Changelab Solutions Webinar on Food Systems and Health Inequity

by Kyle Winterboer*

ChangeLab Solutions works nationwide to bring about healthier and equitable communities through law and policy. Their ongoing six-part virtual engagement series “Uprooting the Structural Drivers of Health Inequity” is focused on ways that organizations and advocates are addressing inequity in their efforts to improve outcomes. Their recent webinar was the fifth installations of the series, was focused on food systems, and featured an expert panel discussing Policy Solutions for a Values-Based Food System.

Previous episodes can be found on their website, and a recording of Monday’s Panel will be made available at: https://www.changelabsolutions.org/product/food-systems

Below find a list of the expert panelists. Additionally, find a summary by one of the Resnick Center’s Summer Research Assistants, Kyle Winterboer, who attended the webinar on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Expert Panel:

  • Jose Oliva, campaigns director, HEAL Food Alliance
  • Karen Bassarab, senior program officer, Food Communities & Public Health, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
  • Vinny Eng, community organizer and founding member, SF New Deal 
  • Abbey Piner, project lead, Community Food Strategies, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina State University
  • LaShauna Austria, Founder, Kindred Seedlings Farm, and Racial Equity Coach, Community Food Strategies
  • Nessia Berner Wong, senior policy analyst, ChangeLab Solutions (moderator)

Throughout the webinar, the concept of “policy violence” was highlighted and showed how harm to communities has been perpetuated by the disciplines of law and policy being unable to address their own issues of entrenched systemic racism. Panelists highlighted how law and policy need to strive to reform and focus on uplifting dignity and protecting those who are closest to harm. Throughout the food industry, it is well documented that BIPOC farmers and workers have been systematically denied governmental aid and faced barriers that stripped them of land, resources, livelihoods, and opportunity. These policy choices and written laws have directly resulted in the built environments we live in today and continue to plague communities with inequitable living conditions and consequential health outcomes.

The panelists briefly touched on the ongoing legal proceedings regarding the USDA’s rollout of BIPOC loan forgiveness through the American Rescue Plan, and how opponents brought suit in Wisconsin and won a temporary restraining order against the USDA. For further information, further accounting is provided by HEAL Food Alliance and a number of organizations at this link. There, advocates share that while initial steps towards reform in the American Rescue Plan go nowhere near what is needed, any financial relief for BIPOC members of the food system and society are welcomed relief and a step in the right direction. The backlash via numerous lawsuits only shows how far we still have to go.

Beyond the commonly sighted issues of red-lining, Jim Crow laws, and the Bracero Program, the panelists alerted listeners to an emerging policy issue that, if left unsolved, can reinforce racial inequities. While local food policy councils and community food sourcing organizations gain popularity across the country, and may offer a viable way to reinvest in hollowed-out local food systems and address racialized food deserts, conscious choices must be made to avoid continued patterns of systemic racial policy violence. Examples have already played out where all-white councils in some cities were put in place and overlooked opportunities to invest and partner with BIPOC food providers and businesses. Without intentional roll-outs, the programs may instead reinforce the racial inequities they are trying to solve. Intentional consideration must be given to who is in put charge of making the purchasing choices.

Panelists highlighted hope and an example of how Indianapolis diverted from policy as usual by choosing to declare racism a public health crisis in June 2020. Additionally, it created a program that ensures its polices are informed first by the communities that are closest to harm. By partnering with on the ground community organizations, policy can be better informed and shaped by the diverse populations of an area and bring a first-hand account of the needs of the community. Compared to giving power to top-down councils, by assigning the levers of power to those who are already doing the work that a policy is aiming to achieve, it leads to better results and more equitable laws and policies. Such considerations need to be considered in local implementations if these programs hope to actually uproot structural racism. Otherwise, these programs will merely fertilize these structural roots and continue to perpetuate racial injustice throughout the food system.

*Kyle is a summer research assistant with the Resnick Center, and a Master of Public Policy candidate at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, focused on sustainability and food systems. He is also a member of UCLA’s Graduate Food Studies Program and the National Science Foundation’s INFEWS research traineeship program.

Upcoming Webinar

By Diana Winters

Please let me draw your attention to this exciting upcoming webinar in the Faegre Drinker Food Webinar series, to be held at 10am PT on June 15, 2021:

Litigation Considerations Arising From the Pandemic – This presentation will explore litigation trends in the food practice area arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Covered topics include types of litigated claims, state and federal defenses, and jurisdictional questions, among others.

The webinar will be led by Molly Flynn, a partner at Faegre Drinker, and Rita Mansuryan, an associate at Faegre Drinker and a Research Affiliate with the Resnick Center, as well as an Advisory Board member.

I am sure it will be terrific. You can register for the webinar here.

On Food Law News!

Hello! On Food Law is celebrating its approximate three-and-a-half year birthday! Please send (healthy) cake.

We would like to celebrate this milestone with some news. The blog is no longer jointly administered with Harvard’s Food Law Lab, but is now solely a Resnick Center at UCLA Law operation. Nothing has, or will change. We welcome posts from students, faculty, and others from any school and any state, and look forward to many more years of providing cutting edge food law and policy news, scholarship, and commentary.

Thanks for your time, your attention, and your food law wisdom. Please email Diana Winters at winters@law.ucla.edu with questions, comments, and/or blog post ideas.

Repast – New Episode! Reforming Food Systems with Nancy E. Roman

Listen to the new episode of Repast, a food law and policy podcast from the Resnick Center.

In this episode of Repast, Diana Winters and Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), discuss Nancy’s journey to her work with transforming the food landscape, and some of PHA’s most significant campaigns.  These include Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi, a food equity campaign held in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Netflix show about good food, and its Healthy Hunger Relief initiative, where it is working to improve the nutritional profile at our nation’s food banks.

Nancy and Diana also discussed some of the most important action items Nancy would like to see both in the Biden administration and globally, and looked forward to the upcoming PHA Summit, and the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit, a potentially transformative moment in food systems reform.

Diana Winters is the Deputy Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

Nancy E. Roman is the President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America.

You can read Nancy E. Roman’s latest blog post on reforming the food system here.

You can register for the PHA 2021 Summit, to be held virtually on May 12, 2021, at 10am PT/1pm EST, here.

You can find more information about the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit here.

Food Policy with Senator Tom Harkin – a Repast Interview

We are so pleased to share this terrific new episode of Repast, where Michael Roberts interviews Senator Tom Harkin on his years in Congress and his significant impact on food policy, the Harkin Institute and its focus on wellness and nutrition–including the Institute’s upcoming symposium on food as medicine--and the opportunities Senator Harkin sees for food policy with the Biden administration.

You can listen to the episode here.

Repast – A New Podcast Series from the Resnick Center

by Diana Winters

The Resnick Center is excited to share our new monthly podcast series, Repast, where we will interview a thought leader in the field of food law and policy to discuss past achievements, current developments, and future challenges.

In the first episode, Michael Roberts interviews Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on his new book, Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet.  Salt Wars describes the long struggle to reduce the dangerous levels of sodium in the American diet, and explains how industry has fought efforts to regulate salt.  In this episode, Roberts and Jacobson discuss the harms of salt, government inaction, and the exceptional nature of food regulation in the United States.

You can listen to Repast here, and buy Salt Wars here.

P.S. My 12-year-old son, Ike wrote and performed the music for the podcast, so listen for that if nothing else. 🙂

The Small Farm in a Big Food System

by Evan Graham Arango*

Our modern food system prioritizes efficiency and scalability over all other considerations. The result is a highly mechanized and centralized system capable of producing and distributing staggering amounts of food at low cost to consumers.  The majority of food is packaged and handled by a small number of very large processing plants.  Most of this food is produced, controlled and distributed by an even smaller number of giant corporations.  This preference for efficiency, which has shaped the landscape of our modern food system just as it has the physical landscape of our country, comes with tradeoffs that have been largely ignored by our law and policymakers for far too long.  Specifically, the relaxed enforcement of antitrust regulations in the food sector has caused intensive centralization of our food cultivation and distribution system.  Small-scale organic and regenerative farms can significantly impact local food systems in a more robust and sustainable manner.

Degradation of farmland, food contamination, worker safety, climate change, and even intentional attack are some of the primary risks that derive from having such a highly centralized food system.  From an environmental perspective, our soil, water and ecosystems have paid a heavy and easily overlooked price from the agglomeration of power in the food industry.  Moreover, the pandemic has exposed some of these risks and has highlighted both the immediate and long-term need to build into our food system qualities like adaptability, diversification and sustainability.  While the pandemic forcefully brought issues like worker safety, food waste, and food security to the front page headlines, these issues ultimately stem from deeply rooted legal and policy decisions that have invariably favored centralization and efficiency over sustainability and security.  The pandemic has not caused these problems, it has simply revealed just how vulnerable the system is on a national and global scale. This system will only continue to be tested as the Earth’s climate becomes less predictable, soils less fertile, and the number of people to feed increases. I see new technologies and production techniques, along with more small-scale food producers, as promising solutions to many of the risks our food system faces. 

I recently had the opportunity to visit Steadfast Farm in Mesa, Arizona, which provides a great example of how farmers, developers and local governments can work together to create robust and flourishing local food production systems. Here, farmer Erich Shultz partnered with developers to create a profitable one-acre vegetable farm in the heart of a suburban development community.  The farm is beautifully landscaped into the community and serves as an attraction for new residents while securing a place for Erich to run his operation. 

Models such as this can also help overcome the common problem of land acquisition which serves as a major barrier of entry for beginning farmers.  The problem of affordable farmland acquisition is especially apparent in urban and suburban settings where land values are often prohibitively expensive to farm despite the high demand for hyperlocal fresh produce.  Steadfast Farm sells fresh organic vegetables to the local community via an on-farm store, a vegetable box subscription program, farmers markets, and to local restaurants. Small, well managed farms like Steadfast Farm have the potential to be far more profitable per acre than larger-scale farms and have a serious impact on their local food systems.  Many small farms have also been nimble enough to sustain themselves, or even increase business during the pandemic as the demand for healthy local food surged and the threat to the national food supply became apparent. 

How productive can a small-scale regenerative farm be? This is the most common question I have received since I started Ojai Roots, a quarter-acre vegetable farm in Ojai, CA, where I focus on experimenting with organic production techniques that maximize the productivity and revenue potential of very small farms without compromising on environmental care.  While I devote my work on the farm to answering the question of how productive a small farm can be, I have come to understand that the real power may lie in increasing the number of small farms, and their potential to succeed as profitable businesses.  Research, innovation and information sharing will be key in the development and proliferation of these farms and local food production business models. 

The success of these types of diverse local food systems depends on entrepreneurial creativity and supportive laws and policies that rethink issues like zoning, urban/ag divide, business associations, water use, food safety, and environmental protection.  The incoming administration has the opportunity, and hopefully the political will, to support these kinds of changes. Efficiency, while important, cannot be all that counts in making food policy decisions.  It is time to reimagine the possibilities for local food production and get creative in building a more resilient and just food system. 

*Evan Graham Arango is the owner, founder and farmer at Ojai Roots Farm in Ojai, CA. He graduated UCLA Law in 2020 specializing in environmental law and taking courses in food and agricultural law and policy. He supports the small-scale regenerative farming movement currently underway and advocates for policies that help build a more resilient and sustainable food system.

Evan is currently a Research Affiliate with the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law. Research Affiliates are recent law school graduates working to better the food system who consult and assist on various Resnick Center research projects.

To contact Evan or for more information about Ojai Roots Farm:
Email: ojairootsfarm@gmail.com
Website: https://ojairootsfarm.com
Instagram: @Ojairoots

Roberts Guest Lectures

by Michael T. Roberts

I had the opportunity to guest lecture on historical perspectives involving food law and Covid-19 via Zoom in two classes last week. The first lecture/discussion was at the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LL.M. program series sponsored by Professor Susan Schneider on Food, Law, and Covid-19. My presentation title was on “Learning from the Past: Pandemics and Food Security in Historical Context.”

The second lecture/discussion was here at UCLA in Professor Monica Smith’s anthropology class on Covid-19 Foodways: Changes and Challenges for the Future. I presented on legal perspectives on Covid-19 changes in the context of the development of international food law in the 20th century. 

These opportunities have underscored for me how understanding the history of food security and the development of modern food law is critical as we move to the future.

Study Food History and Culture in Italy With UCLA Next Summer

Aaahhh, travel. Let’s dream of July in Rome, experiencing Italy’s food culture and learning Italian food history through the concept of terroir. Study this complex food culture with Robin Derby, Professor of History, UCLA, and Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy, observing sustainable food production, tasting local cuisine, and learning about the emergence of international food governance through the twentieth century. Click here for more information.

Guide to Food-Based Pro Bono Activities

by Diana Winters

The Resnick Center is excited to share the publication of “Setting the Table for Food-Based Pro Bono Opportunities: A Resource Guide for Pro Bono Attorneys,” authored by Tommy Tobin, a member of the Resnick Center’s Advisory Board, and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The guide is designed to facilitate connections between attorneys seeking meaningful pro bono work and anti-hunger organizations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in the United States, and the amount of resources needed to address the crisis is staggering. Attorneys seeking pro bono work can assist with direct client services, legislative research, and policy advocacy, among other things. This guide seeks to describe these opportunities and to assist in forming these partnerships.

We are grateful to Tommy Tobin, Mazon, and Perkins Coie LLP for their work on and support of the guide. The guide will be updated periodically.

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