis by other public agencies, academics and advocates. Finally, most of the metrics chosen are outputs, not outcomes, limiting their value in determining whether monitored policies and programs are making a difference.

Our review of 40 policies that contributed to the six identified policy goals found that for each goal, a portfolio of city and state policies has been implemented over the last decade. For many, evidence demonstrates successful implementation. However, for the most part these policies and programs have not been designed or implemented on a scale likely to lead to meaningful changes in population or societal-level outcomes. These limitations point to the challenge of transforming food environments and reversing the many food-related problems that burden New York City residents and drive inequalities. The accomplishments in food policy to date do show that city and state governments can take action on food policy and implement policies that could lead to improvements in health if brought to scale and sustained and if design problems encountered in early implementation are addressed and partially solved.

The review of health and social outcomes over the last decade showed few or at best small increases in daily fruit and vegetable consumption, some reductions in sugary beverage consumption, persistently high rates of obesity and overweight with stable or widening inequitable distribution by race and ethnicity, modest increases in the proportion of New Yorkers ever diagnosed with diabetes and modest recent declines in the number and percentages of New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity. These findings suggest if New York City is to achieve meaningful improvements in food-related outcomes in the next decade, it will need to consider more than simply maintaining current efforts.

Recommendations

To develop feasible and transformative solutions to New York City’s food problems, we recommend:

  1. Create a New York City Food Plan that charts five to ten year food policy goals for the city, state, and region.
  2. Identify key outcomes and metrics for key food policy goals that can be used to monitor the food plan.
  3. Focus New York City food policies and programs more explicitly on reducing socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities in food-related outcomes and link to city equity initiatives on housing, employment, education, climate change, and zoning.
  4. Strengthen New York City’s public sector in food to better achieve public goals of reduced food insecurity and diet-related diseases and improved sustainability, food-related economic development, and improved pay, benefits and working conditions for food workers.
  5. Create new democracy and governance processes that offer New Yorkers a greater voice in shaping their food environments.
  6. Develop a collaborative food policy research and evaluation agenda that can fill gaps in knowledge and inform more effective and equitable food policy.

 

Partner News & Events

Partner News & Events

 

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2018 Just Food Conference
In Partnership with the Tisch Food Center

Sunday, March 25, 2018  | Teachers College, Columbia University

This year, the 2018 Just Food Conference will convene urban and rural growers, social justice activists, food entrepreneurs, CSA core group leaders, Community- Run Farmers Market managers, youth justice leaders, food policy advocates, and other cross sector stakeholders to share how "Persist/Resist!" resonates in their varied work and experiences. Social justice rooted healers and practitioners will also highlight how healing is a form of resistance and how it is integral to the long term commitment of achieving racial equity and food justice.

 

Read their statement in full: http://bit.ly/2sfzKcr

Recent Food Policy Events

Recent Food Policy Events

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On January 23rd 2018, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute hosted the New York City Sugary Sweetened Beverage (SSB) Roundtable, an event that explored current trends in SSB policy and opportunities for future action. Invited speakers summarized the research on sugary drink consumption, how it affects populations, and policy options for reducing consumption.  The Roundtable, attended by about 100 people, marked the beginning of a collective effort to build a coalition to advance sugary drink policy in New York City. By discussing policy options, listening to community leaders, extracting lessons learned from past efforts, and developing strategies for overcoming obstacles, participants took the first steps towards advancing new sugary drink policies in New York City

Xavier Morales Executive Director of the Praxis Project provided the day’s keynote which focused on the successful efforts in Berkeley California to implement a sugary beverage tax and the coalition strategies that made that policy action possible. A subsequent panel featuring Jim Krieger, Founding Executive Director of Healthy Food America, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Program Manager, Children’s Aid Society and Frances Fleming Milici, PhD, Research Associate, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity focused on the various routes by which SSB policies have been implemented over the last decade and detailed the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the current strategies meant to address SSB consumption. The panel also discussed ways to measure success for SSB policy actions and possibilities for customizing the half dozen or so policy approaches utilized around the world to make them more feasible for New York City.  

The Trump Budget: Ignoring 75 Years of Food Assistance Experience

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President’s Trump’s 2018-2019 budget proposes to replace a portion of SNAP benefits with a package of foods selected and purchased by USDA. Budget officials claim that this will save money because USDA can buy the foods more cheaply at wholesale than consumers can at retail. The “America’s Harvest Box” would contain shelf-stable foods such as canned fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat, shelf-stable milk, ready-to eat cereal, pasta, and peanut butter. Officials stress that the foods included would all be nutritious and “100% US grown and produced,” in keeping with “the President’s leadership on Buy American.” The proposed plan would apply to all households receiving $90 or more in monthly SNAP benefits. The information on proposed distribution options is vague: “States can distribute these boxes through existing infrastructure, partnerships, and/or directly to residences through commercial and/or retail delivery services.”

The proposal constitutes an almost mind-boggling regression in food assistance methodology, ignoring the lessons of three quarters of a century of experience with programs to enable poor families to share in the nation’s agricultural abundance.  In the first place, it appears completely to ignore the costs and challenges of distribution.  The whole point of Food Stamps was to shift the distribution of food aid to poor families to “the normal channels of trade.”  USDA came to this decision after substantial experience with distributing farm surpluses directly to people in need. It  recognized the profound inefficiency of duplicating the nation’s extensive commercial food distribution infrastructure of wholesale and retail grocers and the transportation networks that supply them with a haphazard government “emergency” system just for the poor. After six years of direct commodity distribution, the “Blue and Gold” food stamp program of the late 1930s and early 40s convinced many observers, including agricultural economists, that the use of commercial grocery distribution was far more efficient than a separate government network, even when the program was confined to farm products in surplus supply.

The Blue and Gold program was terminated during World War II because there were no longer substantial farm surpluses, and war related employment had reduced the need, but the memory of the program’s success endured, prompting frequent calls for reestablishment of the food stamp program. Indeed, food stamp legislation was introduced into every Congress between the program’s wartime termination and its eventual reestablishment in 1963.  In the interim, and for a decade or so after the re-establishment of food stamps, commodity distribution continued, and its inadequacies were a major explanation for the scandal of widespread hunger that shook the US in the late 1960s.  You have only to re-read Hunger USA or view the CBS documentary Hunger in America to see what can go wrong with government-selected food packages.

Distribution costs were not the only problem with government food boxes.  The inability to tailor such boxes to the needs of individual households created a second form of inefficiency.  Distributing milk to lactose intolerant people, or products containing sugar to diabetics, or pork to observant Jews, or meat to vegetarians is both wasteful and disrespectful.  In a nation as diverse as ours, cultural and health variations are best served by shifting the choice to the ultimate consumer.  This is why so many long-term food pantries have adopted a consumer choice model.  Pre-packed bags, even for short term emergencies, simply result in too much waste; consumers can make the best choices on behalf of their households. The implication that the government or the food pantry can do a better job of choosing your foods is thoroughly derogatory. Adding injury to insult, the Harvest box would rely upon shelf stable items, often high in sodium and other preservatives, just when nutritionists are urging SNAP participants to use their benefits for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Finally, receipt of a government food box can be stigmatizing.  This is probably less true in an era of Fresh Direct and Amazon.  Today, ordering on-line may be a helpful option for people facing mobility challenges or located far from supermarkets, but for most able-bodied people, shopping for groceries in a situation of actual hands-on choice is still the preferred pattern.  SNAP electronic benefits have made that feasible and relatively free of stigma for millions of Americans.   Now is not the time to back away from the 75 year history of improvements in food assistance.

Observers have been quick to label the proposal “dead on arrival” in Congress, but, as the Web blog Munchies commented, “it demonstrates its priority to gut the social safety net by any means—even the most poorly thought out ones—possible.”

Other aspects of the President’s budget proposals for SNAP have more likelihood of success, as they reflect provisions already championed by the House Agriculture Committee, but the food box plan is the largest single source of proposed savings, $129.2 billion of the proposed $213 billion in cuts over ten years.

 

By Jan Poppendieck, Senior Faculty Fellow at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and author of  Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression (U California Press, 2014)