2018 was a year for the books. We watched the administration roll back rules that protect the environment, support small farms, address food insecurity and encourage food sovereignty. Food policy advocates spent much of the year putting out dumpster fires — challenging new rules around work requirements, so-called “Harvest Boxes” and immigration. In the midst of the bleak landscape, though, we also saw some new ideas take hold. These are five positive food policy trends to watch in 2019.
Here in Worcester, the urban ag ordinance finally took another step toward final passage. Urban agriculture bills and ordinances around the country are just one facet of a much larger trend toward food sovereignty –
Food sovereignty allows communities control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed. It could create a food system that is designed to help people and the environment rather than make profits for multinational corporations.
The term has been around for about twenty years now, but the buzz around it has grown exponentially over the past two to three years. The idea of handing control of the food system to the community that consumes the food shouldn’t be radical, but it is — and it’s a hot topic in global conversations around creating a food system that will feed us all. Last year, Maine became the first state in the nation to pass a Food Sovereignty Law, which allows towns and municipalities to pass their own ordinances overriding state licensing and regulations. Since its passage, about 40 towns have passed their own regulations regarding local produce and food products — who can grow it, where it can be grown, and what sort of regulations and licenses people have to have in order to sell it.
There is, of course, much more to food sovereignty than the legal right for local governments to create their own regulations about food within their geographical limits. Learn more about the six pillars of food sovereignty and how a return to local control could be the future of the food system.
Edible Public Landscaping
They’re called by various names — the latest one is forage-friendly parks – and they’re another food policy idea that’s starting to make waves on the national landscape. The basic idea is to make use of public lands in ways that help feed the community. Rather than confining vegetables, fruit and herbs in community gardens, edible landscaping makes them an integral part of the park’s design. They’re springing up as median strip gardens, edible forests, and even on floating barges. There are edible forests in Baltimore, Minneapolis, New York City — in fact, the Community Food Forests website lists more than 80 forage-friendly parks and public spaces in the U.S. . Other cities, including Boston, encourage the public to forage for edibles in select public parks. While there are logistical issues — for example, cleaning up rotted fruit that falls on pavements can be costly — making public lands forage friendly by doing away with anti-foraging laws is another trend to watch in the coming year.
There’s nothing new in the realization that what we eat has a direct effect on our health and wellness. What is new is a growing trend in the medical community to actually prescribe food for their patients. In Massachusetts, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law launched the Massachusetts Food Is Medicine State Plan in 2017. The emerging research strongly supports the concept of providing medically tailored food support to food insecure patients as a way to better individual health, improve community health, and over time, reduce overall health costs. This video from CHLPI puts it all in perspective:
The Intersection of Food Justice and Racial Equity
Expect to see a widening and deepening understanding of the connection between food access and racial equity. Two powerful voices in the conversation are Karen Washington and Leah Penniman, who speak directly to the ongoing effects of the country’s racist policies regarding agriculture and food production and distribution. You’ll see the term “food apartheid” coming up more often in policy discussions, as well as more focus on reclaiming farming land and culture. The connection between racism and food access may be one of the most difficult ones we’ll ever have, but it’s one that’s vitally needed if we’re going to ensure healthy food access to all people.
Breakfast After the Bell
In 2018, Breakfast After the Bell legislation didn’t make it to the finish line despite the best efforts of a broad coalition of food and health advocates, but expect it to take a front seat in 2019. The idea of allowing students to eat breakfast in the classroom — either as a Grab-and-Go option or as meals served in the classroom — is one that has wide support, not just among food advocates but among teachers, school nutritionists and the medical community. Research shows that schools offering breakfast in the classroom have higher rates of breakfast participation — but that’s just a start. Springfield, which has been working toward 100% participation in BATB districtwide, found that