Friday, March 18, 2011

Food Security, Food Access, Food Justice

What Can I Do?

Submitted and Published in the Michigan Citizen, February 6, 2011

According to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, the definition of food security is: When all of the members of a community have easy access to adequate amounts of affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate food.

Those few words describe a complex issue. Far too many people in Detroit do not have food security. Many cannot physically get to fresh food because of health and/or lack of transportation. Others cannot afford the cost of healthy food. Still others are understandably confused as to what “healthy” food means. It seems like an overwhelming topic that as an individual, any effort you make, will have little or no significant impact on your fellow Detroiters’ ability to access food. Or, maybe you think that this problem doesn’t affect you if you don’t live within the city of Detroit.

However, this issue goes beyond accessibility to the very heart of how food is produced, distributed, sold and eaten. Our industrial food system negatively impacts every individual in every community in the U.S. It is not working for any of us and the biggest negative impact is on those with the fewest resources. Many advocates describe it as a broken system: unhealthy, unsustainable, and unjust.

The good news: Food has become a hot topic from local grassroots activism to national political debate. From a vegetable garden at the White House and the First Lady’s initiative to address childhood obesity to urban agriculture and the rise in popularity of local and organic produce. There is a growing awareness and interest in changing the food system, from farm to table to landfill, that affects our health, our economy, our communities, and our environment.
Detroit has the opportunity to create a community where all of its citizens have access to fresh, sustainably grown food but we must work at all levels to accomplish our goal. There are successful efforts underway in Detroit right now. From expanding the regional food hub at Eastern Market to the Garden Resource Program that teaches residents how to grow food to the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s initiative to help local grocers improve their stores and fresh food offerings and the Detroit Public Schools’ success ensuring that as many children as possible participate in the school breakfast and lunch program, there are many people focused on improving our local food system.
You may be asking: “what can I do?” There are many ways to get involved in local, state and federal initiatives on food security. Among them are:

Participate in the First Annual Powering Up the Food System Summit organized by the Detroit Food Policy Council on May 19 and 20 at Eastern Market. The Summit will feature opportunities to learn and become involved in community-led efforts to increase food access and build a stronger local food system that benefits all Detroiters. Attend one of the pre-summit forums. Following the Summit, join one of the task forces that will develop solutions that build on current efforts and speed up progress toward a healthy, sustainable, just food system.
Learn more about the city's efforts to develop an urban agriculture policy and share your thoughts with leaders about how other proposals that are being developed—such as, for example, under the Detroit Works strategy—might affect food security (positively or negatively).

If you have school age children, encourage your child’s school to develop a Healthy Food Policy. School policies that promote healthy breakfast and lunch programs also create an opportunity for small businesses.

Contact your representatives in the State legislature, which is considering an end to the Earned Income Tax Credit. If passed, this will have impact on impoverished households' income and further challenge their efforts to meet basic needs, likely increasing their reliance on area food assistance programs.

Improve your own household’s food habits. Visit one of the many Farmer’s Markets that operate from June through October or come to Eastern Market all year round. And, invite a neighbor who may not have transportation to shop with you. Support your church or community soup kitchen or food pantry. Shop your local grocery store. Talk to the manager about offering Michigan fruits, vegetables and other products. Buying locally produced products helps keep money right here in our own community.

Cheryl A Simon is the Coordinator of the Detroit Food Policy Council. She can be reached at (313) 833-0396 or