Forum discusses how to make food system better

Feb 29, 2012

Our food system has changed more in the past 40 years than in the past 400-thousand.  That was just one of the comments made during a panel discussion on problems surrounding the production and distribution of food to American tables.

Over the past 40 years, farms have consolidated.  Farm subsidies often determine both the type and the amount of food to be produced.  Improved transportation allows food to be further distributed, but often times people living in lower-income neighborhoods don't necessarily have quick access to healthier choices.

The system, said the panelists in the forum inside UB's Allen Hall, is broken.

"Unfortunately it's really broken in all steps, everything from production to distribution, consumption and waste," said Susannah Barton, executive director of Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo and panelist. "We really have issues to work on at every level but there are actually things that we as consumers can do, and different choices that we can make to make an impact."

The system as we know it today actually makes less healthy options more readily available, and sometimes at a lower cost.   But other times, it's simply easier to access the unhealthier choices.

"We have 69 percent of our food landscape as restaurants and then the next 11 percent are convenience stores," said Jessie Gouck, project coordinator for Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, an initiative sponsored by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.  "We're talking 80 percent of our available food retail is generally unhealthy food, and at a higher cost then what it would cost you to purchase food at a supermarket or grocery store and prepare it for your family.

Others are reaching out to educate people on the economic and health benefits of growing one's own food.  Diane Picard is executive director of the Massachusetts Avenue Project, an initiative that works with up to 50 young people each year to help make healthier foods more accessible.

"They learn how to do urban agriculture.  They learn how to run their own business through our youth enterprise program," said Picard.  "Our mission is really to get healthy food out to low-income neighborhoods where access is limited."

The forum was sponsored by the Junior League of Buffalo.