Food policy council: Does it affect me or my family?

A food policy council is a group of food-related stakeholders that work to improve the local food system.

Is the term “food policy council” (FPC) familiar? What does a food policy council do? Why is it important to you? For more than 30 years food experts and advocates have been speaking to the importance of convening all sectors of the food system (production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management) to improve food security. The World Health Organization explains this as working to provide: “Access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” This can happen at the local, regional, state, national or global level.

Starting in 1977, University of Tennessee Professor Robert Wilson and his team of graduate students from the School of Planning studied the availability of affordable and nutritious food in the city of Knoxville, Tenn. The report was alarming, yet instrumental in convening the nation’s first food policy council in 1982. Based on the community needs identified, the Knoxville Food Policy Council was successful in establishing free or low-cost breakfasts for low-income students and improving access to grocery stores through the public transit system. Not every food policy council today has the same focus, purpose or results.

Since then, FPCs are being created throughout the nation as more and more people are becoming acutely aware of the increasing poverty levels, the rising costs of food related health issues like obesity, limited access to healthy food and the local food movement.

According to the Michigan Food Policy Council, “Food policy councils, often established by state or local governments, bring together a broad array of food-related public and private stakeholders to investigate every stage of the food process from seed to table. Consumers, producers and public officials are becoming more aware of the economic and health impacts of supporting fresh and local foods resulting in greater attention to many food-related issues. Food policy councils are tapping into this increasing interest to explore policy options that improve the food system.”

For example, a local school actively engaged in growing fresh greens has more greens available than what they are using in their own food service program. A local restaurant interested in utilizing local product on their menu doesn’t know where to find the local produce. With a FPC in that community, connections between producers and consumers can be made. In another example, local zoning ordinances may have stipulations that would limit the construction of greenhouses on personal property. A FPC can work to address that zoning ordinance with the appropriate officials in order to advocate for greenhouse construction.

The creation of a FPC can be done in a variety of ways and from a variety of origins. According to a 2012 census of FPCs by the Community Food Security Coalition, more than 70 percent of the FPCs in the nation were independently shaped at the local, grassroots level. Michigan State University Extension educators are available throughout the state to assist individuals in getting connected with a FPC in their area or working to establish one.

Related Articles