Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joel Berg: Good Food, Good Jobs

In a new report from the Progressive Policy Institute, Joel Berg can be tough on writers who are naive about food policy.

For example, Berg quotes Marlene Kennedy, who suggested in the Albany Times-Union in 2008 that SNAP (food stamp) participants take up gardening:
Rather than working hard to increase participation in food and nutrition assistance programs, why not try to reduce the need for such aid? Instead of spreading the word about food stamps to the urban poor, why not give them a way to grow their own food?
Berg responds with a tart call to realism:
The idea that people should work in a community garden instead of getting food stamps is simply preposterous. SNAP is a vital safety-net program that makes a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans, providing mass sustenance in a way community gardens still have yet to achieve.... Saying that seasonal gardens can take the place of a year-round government safety net is ridiculous and counterproductive.
On the other hand, Berg can also be rough on writers who are too narrowly realistic.

For example, many community food programs start small, but Berg disagrees with those who sneer at the small initial scale of such programs.
[J]ust as I rebuke food security theorists for glossing over the class-insensitive aspects of the movement, I must also chide my colleagues in traditional hunger organizations for too frequently looking down their noses at the community food security movement just because most of the projects are still small-scale. If anti-hunger advocates agree that such projects are helpful but believe their scale is too small to make a meaningful difference, the most logical response should be to work together to develop public policies to help them expand.
So, using Berg's perspective, in which it is possible to be too naive, too realistic, or just right, I invite comments on the balance struck in several of the proposals in Berg's report.

A. A new $1 billion tax credit.
The president and Congress should authorize $1 billion in new, special tax credits for food-related businesses, contingent on their paying living-wage salaries to their employees, locating or staying in areas of particularly high unemployment, or providing affordable food to low-income Americans.
B. The bully pulpit.
The president should use his “bully pulpit” to encourage private investments in food-related social innovation projects.
C. A food access index.
USDA should develop a “food access index,” a new measure that takes into account both the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, and use this measure as another tool to judge the success of all the efforts it funds.
D. $50 million in community food grants.
The president and Congress should increase the funding for the USDA Community Food Grant Program to $50 million, from its current $5 million level.
Berg directs the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and is author of All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?


knowislam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Derrill Watson said...

I think A is very naive, largely on a political level. Berg may like those restrictions on where the subsidy would go, but they would quickly be hacked apart by lobbying groups. Most of the subsidy (sold as food stimulus) would go to the large firms ... as it usually does.

I doubt B would change much and there are many more policies on POTUS' plate.

C and D seem a lot closer to just right. We need more research on C to make it a viable option, but at the very least USDA could start the work on it. D I think would be a little much - most of the government is still trying to shovel the stimulus money out the door without much success. It takes time to build up the capacity to spend big money. A doubling or trebling of the money - if it is actually found to be useful already - would be more sensible.

That's my vote, anyway.