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Food Activists Rally to Influence Presidential Campaign

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Food Activists Rally to Influence Presidential CampaignPhoto via Food Policy Action.
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Food activists gathered on the OSU campus Tuesday to discuss how food policy should be incorporated in political discourse. The Plate of the Union, an event held by student groups and local and statewide advocates, rallied to talk about the impact of the current food system on the nation’s health and economy.

“Food!”

“Justice!”

“Workers!”

“Justice!”

“Earth!”

“Justice!”

So went the chant closing out the welcome at the event, lead by an advocate for Vision for Black Lives, the political platform for Black Lives Matter working to elevate Black people specifically, but disenfranchised people as a whole economically and politically.

“So when we say justice we’re talking about justice for workers, justice for the planet, justice for people of color, justice for all of us who have been exploited by this system,” she said. “We need a radically different system.”

What this looks like is a combination of divestment and investment. Vision for Black Lives calls for investment in companies that source sustainably, work with a diverse range of farmers and offer fair compensation to their workers. They, along with Food Policy Action, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the HEAL Food Alliance, look to ‘radically transform’ the current food system from farm to plate.

The Plate of the Union organization itself is “uniting Americans around a call for the next U.S. president to take the lead in transforming food policy.”

It works against corporate interests in agriculture, looking to achieve a better quality of life for farmers, workers in each step of the production process, and low-income consumers who lack access to healthy food. It is mobilizing food activists nationally to bring attention to food justice as the presidential campaign moves forward. They call for a president who will emphasize the importance of fair employment practices, small farms, and locally sourced goods.

A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that connecting mid-sized farms with larger food suppliers would make for healthier food, and a better economy and environment. It found these midsize farms provide employment to more people per acre and contribute more to the local economy.

It also reported that communities with midsize farms have lower poverty and unemployment rates while larger farms bring with them a cornucopia of problems.

“Larger farms are associated with lower incomes, more poverty and economic inequality, less active ‘main streets’ with fewer retail businesses, and less money spent in the community,” the report said.

But the problem doesn’t stop on the farm. A national report by the Food Trust found low-income communities, neighborhoods of color and rural areas have the least access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are more likely to come across junk food. These areas have fewer grocery stores and farmers’ markets and far more fast food restaurants and convenience stores. It also found that grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods are likely to be much smaller than stores found in wealthier communities.

What this means for impoverished communities — commonly communities of color — is a completely different quality of life leading to certain health problems.

Another study by the Union of Concerned Scientists drew relationships between physical access to healthy food in various communities and the prevalence of diabetes. Diabetes has hit low-income neighborhoods and African American, Latino and Native American communities the hardest as a direct result of their lack of access to nutritious food.

Even in neighborhoods where there are grocery stores, low-income individuals are less likely to access healthy food, suggesting economic instability to be an even bigger determining factor than proximity.

Groups are working at the local level to improve access to food for lower income communities. The City of Columbus and Franklin County are working on the Local Food Action Plan and have released a draft of the plan aiming to increase education and grow the local economy through sustainable local sourcing.

The four goals of the plan are to gather and enhance current resources and agencies, educate communities on healthy and affordable food, prioritize grocery stores in economic development and address food waste. While it doesn’t target the larger issues within the food system — such as unfair wages and treatment of farmers and workers and the investment of local farms state and nationwide — it is one local development toward a local and sustainable food system for Columbus.

Tom Colicchio, from Top Chef, Dara Cooper, from the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, Will Petrik from Yes We Can Columbus and several other group representatives were there to further localize the national issue. The speakers took turns demanding complete community involvement in the matter, linking agriculture, labor, health and the environment together in their call for radical transformation.

For more information, visit www.plateoftheunion.com.

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