Eric Adams – NYC Food Policy Center

eric-adams-–-nyc-food-policy-center

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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?

In order for New York City to address hunger, the City must address poverty. It starts with recognizing that being poor is a full-time job. Getting access to government resources should not require hours of filling out applications or standing in line. This is why I have proposed launching MyCity, a single portal for all City services and benefits. It has never been more important that New Yorkers receive the full support of their government. Imagine typing only one number into a secure app or Web site and instantly receiving every service and benefit you qualify for — such as SNAP — without any paperwork, as well as constant up-to-date information that will help you protect you and your family. 

And we must go further with access to real affordable housing, good jobs with fair wages, and quality healthcare. Policy ideas that I have shared in my 100+ Steps Forward for NYC plan. (https://www.ericadams2021.com/PDF106)

When it comes to ending hunger, there is more we can do with our City’s resources. There is an overall lack of information of available food resources throughout the five boroughs. Poor communication and information sharing negatively impacts efforts to connect food insecure individuals with SNAP benefits, food pantries, soup kitchens and other food resources; and this is evident now more than ever in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will form an integrated and community-engaged structure to coordinate food policy in NYC. A critical component of this structure will be to create and maintain easily accessible databases that New Yorkers and public officials can use to monitor and ensure equitable access to nutritious food across all of our communities. 

This community-engaged structure will encourage data sharing across food pantries, soup kitchens, other emergency food programs, government entities, and any other relevant stakeholders to work cohesively in tackling hunger and food insecurity. New Yorkers will have access to a public-facing website with the most updated information on location and hours of food access sites and delivery programs. (Food served across these entities should emphasize nutrition in the form of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains as a pathway to long-term sustainable public health. Meals could not only be more nutritious but also cost-effective and easily prepared at scale if they were more universal. For instance, meals could be kosher, halal, and plant-based.)

To prepare for and appropriately respond to future emergencies, we must establish an emergency plan now and build on the lessons learned from GetFoodNYC regarding logistics and engagement points with constituents. 

Finally, we will advocate for funding of nutrition-assistance programs at the state and federal levels to provide ongoing food resources for people at all stages of life, including children, college students, and seniors. This includes advocacy for the continuation and expansion of programs like SNAP, WIC, and P-EBT.

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

We should continue to fund and expand technological solutions that enable consumers to purchase groceries online. For instance, we should increase the power of auto-enrollment to reach New Yorkers who are eligible for SNAP and WIC, but may not know they qualify or are not being properly engaged. We will do this through the MyCity platform. 

We need to increase utilization of delivered groceries, meals, and other fresh foods to reach people where they live. Continuing to invest in and expand Get the Good Stuff (under SNAP) will not only expand participation in SNAP, but will incentivize the purchase and consumption of healthy fruits, vegetables, and beans. We will provide small business loans/grants and technical assistance to food providers so they can also accept SNAP (this simultaneously allows consumers to use their benefits to buy more culturally-appropriate food). To increase participation, the City would increase awareness of the program on how/where people can apply such as marketing our programs and resources in multiple languages; people won’t enroll if they don’t know if they’re eligible. 

Lastly, core to getting more people signed up for government resources is bringing government to the people. We must bring the City right to the doorstep of New Yorkers. Educating New Yorkers about food programs and delivering those services is also necessary for it to be effective. We can do this by equipping City workers with computer tablets that are connected to the City’s unified digital platform and sending them into the areas with the greatest need for City services, setting up shop in open storefronts, NYCHA complexes and even parks. These workers can also connect New Yorkers to federal services and programs that will help us return some of the $20 billion-plus a year that New York taxpayers send to D.C.that we do not get back.

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)?

Food is fundamental to individual, community, and planetary health. It is so critical to everyday life that it must be a central issue in cross-cutting policymaking, whether policies are directly related to food or indirectly related (e.g., procurement practices, environmental policies, health policies). Our government’s administrative structure ought to reflect that. I would significantly increase the administrative power of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, making the office a more stable, high-profile, better-staffed, and funded office. The ideal Office would be equipped with the talent and knowledge to exercise overarching jurisdiction over the City’s food practices–both day-to-day and during emergencies.  

In particular, an administrative structure led by MOFP is important in overseeing budgets across agencies that deal with food procurement and delivery. The same can be said for the vendor process with the City; we ought to utilize a more central system for food procurement and delivery that creates efficiencies in scale. Additionally, a more central process will allow the city to speak with and tangibly function with one “food voice” which can show New Yorkers that regardless of how or where you receive food from the City, it is healthy and delivered in cost-effective ways.  

To enhance mechanisms for community engagement, I would openly call upon relevant government agencies, outside organizations in the food space, and farmers in the local and regional areas to deliver a “lessons learned” document from their experiences before and during the pandemic. Such a document could inquire about what their experience has been, how the City could better support them, and how their services could be better coordinated. This would serve as an opportunity to craft new policy and processes that will work through normal times as well as times of emergency.

I would merge food procurement entities across agencies; this unified procurement strategy, would allow for increased buying power, better coordination and distribution. 

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?

It is critical that Black and Brown communities are included in and are leaders of the creation of food policy, reform efforts, and business opportunities. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice efforts must occur at every step of the enterprise. For instance, we will expand Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises and incentives for training programs for historically underrepresented communities and neighborhoods. Furthermore, we will support local, regional, and urban farms, farmers markets, gardens, and agriculture, particularly in food deserts, food swamps, low-income communities, and communities of color to increase food sovereignty and education of food production and consumption.

Support efforts may include: convening discussions, conferences, and idea summits to harness the knowledge across academia, business, and individual/community input, offer grants to MWBEs, offer technical assistance through partnerships with new businesses and relevant city administrative agencies such as SBS, Parks, DCP, etc.., engage other public officials at the city and state level to ameliorate any zoning issues, and engage nonprofits in communities across the city to enlist volunteerism in new enterprises for students, young people, people in lockup facilities, and everyday New Yorkers. 

Training programs may include skills building in food production, preparation, and business development in the food space. Culinary schools could partner with city programs and actors in nonprofits to teach people across the lifespan from students to seniors how to incorporate healthier habits into their everyday life and, if applicable, develop new business enterprises that can enrich the city’s offerings of healthier, culturally appropriate, and tasty food.  

Cultural inclusion must be a primary concern as well. New York City is full of people with the expertise and cultural knowledge to design healthy, sustainable food that is simultaneously culturally appropriate. My staff would act as a connector between the healthy food culinary community and cultural communities across the city

We will work to undo the structural racism that exists in our food system by first acknowledging that Western food culture is not necessarily the most nutritious lifestyle, but our government programs and food programs often center Western food culture and ingredients. This is also why it is imperative that we provide small business loans/grants and technical assistance to community food providers so they can also accept SNAP and allow consumers to use their benefits to buy more culturally-appropriate food. 

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?

Addressing poverty is critical to moving away from emergency food as a short-term, reactive solution to food insecurity. We must also create robust, year-round, everyday policies regarding the procurement and delivery of food to communities across NYC that can be sustained and adapted to ramp up should the need occur. These policies should be created with the consultant of nonprofits, restaurants, agencies, and other relevant stakeholders.

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 office has repeatedly pushed for the accelerated implementation of the Good Food Purchasing Program as well as holistic ways of utilizing the power of procurement to shift to a more healthy, sustainable, fair, and humane food system. My strengthened Office of Food Policy would ensure that schools and any other institutions have the proper resources to adopt it in a timely manner.

We should not only implement the Good Food Purchasing Program, but should also implement additional programs to make NYC a true leader in food justice. For instance, NYC should track its emissions from food procurement and consumption, as well as join 14 other cities, including Los Angeles, in becoming a signatory of the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration. This declaration would allow NYC to increase its procurement of healthy and sustainable food as well as to decrease its food loss and waste. These actions would ensure that NYC meets important climate goals, and at the same time, facilitate New Yorkers of all backgrounds in gaining access to food that meets high nutritional and environmental standards.

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?

Students cannot have an adequate education without adequate food. We should guarantee that a wide range of food options, including halal, kosher, vegan, and options for people with extreme allergies, is available. The shift towards more healthy and sustainable food should also consider cultural appropriateness of food, which may be determined based on the demographic information of any specific school. We should also accelerate the roll-out of the breakfast in the classroom program.

The importance I place on school food is demonstrated by my $20,000 worth of allocation for Farmshelf, a project which integrated a comprehensive hydroponics curriculum for students at Brooklyn Democracy Academy to learn how to grow and distribute produce, write code, create applications, build and maintain the vegetation units. This not only portrayed the value of growing healthy food, but enhanced student attendance and participation. As reported by then Principal Dez Ann Romaine, who passed last year due to COVID-19, students were showing up on time, spending more time in the hydroponic lab, and eating healthier. Growing and eating healthy food in school is a tremendous opportunity for students to develop strong relationships with food, but also take the lessons they learned home with them.

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.)?

We should strengthen the City’s nutrition standards (e.g., decreasing acceptable cholesterol and saturated fats levels, increasing acceptable fiber levels). As repeatedly recommended by health and environmental scientists, we should also strengthen the City’s food standards (and thus the procured and served food) to incorporate sustainability. Publicly procured and served food should, thus, emphasize fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins. These foods, which happen to be some of the healthiest, are also the most climate-friendly.

We may disagree on the ideal meals and diets, but there are foods that are definitively unhealthy. For instance, according to the World Health Organization, processed meats are carcinogenic. We would not serve foods that are definitively unhealthy and linked to disease in public institutions. I successfully pushed for the removal of processed meats from schools, and would continue to expand policies like this.

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.)

We should proactively work to instill funding for these programs in the coming years, with an understanding that these programs serve one of NYC’s most cherished and most vulnerable populations. We should consider how these programs might be centralized within the strengthened Office of Food Policy. We should ask and address how the government can help with procurement and logistical support. Lastly, we should ensure feedback from community-based organizations and older adults is included in policymaking through consultative processes.

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

We should regularly engage actors in the space and create opportunities for policymaking to include significant feedback and input from community leaders and everyday people engaging with the food system. Beyond what already exists, we should create incentives through loans and grants to community members looking to enter or sustain their food business.

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

We should regularly engage actors in the space and create opportunities for policymaking to include significant feedback and input from community leaders and everyday people engaging with the food system. Beyond what already exists, we should create incentives through loans and grants to community members looking to enter or sustain their food business.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

A smoothie with berries, kale, cocoa powder, acai powder, maca powder, carob powder, and moringa powder. 

One word you would use to describe the food system?

Essential

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