Fair Food for All: A How-To Guide

We’ve all heard the advice to “vote with your fork.” But there is more each of us can do to create sustainable local food systems that serve everyone—not just the wealthy.

The new book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran Hesterman provides a roadmap for how to do your part. The book, Hesterman says, “is intended to add needed perspective and pragmatism to a shelf dominated by journalists and chefs.” While it continues the awareness-raising work jumpstarted by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, Fair Food goes one step further by dedicating several chapters to the “how” of food system reform, including plenty of case studies of local and regional initiatives that could be replicated nationwide.

Beyond eating seasonally, visiting the farmers’ market, and planting a garden, how can you make a difference? Here are a few of Hesterman’s suggestions:

  • Organize a buying club among friends and neighbors interested in purchasing good food in bulk directly from a producer, providing economic benefits for both buyers and seller. This is a simple way to make free-range meat, wild-caught seafood, and dairy products from pastured animals more affordable.
  • Find a community kitchen (or “kitchen incubator”) in your area, or start one! A community kitchen provides commercial kitchen space to individuals or groups to produce food for sale. Some also offer new food entrepreneurs business development services, Internet access, and expert resources.
  • Volunteer to take part in a community food assessment. By talking to residents in vulnerable neighborhoods about their needs, inventorying selection at local corner stores and groceries, or noting potential places for community gardens or small farms, you can begin to transform a food desert.
  • Get a small group of parents together to talk to the school food service director at your child’s school to find out whether they have the equipment needed to consider using locally sourced food, whether they have any connections with local farmers, and if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Similarly, encourage your college campus, corporate cafeteria, local hospital or nursing home to source more of their food locally and ask how you can help them do it.
  • Find out if there is a food policy council in your state or area and, if not, contact your city council to express your interest in starting one. These bodies typically connect policymakers with concerned citizens and local experts to work on concrete issues like zoning for urban agriculture or improvement of food assistance programs.
  • If you are connected with an institution that uses public funds to procure food (such as universities, day care centers, state office cafeterias, etc.) contact them to see if they have any targets for procuring a certain percentage of their food locally. If they don’t, ask what you can do to help get a target set, whether it’s calling your state representative or contacting the governor’s office.
  • Educate yourself about the issues at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill. For instance, did you know that approximately 68% of the money allocated through the Farm Bill goes toward nutrition programs, while 12% goes toward crop subsidies? Get involved with local organizations to advocate for more equitable and environmentally sound policies.

At an event earlier this week to celebrate the book’s launch, Hesterman pointed out thatThe New York Times just printed a review of Fair Food in the business section. Why there? Because fresh, local, fair food is no longer a fringe concept. Farmers’ markets are booming across the country, CSA subscriptions are skyrocketing, and supermarkets are increasingly offering local options amidst the sea of travel-weary fruits and vegetables. Yet, to quote the book’s introduction, “while there is the beginning of a national conversation about our food system that sings the praises of backyard vegetable gardens and pricey organic produce, the people of Detroit don’t even have a supermarket.”

Even as we transform our own dinner tables, this book urges us to think bigger and do more. While the existence of a food policy council and Farm Bill advocacy can’t guarantee reform, they do demonstrate to lawmakers, businesses, and producers that people care not only about their own meals and where they come from, but are also willing to fight for others’ right to enjoy fresh, nutritious food.

This post originally appeared on FreshtheMovie.com.

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