Food Access Equity

Transcript: Food Access Equity

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Pam Koch: We have learned this year that our food supply is fragile. Those images of empty shelves in grocery stores from March and April 2020 are burned into our memory. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered serious breakdown in the steps involved in getting food from plants and animals on farms to our grocery stores. At the same time, we saw the number of people who lacked resources to get food soar. The response was swift. Government responded in many ways, one of which was to make school meals grab and go and open to everyone, both children and adults. This worked to quickly get meals to people precisely because there are schools in all communities. This was all put into place when we did not know how to be safe from COVID-19 and cases were rapidly rising.

Pam Koch: Why did we have this massive and rapid response? Because everyone needs to eat each and every day. We cannot take a break from eating just because there is an emergency. We need a food safety net to ensure everyone can eat every day no matter what. Food inequity is not new. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a big problem with inequitable access to food. BIPOC communities, that is, communities with Black, Indigenous and people of color, have long encountered systemic racism that limits access to healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. It is unconscionable that in a rich country such as the United States, that we would not make food access a basic human right. And COVID has showed us more clearly than ever, this is a collective responsibility, not about individual choices.

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Pam Koch: Thankfully, there are already many people working hard to alleviate food accessibility issues, especially in New York. Let's hear from Tony Hillery, the Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown.

Tony Hillery: It's not a conscious decision not to feed your family healthy organic food. Everyone wants to. But how do you? And I see this time and time again. And I honestly say; I say this in all of my talks, I'm as guilty as most, because I too thought it was their problem. This is what people want to do. But look at the landscape of these communities. There's a bodega on every corner. There's fast food. Where is the supermarkets with affordable produce? They're non-existent. So people in these communities, they don't have cars. How do you access these locations where you can purchase this stuff? So, it's not a simple solution. But, I, over these years I think that education breaks that. Because with our kids, children are relentless, as everyone knows. They wear parents down for the new shoes or this, or that. We want to wear them down for healthier food options. And you do that by educating the children. But then we're right back where we started. Where do you purchase it? That's why we have 13 farms in Harlem and we grow about six thousand pounds of produce and everything is free. We give it out with cooking demos and nutrition education and little simple recipes that people can do it at home.

Tony Hillery: Saturday is our big program. On a loop, on Monday we get calls from the parents. Where do I get chickpeas or where do I get this, or where do I-- This is what we're trying to do, trying to create the demand from the bottom up. Because we have spoken to the managers of all the supermarkets, and they're businessmen. They will carry fresh organic produce if they can sell it. They're not gonna get it to throw it away in three days. But if you have 100 people coming in and asking you for some healthy chard or kale, they will carry it.

Tony Hillery:  Prior to COVID, it was always "those people." It was their problem. "Those children." COVID made it our problem. Our kids. People who've never been food insecure in their life, find themselves on food lines. So let's stop blaming and pointing and putting it [♫ guitar music ♫] on those people, because those people are us. We are those people.

Pam Koch: No matter your skin color, income, or zip code, everyone needs to have easy and convenient ways to obtain food that is nourishing and culturally relevant. We also need to think about those who work in food jobs. We need food justice for all to be able to eat well. Food equity is just one thing that really matters. Everyone needs nourishing food to be healthy physically and emotionally, to learn and to be their best selves. 

Featuring Tony Hillery, founder and CEO of Harlem Grown.

Headshot photo of Pam Koch with teachers college backdrop
Pam Koch

Pam conducts research with schools and communities to give people power to demand healthy, just, sustainable food. She translates her research into curricula for school teachers, recommendations for policy makers, and resources for advocates. Her work contributes to increased access to nutritious, delicious and sustainable food for all. She completed her BS and MS from Rutgers University and her EdD and RD from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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