Queens councilman’s new bill seeks to improve the state of food for city dwellers

Photo courtesy of Councilman Vallone’s Office

A Queens councilman wants to improve food equity for people living in the five boroughs.

Earlier this week, Councilman Paul Vallone sponsored a bill seeking to increase the reporting on the city’s food system. The new legislation would require more comprehensive reporting on changing patterns of food available in retail stores, the density of fast food establishments and metrics on populations experiencing food insecurity.

The bill followed a joint hearing with the Committees on Education and General Welfare, which Vallone led as the chair of the Committee on Economic Development. The committees heard a package of 16 bills and two resolutions to New York City’s Food Policy.

Vallone’s bill coincided with Speaker Corey Johnson’s recently announced food platform which he unveiled in August. The plan included expanding existing food programs and tying economic opportunity to farming and nutrition coordinated by a newly empowered Office of Food Policy.

Mayor de Blasio’s current Office of Food Policy publishes an annual Food Metrics Report, which addresses food insecurity, food procurement and service, access to healthy food and sustainability. But Vallone’s office said that the report does not provide enough information for the city to effectively tackle food insecurity.

An example of this is that the report shows the number of senior citizens 65 and older who receive SNAP benefits but does not outline un-enrolled individuals who are eligible for public food programs.

“In the greatest city in the world, we cannot stand idle while over one million of our New Yorkers face food insecurity,” said Vallone. “This bill will allow us to take an in-depth look at food production, distribution and access in the five boroughs, a critical step in developing the equitable and transformative food policy strategies of tomorrow. I thank City Council Speaker Johnson for bringing attention to this important issue and I am proud to collaborate with him on this impactful piece of legislation and chair this vital hearing.”

Under Vallone’s bill, the Office of Food Policy would report findings on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. The office would then use the data to address gaps in health and food access and create policies to better address food governance and waste, school lunches, urban agriculture and access to healthy food.

“The current report provides a strong overview of the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food provided by City agencies to the communities we serve,” Dr. Erin McDonald, chief strategy and innovation officer for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, said during testimony. “We agree that there is an opportunity to expand on the data included and analysis and support the bill.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified on the impact the new reporting and data would have on the city providing better school meals.

“For example, the amount of money spent on dairy by the Department of Education is present but not the amount spent on meat or baked goods, items that are consumed in large quantities and even featured as part of the OFNS’s (DOE Office of Food and Nutrition Services) New York Thursday menu,” said Brewer. “The reports do not capture enough data on how City funds are spent on food procurement and the methodology for data collection needs to be amended accordingly.”

Vallone added, “Our children cannot learn on an empty stomach. An in-depth look at the types of meals we are providing to our city’s over 1 million public school students will help us ensure our kids are being served nutritious food that will help them do their best inside and outside of the classroom.”

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