Andrew Yang, Mayoral Candidate 2021 Food Policy Interview

by NYC Food Policy Editor

In New York City, 1.2 million residents were food insecure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that number has increased to around 2 million. How would you decrease poverty and end hunger in New York City?

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the glaring socioeconomic and racial disparities in our City that contribute to food insecurity. As mayor, I will affirm access to food as a basic right that must be equitably distributed. To protect this right, we have to target fundamental causes of food insecurity including persistent poverty and growing inequality. 

My goal is to make New York the leading anti-poverty City. We will create a universal basic income system providing the most needy 500,000 New Yorkers an average of $2,000 per year in cash relief. As will be discussed in more detail below, we will couple this financial relief with a commitment to building a sustainable local food capacity that will ensure no New Yorker goes hungry. Our goal is to create a system that is flexible and prepared to respond to future crises while providing stable access to both enough food and enough nutritious food. 

What specific steps will you take to increase the participation of eligible New Yorkers in federally-funded programs such as SNAP and WIC?

SNAP and WIC are crucial components of the food security safety net. Not only do we need to increase participation, we also need to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate. My administration will coordinate with New York State to create a streamlined process under which individuals can apply for several federal, state, and City-level safety net and nutrition programs simultaneously. We will also advocate for reforms to increase WIC and SNAP recipients’ access to online grocery shopping and Farmer’s Markets, including providing support to participating merchants themselves.

To increase participation, I will target outreach and educational initiatives towards disproportionately-impacted communities. To identify areas with the most need, I will advocate for data-sharing agreements among state and City agencies, and partner with local community leaders and nonprofits. We will also ensure the availability of language- and culturally-appropriate messaging and educational materials. We have to be proactive about advertising these programs in the communities that need them most, and ensuring that enrollment is simple and accessible.

Would you increase the administrative power of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy or would you provide a different structure for New York City food oversight? Please specifically include how your plan would a) enhance mechanisms for community engagement and direct democracy and b) unify the City’s public policies related to food (that are currently split among many different agencies and many massive, private, non-profit groups)?

To ensure that food is provided equitably by the ten City agencies routinely purchasing and serving meals, my administration will strengthen and expand the Mayor’s Office of Food policy. The Food Czar team launched as part of Covid-19 response efforts shows that inter-agency, centralized oversight is effective, and serves as a good model. 

However, streamlining oversight is not enough–we have to engage stakeholders across the community to ensure New Yorkers’ needs are being met. My administration will convene a food policy council with community representatives, farmers, distributors, independent restaurant owners, and other stakeholders to serve as a formal source of feedback and advice. We will also meet regularly with community members and provide a centralized platform for New Yorkers to direct complaints and feedback about food-related issues. 

How will you ensure the lived-experiences and expertise of communities of color are incorporated into the development and implementation of policies to build a more equitable food system? How will your policies approach the structural racism that exists in our food system?

My administration is committed to giving members of communities of color both a voice in designing our policy and a say in its outcome. 

Structural racism contributes to food insecurity in innumerable ways, from housing policy that reinforces food deserts to employment discrimination and wage theft against food sector employees. My administration will take a comprehensive approach to equity starting first with the representation of members of vulnerable communities in my administration and on advisory bodies, and regular engagement with local communities. We will work to address upstream causes of food insecurity, including reducing poverty with my Universal Basic Income plan. I will also increase investment in preventive health services, education, and social support services in vulnerable communities. In order to track the effectiveness of these policies and identify communities with the most need, we must also collect better data on food security and nutrition-related inequities.

How do you plan to invest in long-term food sovereignty in NYC that moves away from the current investment in Emergency Food as a response to systemic and long term food insecurity?

New York needs a proactive, sustained investment in local food security infrastructure. My administration will prioritize contracts to NYC-based food and hospitality businesses, and will fund and support food cooperatives and other community-based sources of food. The USDA/NIFA Community Food Project model is an excellent example of what I hope to achieve. We will also encourage the establishment and growth of local farms, in particular black-, indigenous-, and people-of-color-owned farms. Finally, we will expand local and regional food capacity, including rail and barge availability and mixed-use industrial activity within the City.

I also recognize that there are many possible crises that can interrupt New York City’s food supply. Developing a food-specific emergency plan is a priority for my administration. One lesson learned from our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of online grocery orders and food delivery. We need to recruit and train a volunteer workforce that can rapidly mobilize in times of need, and that can reliably deliver food to vulnerable communities. We will also encourage sustained relationships between food banks and schools – even temporary school closures place children at risk of food insecurity. 

Approximately 230 million meals are served annually by our NYC agencies. The Good Food Purchasing Program, which is currently in the early stages of implementation here in NYC, uses the enormous strength of our City’s food procurement power to improve the local and regional food systems in the areas of workers’ rights, environmental sustainability, local economies, nutrition, animal welfare, and meaningfully infuse racial equity and transparency practices into the food system. We want to understand your commitment to maximizing the impact of the Good Food Purchasing Program in your administration. Can you speak to the resources that you would harness to make this happen?

My administration is fully committed to City-wide implementation and maximization of the Good Food Purchasing Program. Community input is crucial at this early stage, and we will ensure that formal structures are in place for soliciting and incorporating community advice, as discussed above. We will also make sure that structures are in place to monitor procurements to assess their ongoing alignment with collective purchasing models. 

Sustained investment is crucial to the success of this program, and we will take care that funding is stable and sufficient to maximize impact. As the program grows, we will explore opportunities to expand local food infrastructure such as the Greenmarket Regional Food Hub to meet the scale of procurement.

It is important for students to have access to food that fuels them and helps them succeed in school. Students deserve school meals that are a respected, valued part of the school day as well as a wide range of food options, including Halal, Kosher, and options for people with extreme allergies. How important is school food to you? What would you do to improve the school meal quality, experience, and options?

School food is incredibly important and is an effective way to combat both food insecurity and poverty. Studies show that participation in the National Student Lunch Program reduces food insufficiency by 14%, and the program lifts 1.3 million people out of poverty – these programs must be supported and expanded.

My administration will continue the innovation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic to improve school food. For students learning remotely, we will explore bulk food box “grab and gos” and ensure culturally-appropriate food options are available based on the needs of the community. We will also raise awareness of summer meals programs and local resources for families in need.

Incentivizing on-site food production at schools and access to nutritious, fresh products is also important for student health. We will explore farm to school programs and work to strengthen food and nutrition education in our schools. 

What would you do to improve the quality and nutritional value of institutional meals provided by City agencies (e.g. school food, senior meals, etc.)?

New York City agencies provide upwards of 200 million meals each year. I will make sure that these programs are adequately funded and have equal access to quality ingredients. By centralizing oversight of City food programs and building local food infrastructure, my administration will be able to more tightly control nutritional content and encourage bulk procurement, thus lowering costs. Maximizing the Good Food Purchasing Program will help us achieve this goal, as will uniform nutritional standards for City programs.

Increasing community access to fresh food is also a priority. This could include the creation of food pantries in senior centers, community kitchens, and school gardens. Our plan must be comprehensive – maximizing centralized procurement power and standardized quality, while ensuring the freshness of food and tailoring to local needs.

How will you work to better support and expand the capacity of non-profit community-based organizations and their staff who are serving meals to older adults through the Department for the Aging, including Senior Center and home-delivered meal providers? (For context, in normal times, these chronically underfunded systems serve roughly 20,000 and 30,000 older adults respectively, and could be better utilized to expand their reach.)

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed the importance of a robust support system for the aging and elderly. My administration will ensure that these systems are funded appropriately to reflect the immense benefits they provide. To expand their capacity, we must recruit and train both employees and volunteers able to handle excess capacity in times of crisis. We must also be creative in our solutions, including expanding drive-through pantry bag pick-ups, encouraging seniors-only distribution hours, and increasing the number of home delivery drivers. Coordination with local nonprofits and community centers is also important in making food easily accessible for those with limited mobility. 

What would you do to ensure food workers are treated equitably?

Food workers are a critical piece of our City’s infrastructure – our community could not survive or thrive without them. As essential workers on the frontlines, many of whom are employed by small businesses, food workers are also particularly vulnerable to health and economic crises. My administration will convene a focus group of food workers and other stakeholders to create a workforce development plan to improve working conditions and job security. We will also partner with labor advocacy organizations to monitor and vigorously enforce workplace safety, employment discrimination, and related regulations.

While highly-capitalized restaurants were able to invest in COVID-19 safety measures, small businesses, many of which serve vulnerable communities, struggled. Many closed for good. The City must give small businesses the financial support they need to invest safety for both food workers and diners. For food workers laid off due to the pandemic, we will encourage programs that connect workers with businesses that are currently hiring. We will also expand access to training programs and education necessary for career advancement.

How would you fortify and expand community-driven efforts towards an equitable, sustainable and resilient food system?

New York City is a complex, ever-changing ecosystem that requires local and dynamic approaches to equity. To help people navigate this ecosystem, my administration will help to create and maintain a public, timely dataset of all food pantries, soup kitchens, and emergency food resources. We will also open bilateral, regular channels of communication with community members, particularly those in immigrant and other vulnerable communities. We need to encourage an accurate and up-to-date flow of information in an understandable format, which includes translation of educational materials and notices into the appropriate languages.

The City must also develop guidelines for equitable meal distribution. Recent studies have conducted geospatial analyses of the City’s food resources, and this data is crucial for identifying areas in need. New York Health + Hospitals and other organizations in close contact with vulnerable communities members should regularly screen for food insecurity. My administration will streamline the process of applying for safety net programs so that people can be rapidly connected with needed resources.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

A Belvita breakfast biscuit and some green tea. 

One word you would use to describe the food system?


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