In New York City, a Food Movement Worthy of the Name
Last year, Michael Pollan raised the question of “whether or not there is a ‘food movement’ in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system.” He wrote this in regard to Prop 37 in California—a battle the food movement did not win—though NRDC supported the initiative.
But here in New York City, food activists are beginning to show some real political muscle—including getting involved in NYC mayor’s race. This past summer, six of the then-candidates came together for the first-ever Mayoral Forum on Food. The moderator, NYU professor and longtime food movement leader, Marion Nestle, asked candidates to tackle issues of hunger, infrastructure, and sustainability. More than 2000 people attended the forum—showing the growing strength of the movement. For a summary of that fantastic event, be sure to check out Johanna Dyer’s blog.
Then, yesterday, City Council members held a hearing on the status of the New York City food system. Speaker Christine Quinn’s office recently released an update to her forward-thinking 2010 FoodWorks report and the related food legislation from summer 2011. The purpose of the hearing was to better understand the progress we’ve made in recent years and to see where we still have work to do.
NRDC testified at this hearing, offering two next steps for the City Council to continue its leadership and improve New York City’s food system. Though they are only two of the many ways we can work to get more local and sustainable food to New Yorkers, the incorporation of these recommendations into the city’s larger food plan would provide clear and lasting benefits.
First, we asked that the city leverage its enormous purchasing power by setting concrete goals and sustainability criteria for local purchasing. The City Council took an important first step in encouraging local purchasing when it passed Local Law 50 of 2011,which established guidelines to help city agencies begin purchasing local food and reporting the geographic origin of their food. (NRDC worked to get a similar bill passed in Albany this summer and that bill is now awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.)
The City Council should build on this bill and require concrete local purchasing targets so that agencies can allocate necessary resources. Additionally, it should incorporate sustainability criteria for local purchasing so we ensure that the environment and human health are protected as we grow our agricultural economy.
Second, we asked the City Council to work closely with the new mayor to establish a wholesale farmers market as part of the overall redevelopment of Hunts Point Market in the South Bronx. Such a food hub would fill a major distribution gap in the regional food system by providing a permanent location for small- and medium- sized growers to sell wholesale food directly to supermarkets, restaurants, and other large buyers.
A broad coalition of groups—including NRDC, American Farmland Trust, New York Farm Bureau, and leading South Bronx environmental justice organizations have already asked state and city officials to push forward this long-overdue project. And The New York Times, in a strong editorial, has also called on Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg to make the wholesale farmers market a reality.
Given the interest—both personal and political—in food, there is hope that these and other important food issues will continue to get traction in the new administration.