Food advocates are everywhere, in our communities from Albany to New York City. They are the people who are taking the possibility of eating fresh food and making it a reality. They are the mothers who join wellness committees, organize school garden programs, and fight to make school food better. They keep working even when the opposition is overwhelming and hostile or they’re told repeatedly that the school’s budget for food service will always be stretched too thin to ever make any promising changes. “We were always interested in supplying the produce from our school garden to the school cafeteria. We came up against a lot of resistance, but by meeting with the school board, the principal, the school food service director and the Board of Health we established new precedence for our schools, including the serving of food from our garden in the school cafeteria and an open door to purchase produce directly from local farmers.” (Nicci Cagan, co-director, From the Ground Up)
The food service director who finds a way to cut sugar, fat and processed foods from the bottom line and empowers her cafeteria ladies to cook real food again, even when it means more time and energy at the same wage rate, also qualifies as a valuable local food advocate. “I’d like to create a solid, incredibly nutritious menu that I can share with other schools easily. And I’d like to see every student that graduates from our school NOT drinking soda or eating processed foods but instead having knowledge about how to grow their own food.” (Julie Holbrook, food service director, Keene Central School).
A local food advocate is the youth and garden program director who has a fraction of the money that she needs to run her program, whose draws a salary low enough to qualify her for food stamps, and only considers using the food stamps to buy food related necessities for her program.
The community leader who tears down the dilapidated house on the corner where gang members and drug users fester and starts a community garden, then figures out the legal system to fight the city when it threatens to take the garden away to make room for an affordable housing development advocates for fresh local food. Karen Washington of Just Food is one of the many New York City heroes who did that back in the 90’s.
Local food advocates are the reverends Robert and DeVanie Jackson who started a farm of raised beds on the concrete behind their inner city Brooklyn Rescue Mission to grow vegetables because they couldn’t stand the idea of serving their elderly recipients canned vegetables.
Food advocates teach children about food – how it grows, how it can be cooked, what makes it healthy and what doesn’t – someone who worries about what children eat and thinks about how they can make a difference even when the odds seem stacked in favor of junk food corporations. “I see what they eat and I want them to be thinking about food differently so that they can be making better choices when they become adults.” (Rana Morris, director, Youth Organics)
Food advocates believe in themselves and their missions and have the optimism to push forward even when the odds for change seem daunting and hopeless. They’re real people who love their work and are willing to accept, or sacrifice entirely, a discounted paycheck in hopes of making the world a better place.
More often than not, their solutions involve the next generation – our children. Unlike current issues such as global warming, which is suspected but not yet quantifiable enough to be widely believed as fact, our society’s current problem with childhood obesity is undeniable. Feeding children fresh, healthy food is part of the solution to this problem. Exposing them to the joys of fresh local produce so they can make smart food choices in the future is another.