Transitioning to a public-minded food system
Public food infrastructure's role in creating healthy communities
Keywords:local food systems, food access, social infrastructure, school food, farmers' markets
A vision for a more sustainable, just, and health-promoting food system comes from scholars, activist organizations, and communities alike. However, creating infrastructure and implementing policy that allows for the transition to a healthy, community-minded system comes with significant challenges and opposition, including a neoliberal policy legacy. Understanding the positive health impacts of improving the food system, thus, is crucial to making sense of and addressing the interconnected nature of food and health. The study of alternatives, and how these can be grounded and promoted in public policy, help challenge the notion that health issues in the food system are best solved through charity or technocratic fixes. To illustrate the role of such alternatives this paper draws on two case studies: the ScarbTO Mrkt Bucks initiative, a civil society group creating a system of subsidized vouchers for wider access to farmers markets at the community level, and the Coalition for Healthy School Food, a network of organizations advocating for federal investment in a universal cost-shared healthy school food program. So far, it is grassroots initiatives that have acknowledged the health issues that their communities face around accessing plentiful, diverse, and nutritious foods. These initiatives can connect local experiences with systemic and structural sources of inequity, leading to a more comprehensive means of change. Creating pathways to sustainable healthy food in public settings, I argue, is central to the wider, global transition to a healthier, more just food system.
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