Monday, February 22, 2010

FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System

On February 17, New York City released FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System, a report that came out of the discussions held at the NYC Food & Climate Summit held in December. This document purports to be “the most comprehensive effort to date to unify and reform New York City’s policies regarding the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.” The ultimate goal is the development and reform of food policies that integrate climate and energy objectives with social, public health and economic goals. This shows just how far-reaching the effects of food policy are on the overall health of a city, and is really an answer for anyone with a skeptical friend who may question the importance of class “just about food.” Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer, explains, “By devoting serious attention to our food system, city government can in one stroke improve public health, sustainability, and job creation.” The blueprint is less than fifty pages and outlines pragmatic concise recommendations in 10 different areas and provides context to understand the current problems of a broken food system. These 10 different categories with specific goals are: Urban Agriculture, Regional Food Production, Food Processing and Distribution, New Markets, Procurement of Regionally Grown Food, Education, Food Waste, Plastic Water Bottles, Food Economy, Government Oversight and Coordination of Food Policy Programs. I highly recommend that you, dear blog reader, should take a look at this document, but in the rest of this post I’m just going to discuss a couple of the recommendations I found most interesting, controversial, or applicable to class discussions.

In the section dealing with education, the suggestion to “require a food curriculum in public schools,” certainly sounds like a great idea and the most logical way to address the noble goal to “educate New York City’s children to become a new generation of healthy and environmentally aware eaters.” In class, we’ve frequently come to the conclusion that many food-related problems -- most clearly childhood obesity (1 in 5 NYC kindergartners are obese) -- can be combated through educational programs. The question is; who will draft the “mandatory a food, agriculture, and nutrition curriculum for K-12 students?” I was taught, in the 90s, from the 1992 food pyramid (officially titled the Improved American Food Guide Pyramid), which even in ’92, many experts saw as outdated or misleading. The USDA is currently publishing updates every five years to the 2005 MyPyramid model, but there are still concerns that the USDA is pressured by lobbyists groups especially regarding Big Dairy’s influence on the “milk” section of the pyramid. I was also taught that 3 glasses of milk a day was a healthful recommendation, but this may not actually be the case. I just hope that any mandatory food curriculum would be kept current and any possible “just say no to soda” campaigns wouldn’t make the same mistakes of the ineffective DARE program. The recommendations to expose city kids to farms and gardens and the “skills to purchase and prepare raw foods” are great ways to incorporate hands-on food and farms education into the curriculum. I’d imagine that the third educational recommendation, to “institute meatless Mondays in City schools,” could be more controversial. Personally, I think this is a great idea and echoes the recommendations that came out of our class discussions to cut back on meat-centric meals in an effort to reduce the harmful effects of unsustainable factory farming. I am curious to know if this policy will actually be enacted since it is currently within the within “budgetary, logistical and administrative jurisdiction” of the NYC DOE SchoolFood office and that the Baltimore School System is currently running such a program.

In an effort to keep this post shorter than the blueprint I’m writing about (and encourage a lively discussion in the comments), I’m going to end my discussion of the recommendations now, and just conclude with an interesting quote from the introduction section:
Until recently, it would have been unheard of to host a conversation about farming and agriculture in a city that paved the pastures of Harlem more than a century ago. But with the world’s population expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and the majority of people living in cities for the first time in history, it has become clear that cities will play a pivotal role in both feeding the world and meeting the climate change challenge.

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