2024 Food Policy Changemaker: Gale A. Brewer

by NYC Food Policy Editor

There is no harder working person in the city than New York’s own Gale Brewer. Representing the 6th Council District and sitting as chair if the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, the committee held oversight hearings under her leadership on costs of the migrant crisis, responses to climate emergencies, proliferation of unlicensed cannabis shops, operational challenges in family court, maintaining the municipal workforce, and many others. A member of the Budget Negotiation Team as well as the Committees on Finance, Higher Education, Immigration, Consumer and Worker Protection, Governmental Operations, and Rules, Privileges, and Elections, she recently passed legislation to prevent lithium-ion battery fires, expand the city’s tree canopy, and protect hourly workers.

Not only understanding the nuances of the bills that comes her way, Council Member Brewer has the ability distill this information so that we all can understand the importance. Whether she’s advocating Congress for more food aid through the farm bill, looking for ways to expand food education in public schools, exposing her colleagues and staff to the importance of a strong and resilient regional food system created which includes institutional procurement focusing on NYS Farmers and Producers, or an over decade-long focus on Fresh Food for Seniors, we all have Council Member Brewer to thank for these types of impressive initiatives.

We at Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center were honored to have Council Member Brewer at our awards event on June 5, 2024, and to take the time to discuss what policies and legislation are most important to her as a tireless public servant.

What food-related policies are you trying to forward most in this legislative cycle?

  • Int. 557 would require the DOE to submit an annual report on nutrition education in NYC schools to the New York City Council. The DOE would also be required to post the report to their website.
    Int. 133 would exempt certain grocery stores from the commercial rent tax.
    Res. 227 calls on Congress to pass and the President to sign a renewed farm bill that increases funding for food aid. There was a hearing on this resolution had a hearing on May 29, 2024.
  • Local Law 50 of 2011 requires the city chief procurement officer to encourage city agencies to make best efforts to purchase food that is grown, produced, harvested, or processed in New York.

What have been your biggest wins in New York City Council in the arena of food and food policy? 

  • Fresh Food for Seniors (2012 to present)
  • Fresh Food Box CSA at Municipal Building with DCAS and GrowNYC
  • Funding Allocations
    • Food pantries and food boxes
    • Food education 
    • Wellness in the Schools
    • Hydroponics at MLK Jr. High School and PS 333
    • Rooftop Gardens 
    • Project Renewal culinary program 
  • Oversight Hearing on food procurement (2022)

Throughout your career as a Councilmember and as Manhattan Borough President, how has the city’s relationship with food access changed most? What has surprised you the most?
How difficult it is for city agencies to procure local food. Buying food from local producers helps strengthen supply chains, employs other New Yorkers, and encourages more local producers to start up. We are spending millions of dollars in food purchases — so why isn’t that money being spent on fresh fruits and vegetables as well as produce and dairy from New York State farms? Farmers in counties further away cannot make the trip to the Green Markets. If they had the opportunity to sell to the City of NY they would be more sustainable. 

What do you think is overlooked most often when discussing the foodscape of New York?
Food education in public schools. Research has shown that instilling healthy eating habits in younger people is easier and more effective than efforts to change unhealthy eating habits in adults. Health education has a positive impact, not only on health outcomes, but also on academic achievement. We must focus on ensuring that our children remain healthy and happy and that includes good and healthy food options for children in our schools.

Where did you grow up? Massachusetts
What city or town do you call home? Manhattan
What is your background and education? Manhattan Borough President (2014 to 2021); City Council Member (2002 to 2013); MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; undergraduate work at Columbia University and Bennington College.
What is one word you’d use to describe our food system? Complicated  
Who is your food policy hero? Shula Puder 
What was your breakfast this morning? Coffee with half and half 
What is your favorite food? Peanut butter and jelly sandwich 
What is your favorite last meal on earth? Italian 
What is your favorite food hangout? Gennaro’s at 665 Amsterdam Avenue
Who are your food policy social media must-follows? @WITSinSchools

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