OKT joined WMSBF online round-table about food systems during COVID-19

lisaWest Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) hosted an online round-table discussing how local organizations and community leaders can promote health,wellness and sustainability through their local food systems during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

On the event page, WMSBF stated, “The coronavirus pandemic and its containment strategies are highlighting the importance of food systems to personal health and community resiliency. Food security and nutrition have become increasingly visible concerns as restaurant closures, grocery shortages and emergency food distributions came to represent the pandemic’s economic and social impacts. It is quickly becoming one of the key measures of resilience for Michigan communities and their workers.”
The panel discussion sought to address how can local organizations support their workers and communities through investments in food systems; how can local residents can better support themselves and the community through their purchases and practices; and how neighborhoods can become more resilient and connected through individual and neighborhood investments in food production. Panelists included Kate Lieto, Experience Grand Rapids; Lisa Oliver-King, Our Kitchen Table; and Garrett Ziegler, Michigan State University community food systems educator.

The webinar was one of WMSBF’s series exploring sustainability and sustainable business in context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for information on the series.

Here are the talking points which guided OKT’s contribution to the discussion.

What are some of your initial takeaways about how the pandemic could inform food system policies and practices moving forward?

  • The current industrial food system is neither sustainable nor resilient. For the most part, growing practices harm the environment (soil, air, and water) and foods are distributed to create profit, with the result that income challenged people, most often people of color, find it difficult or impossible to access nutrient rich foods.
  • Our African American and Native populations have high incidence of nutrition related issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, behavioral health impacts etc.
  • Small changes are made being made on local levels, but we have a long way to go, especially as the affluent are those most benefitting from the healthy “foody” movement.

How can local organizations support their workers and communities through investments in food systems?

  • While I may not feel I have the expertise to advise business how to invest in a better food system, I can relate that the underlying factor contributing to inequities in the food system and the healthcare system is racism, both the cultural impacts of institutional racism as well and the personal impacts of day-to-day experience of racism, which causes chronic stress. The stress of racism has been proven to increase morbidity and is especially borne out by our maternal-infant mortality rates.

Building on that, how can local residents better support themselves and the community through their purchases and practices?

  • Supporting local, clean food via CSA membership, farmers’ markets, and grocery purchases.
  • Sad to say, the current system thrives on selling profitable junk and fast foods. Policy change and regulations in advertising (especially to children) are needed.

LISA How can neighborhoods become more resilient and connected through individual and neighborhood investments in food production?

  • Growing food.
  • Food mapping.
  • Advocate for policy change.
  • Food “literacy”
  • Healthier foods served at school
  • Recognition of wisdom within the community, especially elders

What efforts are you seeing that support a change in these disparities? 

I don’t know that we are seeing much effort. We need:

  • Paid sick days
  • Living wages ($20 an hour?)
  • High quality healthcare for all
  • Appreciation and fair compensation for our immigrant farm workers

What are some of your initial takeaways about how the pandemic could inform food system policies and practices moving forward?

  • COVID-19 has borne out the inequities in our food systems.
  • People of color are contracting and dying from the disease at much higher rates. The underlying conditions predisposing them to his are all results of a food system that denies them nutrient-rich foods.

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