Just as a healthy diet requires a mix of different food groups, a healthy food system requires a mix of different organizations.
In 2009, national leaders from four agencies—the American Planning Association, the American Dietetic Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association—met to discuss taking a collective approach to addressing issues in the food system. Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System is the culmination of their work. Released in December 2010, the document outlines a shared platform for system-wide food-policy change.
“All of these organizations have similar and overlapping interests in food systems and the desire to change the status quo by focusing on a community approach to food,” explains Kimberley Hodgson, a registered dietician and manager of Planning and Community Health Research Center at the American Planning Association. “We view this [document] as a jumping-off point for our organizations to work together in the future.”
Hodgson believes that the work of these agencies can be strengthened by a collaborative approach. For example, the American Public Health Association may be more likely to meet its goals of increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in food deserts by working alongside members of the American Planning Association who are involved with urban planning and can influence development decisions.
“Our ultimate goal [in bringing these groups together] was to connect members from national organizations to those on the local levels who are working for change,” Hodgson says.
With the help of a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, each organization assigned three representatives to the task force—a staffer, a member and a leader from their special interest group. The team convened in Washington, D.C., to draft a set of guiding principles for working together.
The organizations aren’t the only ones who will benefit from these policies. Both Hodgson and Rebecca Klein, director of the Public Health and Agriculture Policy Project at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and coordinator of the American Public Health Association’s Food and Environment Working Group, believe the policies are important to urban farmers, too.
“The policies recognize that there is a very important place for urban agriculture,” says Hodgson. “The pasture-to-plate approach taken by urban farmers sheds light on the fact that we need to look at the whole food system, not just the individual pieces.”
Klein hopes that the collaboration between interdisciplinary agencies encourages urban farmers to consider the possibilities for developing similar relationships.
“In the very same way that our organizations have come together for a common goal, I would encourage urban farmers to reach out to their rural counterparts,” she says. “In the end, we really all want the same thing.”
Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System support socially, economically and ecologically sustainable food systems with a focus on the health of individuals, communities and the natural environment.
The principles support food systems that:
- Take into account the public health impacts of the entire lifecycle of food production, from processing, packaging and distribution to consumption and disposal
- Conserve, protect and regenerate natural resources
- Meet our current food and nutrition needs without compromising the ability of the system to meet the needs of future generations
- Allow for diversity in size and scale
- Consider geographic differences in natural resources, climate, customs and heritage
- Appreciate and support a diversity of cultures, socio-demographics and lifestyles
- Support fair and just communities and conditions for all farmers, workers and eaters
- Afford farmers and workers in all sectors of the system a living wage
- Provide opportunities for farmers, workers and eaters to gain the knowledge necessary to understand how food is produced, transformed, distributed, marketed, consumed and disposed
- Empower farmers, workers and eaters to actively participate in decision making in all sectors of the system
“These policies provide a lens through which we can look at these issues,” explains Klein “Many of the organizations already had similar policies on their books; coming together as a collective voice helps amplify the message that each organization was [sending]. We can increase our impact by working together.”
While there is no formal requirement or obligation for the groups to work together, collaboration is encouraged.