April 3, 2014

Fostering Meaningful Inclusion and Empowerment on Food Policy Councils

Raychel Santo

Raychel Santo

Sr. Research Program Coordinator

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

A meeting of the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, 2009

A meeting of the Baltimore Food Policy Task Force, 2009

Over the past four years, the number of food policy councils (FPCs) throughout North America has tripled. FPCs bring together food system stakeholders at local, county, tribal, state, or regional levels to work on policy and programming aimed at increasing community food security, or the accessibility, consumption, and affordability of healthy (and often sustainably raised) food. By providing a more direct opportunity for local actors to influence food policy decisions than those at the national or international level, FPCs have become a tangible example of the emerging movement towards “food democracy” and a more just food system.

However, the movement to increase healthy food access across neighborhoods often lacks involvement or consultation of the community residents who are most at risk for food insecurity, say some critics. Inspired by Mark Winne’s comments about how the people most affected by social injustice must be part of the movement to end that injustice (Closing the Food Gap, 2008), former CLF research assistant Molly McCullagh sought to explore this concept further in the context of FPCs as part of her Master’s thesis at Tufts University.

In this adapted version of her thesis, Food Policy for All: Inclusion of Diverse Community Residents on Food Policy Councils, Molly explores how FPCs are working to engage community residents who are often marginalized in both society and the food system. The goal is to better include residents in defining the solutions to their own problems around food access.  Her research focuses specifically on efforts to include low-income consumers, women, mothers, seniors, youth, and people of color, and it asks not just “Whom are we inviting to the table?” but also “Who sets the table?” (Guthman, “If They Only Knew”: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions, 2008).

Examples cited in the report are drawn from surveys and interviews with a variety of FPCs and shed light on current practices that promote inclusion of diverse community residents in food policy work. Molly also discusses noted challenges faced by many FPCs and provides additional recommendations towards enhancing inclusion.

This report represents just a first step in identifying current practices and methods. Additional documentation and evaluation of FPCs’ methods would help to understand if or how the engagement strategies documented in this report are succeeding in helping councils achieve their goals of increasing food security in their communities. Nevertheless, in conjunction with the CLF’s Food Policy Networks project’s mission to support the development of effective and robust local and state food policy, we hope widespread sharing of this report with FPCs leaders throughout the country will inform and inspire further their efforts to engage in and evaluate strategies towards the meaningful inclusion of all.

Photo: Anne Palmer, 2009

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *