Interview with the Founder of the Brooklyn Food Coalition: Nancy Romer
Nancy Romer is a psychology professor interested in making a difference in the food we eat. As a result of her interest and intense passion she founded the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a maverick organization dedicated to the vision of a just and sustainable food system in Brooklyn. We emailed Nancy and asked her a few questions and she was kind enough to share her thoughts (unedited).
FPC: What motivated you to get involved with food policy and to become a food policy advocate? Was there a specific trigger or inciting incident?
NR: After years of activism in a range of social movements, through travel to several Global South nations and witnessing food sovereignty movements, and a great deal of reading about food issues I came to realize that the Food Justice Movement provides a way to educate, activate and mobilize people around one of the greatest cross-cutting issues before us: the right to healthy, sustainable food. Food Justice raises issues of who controls the food system, who profits from it and who is hurt by it. The Food Justice Movement provides us with lots of projects and initiatives on the ground while advocating for policy changes that will yield a healthier, more democratic food system.
FPC: What do you believe to be the greatest food policy challenges for New York City? And the greatest opportunities?
NR: NYC is facing a hunger and poverty crisis. We need good paying jobs that can eliminate the need for vast amounts of emergency food. We are also facing a health crisis that is caused, in good part, by unhealthy food that is pushed on our people every day, particularly in low income communities where fast food joints and bodegas selling dangerous food are the only affordable choices around. That needs to change and change quickly.
FPC: New York City is one of the largest purchasers of food in the United States, do you have suggestions on specific ways food policy advocates and government officials can use this advantage?
NR: We need an economic initiative that would harness the enormous demand for food–both public and private–and intentionally create an expanded local system of production and processing that can meet that demand. Our City and State governments need to work together to expand those markets, bring new workers into good jobs in the food systems while producing healthy food using more sustainable methods. NYC has great potential to lead the nation in such a plan. Aside from needing to feed our own people healthy food we also have an enormous market created by visitors to and workers in NYC. Let’s keep our people healthy and working by building the local food economy. Across the globe people like us are working toward these changes. The big idea behind this is called “Food Sovereignty”–people’s control over their own food systems. We need to expand and strengthen the Food Justice Movement so it can push for more local governance of the food system and make sure it serves the needs of our people.
FPC: How would you describe the current food movement in the New York City? Do you think it is becoming more effective? Why?
NR: I have great hope for the Food Justice Movement in NYC. The many projects on the ground, the many grassroots activists and leaders are seeing the importance of united action for policy change. There is great respect among the various parts of the movement–health, hunger, food workers, school food, community gardens and urban ag, food coops, farmers markets, CSAs,creative retail food outlets, The Food Justice Movement supports the anti-fracking movement because we know that we can’t have healthy, local food if our farmland and water are poisoned. The Food Justice Movement also allies with the food worker movement because we see the need to both fight poverty and hunger with good jobs and the need for safe jobs to produce safe food. We need a strong worker movement that defends the rights of working people to empower all our progressive social movements, including and especially the Food Justice Movement.
FPC: What are some of the key problems with our food system in New York City?
NR: We lack an overall plan for improving food access and jobs in NYC. I am hoping our next mayor will seize the opportunity to address multiple issues with one big policy initiative on local food system development. We can eliminate (or at least minimize) hunger,diet-related diseases, poverty, and a degraded environment through such an initiative. School food is a great place to start: it serves over 700,000 children over 860,000 meals every school day and can provide the basis for both healthy food for kids as well as a renewed local food system. Let’s use the power and resources we have to create something we really need for our people.
FPC: What is the one food policy change at the local (or state or federal) level that would have the greatest impact on health?
NR: An economic initiative that would maximize local food with good jobs in the revitalized food system producing healthy, sustainable food.
Favorite Food Policy Websites: http://nycfoodpolicy.org/, http://www.hungeractionnys.org, http://nffc.net/, http://www.iatp.org/, http://www.nofany.org/, http://usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org/, http://frac.org/
Last Food Policy Book Read: Food Movements United, Ed. by Eric Holt-Gimenez
Current Location: 33 Flatbush Ave, 5th Floor Coop, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Education: Ph.D. Psychology and Education, University of Michigan
Favorite Food: watermelon
Your Website: http://brooklynfoodcoalition.org/