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Food Policy Councils: Politics From The Ground Up

Mark Winne describes how food policy councils can advocate for change in the local, regional and national food systems.


Photo: (Norah Levine)

Mark Winne is the Senior Advisor to the Food Policy Networks Project at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future.

Mark Winne is perhaps best known for serving as Executive Director of the Hartford Food System from 1979 to 2003. He is also the author of Closing the Food Gap and Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas.

He draws on his personal experience to talk about food policy councils and the importance of public policy in addressing issues of hunger and food insecurity.

Food policy councils take on urban gardening, problems of food deserts, food insecurity, health related issues such as obesity, a full range of topics in our food system, from the point of view of how can we use our governments more effectively to be able to address these problems. The other thing FPCs do is they try to coordinate the activities and the overall work of different stakeholders to come up with a common vision for the community when it comes to the food system.

America’s first Food Policy Council was formed in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982. Since then, over 200 FPCs have started, mostly operating at the local level.

Winne believes FPCs should focus on affecting public policy at all levels of government. He notes that improving the food system is about more than just increasing access to healthy foods.

I can’t say that the overall income/poverty situation (in Hartford) has improved much. That’s proven to be intransigent in many cases and it’s not something that can be resolved easily by having more and better food available. That really points to some systemic problems in our economy that need to be addressed through such things as higher living wages, new opportunities that need to be created, as well as improvements in our educational system.

But can we really expect community members to make a considerable impact in their local food systems?

I certainly hope so. If I’m a citizen of a community, and if I’m a voter, I certainly think I have the right to speak up and let my elected officials know what I think is necessary in order for us to have a good, strong, healthy food system. It’s not only my right, but my obligation. Will our policy makers always listen? Well, no, they won’t. But it certainly means we should still be at the table. It may take time to have some real impact, but when we bring together lots of voices, and a common voice around what we think our food system should look like, I think our policy makers will pay attention and they will begin to act accordingly.

Winne says activists have made some strong gains, at least when it comes to day-to-day improvements in the food system.

While [through the work of food] we may not be able to immediately solve the problems of poverty and the underlying causes of food insecurity and poor health, we certainly can address a lot of the symptoms, and we can make the lives of people a lot better than they are now. At the same time we can also improve the overall qualities of living in our communities through food.

More: Visit Mark Winne’s website to learn how to start a food policy council in your town.

Tara Cobb

Tara Cobb is a student of public affairs at Indiana University. She volunteers at Mother Hubbard's Cupboard and is an advocate for food justice and community food security.

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