Good food for all: L.A. tackles food policies
With a population of more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County faces enormous challenges related to poverty and hunger. Over a million L.A. County residents face hunger or food insecurity every day, according to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. A Sept. 6 Los Angeles Times article detailed the problems faced by local food pantries, as they struggle to cope with a demand for food that’s risen by 48 percent in just two years. At the same time, with cheap fast food, and limited access to affordable healthy food, childhood obesity is an increasingly critical problem. Forty percent of middle-school age children in Los Angeles County are now classified as overweight or obese.
Local elected officials are embarking on an effort to more systematically address these issues. Last fall, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa convened a group of experts, bringing together community organizers, restauranteurs, public health experts, employers, farmers, urban gardeners and others to form the Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force. This was a short-term effort to gather information and make recommendations to the mayor and decision makers. The task force recently released a report, “The Good Food for All Agenda: Creating a New Regional Food System for Los Angeles,” outlining an ambitious plan for improving access to healthy food in Los Angeles.
The task force defined “good food” as food that is healthy, affordable, fair (meaning that all participants in the food supply chain receive fair compensation) and produced sustainably, using principles of environmental stewardship.
Some of the task force's recommendations were:
- Develop a regional food hub, which can coordinate supply and demand for local, sustainable food. (Farms in several counties were included in the definition of “local” for the Los Angeles area).
- Encourage school districts to procure sustainable, local food and provide children with higher quality lunches.
- Promote and improve participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
- Facilitate neighborhood food production by streamlining permits for community gardens, and expanding joint use agreements where schools offer their land for community gardens.
- Start an ongoing regional food policy council, which will include both city and county decision makers and community leaders.
While Los Angeles is just one of a number of major metropolitan areas to form a task force of this nature, it’s exciting to see the state (and nation’s) most populous county addressing food policy issues. Although Los Angeles County has a relatively small number of farms, neighboring counties, including Ventura, still have significant commercial agriculture. Policies like those recommended by the L.A. Task Force not only improve choices and healthy options for consumers, they can also lead to new markets for local farmers.
UC ANR programs, such as UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County, offer research-based expertise in urban gardening, nutrition education, sustainable food production and more, and serve as a resource for local policymakers and residents working to improve food access. To learn more about the L.A. Food Policy Task Force and read the Good Food for All Agenda, see http://goodfoodla.org/.