Four-year-old Nathan Hobbs, who lives in a homeless shelter with his mother, sits in a stroller with one-dollar bills he received for his birthday pinned to his chest in Los Angeles, Wednesday, September 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
This is what a real food policy conversation looks like: In contrast to the rubbish that passes for a conversation about food and hunger in Congress, last week’s Forum on the Future of Food in New York City offered substantive talk from six mayoral candidates about how to create a healthier, fairer, more sustainable and economically stronger food system. Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, John Liu, Sal Albanese, Anthony Weiner and John Catsimatidis all participated; William Thompson was a late cancellation due to an unspecified emergency.
The forum was moderated by Marion Nestle, an award-winning author and the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Over 730 people packed the auditorium and two overflow rooms, 1,300 people watched the live webcast and #nycfoodforum trended nationally.
The candidates discussed a range of issues and ideas, including: utilizing 5,000 acres of unused land within the city limits for urban farming; ensuring living wages for food workers—14 percent are currently on food stamps, and 90 percent earn below a living wage; boosting school meals—including universal breakfast in the classroom, and grab-and-go carts—to reduce child hunger; revamping city procurement to promote local and regional agriculture; incentivizing green markets to operate in more low-income neighborhoods and establishing transparent benchmarks on SNAP participation, free school meals, urban farming etc. to measure concrete progress in the effort to improve the food system.
“The food movement here is strong enough to have gotten six candidates to show up, take it seriously and answer questions,” said Nestle. “Don’t lose the momentum. This is just the beginning.”
“The massive turn out and heavy media coverage for this event should be a wake-up call to our national leaders,” said Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger, one of twelve organizations that co-hosted the forum. “The reality is that the food and hunger movements are growing in political power and will hold politicians accountable for their actions on these issues.”