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?
Both poverty and hunger must end in New York City. The question implies that commercial, for-profit food distribution is the only channel to end hunger. I believe that enough food exists in New York City to feed everyone, regardless of income level. My point of view is informed by the work of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Feeding America, the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, the NYC Department of Emergency Management, and my nearly 30 years of experience as a member of the Park Slope Food Coop. So let’s touch on ending poverty and then focus on ending hunger.
Poverty will be greatly reduced by a combination of government relief and economic growth, especially in the small business sector. Longer-term poverty eradication will rely upon holistic solutions that include improved low- and no-income housing, my proposal for Universal Childcare, and an equitable education system that meets every student and their families where they are. I applaud Senator Schumer’s and Representative Ritchie Torres’s bill to revise the Earned Income Tax Credit and to create a Child Tax Credit to provide direct cash relief to the lowest-earning residents; in the Bronx alone, this may lift 50% of children out of poverty.
We can end hunger by a systemic and strategic approach to our food systems, starting from farms, to distribution centers, to distribution endpoints, including schools, restaurants and commercial food services, consumer grocery stores, food pantries, and soup kitchens. This will include introducing new thinking about the relationship between food and profit. The key points in my policies include:
-Prioritizing ending hunger over profit.
-Removing stigma and leveling the playing field: Free school breakfast and lunch for every student.
-Expanding food distribution points, such as schools, childcare centers
-Extracting edible food from the system before it becomes waste (“unused food”). From the farm to the dump, 40% of our food becomes waste. This comes at a huge cost to the environment, climate while creating municipal burdens. (NRDC)
-Wielding the City’s purchasing and public policy power to extract unused food from every point in the farm-to-dump system for redistribution.
-Leveraging the communities of knowledge that already exist, including every non-profit, mutual aid, and other community-based organization involved in food relief, as well as the traditional commercial for-profit operators.
Connecting the dots with data and software systems oriented to direct democracy. We can map every distribution endpoint, every household experiencing food insecurity, and the flows of food from the sources to identify gaps and promote efficiency. This system would support direct engagement by all participants, especially community-based organizations and food recipients on the ground.
-Community-based kitchens. I will invest in and support the construction of commercial kitchens across the city available for use by community-based organizations and by micro-entrepreneurs seeking to start their own food businesses.
-Incentivizing and supporting alternative organizations. These are especially important given the COVID-driven closures of grocery stores that serve lower-income communities across New York City. The two major opportunities I see are
-Alternative ownership structures, including cooperatives, ESOPs
New intermediate processing points, like kitchens to convert low edible food to edible food (e.g. chicken parts and bones to soup)
What specific steps will you take to increase the participation of eligible New Yorkers in federally-funded programs such as SNAP and WIC?
This is a problem that technology and available data can address. By virtue of the City income taxes, the City has the income data on every filer in New York City, which includes the major of undocumented residents. The City can and should develop an integrated services system to automate and maximize the benefits delivery to every New York City resident who qualifies, much like the systems developed by Code for America in the State of California.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) agrees. Data matching and reaching out via text to people eligible but not participating is enormously efficient. City government should be in service to the public, not place the responsibility of outreach on eligible recipients.
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)?
Per my answer above, we need to have a systemic and strategic approach that would provide a different structure for NYC food oversight. Technology will be key for providing data and community engagement/participation.
The Mayor has an opportunity to unify and streamline the public policies related to food. When policies can’t be fully unified, then technology can be used to reconcile divergent policies as I have done several times in my career.
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?
Two competing forces exist the need to have equity across the system AND the need to address the specific cultural needs of each community. I believe we can have both in a bottom-up approach that meets every family, every community where they are.
In the kind of technology system, I’m describing, all communities must be engaged in its creation and the creators must also be reflective of the communities served. The process will be community-driven, where success is measured by the elimination of hunger and the satisfaction of every community.
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?
Emergency Food is a reactive and tactical response to a situation that the City was unprepared for. Fortunately, in this case, the City stepped up to fill a gaping hole in a critical supply chain and forestalled disaster. I commend this effort.
When COVID ends, we can’t go back to the way it was pre-COVID. We must address food as a strategic and essential component of a healthy city, with healthy communities. This effort must be continuous.
Food sovereignty is similar to the City’s water systems in the need to work back to the points of origin of our supply; however, the City needs to develop partnerships with farms across the region and work with adjacent communities and government leaders to enhance the producers of locally grown products, including those produced in New York City.
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?
There needs to be an office devoted to this. At the Park Slope Food Coop, we have a member committee that ensures our food buying meets stringent requirements for worker rights, environmental and climate practices, nutrition, animal welfare, and racial equity practices. This information is available to all members.
The Good Food Purchasing program is very similar to the PSFC’s and must become a permanent part of the City’s food procurement system, as it is at the PSFC. Under my administration, we will make the data publicly available via an open website so that it can influence purchasing decisions beyond the five boroughs.
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?
I am Korean-American and gluten free. I have worked in nearly every job in a restaurant, including the back of house. I pride myself on my cooking.
To me, food represents culture and love. It shows the degree to which we understand people and care for their specific needs. School food is therefore very important. To the greatest extent possible, I believe food should be prepared onsite. If not possible, then it should be prepared in locations close to the school to maximize freshness.
My administration will have a strong emphasis on worker development. My personal experience is that people who work with food are curious and interested about improving their skills and the quality of the finished product. Workers will also have a great deal of knowledge to impart.
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.)?
Quality and nutritional value starts at the source, so the focus would need to be at the ingredient level, which means procurement.
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.)
These organizations and their clients will also benefit from becoming part of the Food Democracy System outlined in the first answer above.
What would you do to ensure food workers are treated equitably?
Foodservice workers are often members of low-income communities. A significant inequity comes from the two-tiered system in which City employees are protected by unions and receive living wages and benefits, while workers in community-based organizations and non-profits generally make minimum wage. We must move to pay parity for equal work. Diversity in the workforce will also be essential for ensuring cultural compatibility for food preparation and service.
On a separate note, we will work with the state legislature to eliminate the ban on tip-sharing with non-service workers in restaurants, so that we can adopt One Fair Wage.
How would you fortify and expand community-driven efforts towards an equitable, sustainable and resilient food system?
See community-based kitchens in the first answer above.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Gluten-free toast with pesto, smoked wild salmon bits and soft-boiled organic eggs. Plain organic Bulgarian yogurt over chopped clementine and organic pear, topped with wild honey. Organic Mexican coffee with almond milk and turbinado sugar.
One word you would use to describe the food system?