From Partnerships to Policy: Promising Practices for New Food Policy Councils
Phil Ford, Policy and Advocacy Consultant
Eat Smart Move More South Carolina
December 1, 2020
With President-Elect Biden naming cabinet-level secretaries to lead his administration, it is important to turn our eyes to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). When one thinks about the USDA, it may only be centered around farming, ranching, or the like. However, the USDA is so much more than that, especially to rural and economically disadvantaged communities. By the end of this posting, you’ll understand what else the USDA is responsible for, why it’s important for us in public health to be a part of the discussion, and who I think is the best choice to lead the department.
Of course, the USDA is responsible for making sure farmers and ranchers stay in business, that our meat supply is safe, and for nutritional labeling on our food, but there is so much more for which the department is responsible. The USDA also is tasked with school meal nutrition, nutrition education, food assistance for women, infants, and children (WIC), and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). They are even responsible for rural development initiatives like the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program implementation, wildfire prevention, and keeping accurate agricultural research and data.
Hunger and food insecurity have remained a problem for the United States with those numbers increasing due to COVID-19. I believe it is time for the USDA to be led with SNAP, WIC, and nutrition education at the forefront of their agenda. In turn, I believe this will only help farmers and ranchers while reducing and, hopefully, eliminating disparities among our most basic needs: food.
Note: South Carolina faces higher than national average rates of food insecurity. Due to COVID-19, figures are trending closer to 20%.
Over the last four years, school nutrition standards that Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) advocated to establish have been lowered. Under current USDA Secretary Perdue, vegetable and fruit serving levels were cut making room for more pizza, cheeseburgers, and fries in lunchrooms across the nation. Additionally, deadlines for reducing the sodium content, as set out in the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, in our children’s food were delayed. Waivers were issued to create loopholes for states not wanting to adhere to the new standards.
Schools are the only means that some children have meals throughout the week. The state and local school districts are tasked with creating a healthy and safe environment for our children to learn. It should start with the breakfasts and lunches they provide.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP has been under attack and people are suffering. With some seniors receiving just $16 per month and others receiving less than $200 for a family of four, rules (not instituted by Congress) have made their way into the program. There have been efforts to reduce the program by $230 billion over the next 10 years without any additional efforts to increase education or workforce development. Meanwhile, these cuts were not included in any bill or law by Congress. They were implemented by circumventing legislative channels. Additionally, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “the elderly, people with different ability levels, and low-income working families would bear the brunt of these cuts.”
To be clear, these cuts were rejected by a bipartisan Congressional effort only to be pushed through with executive action.
ESMMSC has advocated at the national and state levels to inform and educate decision-makers that this type of assault on SNAP is intolerable. For the last two years, I have attended the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, DC to let our policymakers know what advocates on the ground need and what we think of these unvetted rules. Furthermore, ESMMSC has led an effort to incentivize SNAP usage at farmers markets to increase revenue for farmers and create additional healthy food access for those that may not have affordable access.
With SNAP applications and cases increasing due to COVID-19, it’s imperative that the new USDA Secretary be someone with the wherewithal to understand the need and to be compassionate during this unprecedented time.
New Agriculture Secretary
Therefore, the next USDA Secretary needs to be someone who will stand with us in the fight against hunger in our country. Of the names mentioned for this position, I believe that person is Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio. Not only is it important to note that she would be the first black woman to take the helm of the USDA, but she has the experience of being a leading voice on the House Agriculture Committee to boot.
She is a six-term congresswoman and is currently the chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. She’s worked closely with food banks and anti-hunger advocates in her home state, and she has been vocal in her opposition to these cuts and waivers instituted by Secretary Perdue.
I believe it is a necessary step to nominate and confirm someone like Representative Fudge to address hunger, school nutrition, the legacy of discrimination of black farmers by the USDA, and to ensure Americans across the country have access to all the USDA programs and resources have to offer.
Phil Ford is the owner of The Ford & Ford Group, where he works with Eat Smart Move More South Carolina as a consultant on policy and advocacy. He is a food access advocate and has advocated in Washington, DC, and across South Carolina to end hunger.
Have you attended an Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) meeting or event and felt annoyed that your only beverage options were water and unsweetened tea? Or that your only food options were salads, wraps, or grilled chicken? There’s a reason for that! ESMMSC has a Healthy Meetings and Wellness Policy that supports its mission and work: to advance community-led change to reduce obesity, by making the healthy choice the easy choice for every South Carolinian.
Many organizations and businesses are implementing healthy meetings and events practices. To send the message that health is important to them, to help support the health of the employees, members, and partners, and to have more energized and engaged participants, organizations and businesses should adopt healthy meetings and events policies too.
“If we served sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, and went heavy on refined carbs at our meetings and events where food is served, it would completely go against everything our organization stands for,” said Meg Stanley, executive director at ESMMSC. “We care about the health of everyone we come in contact with, so it just makes sense to have these types of policies in place and to implement them.”
Far too often, organizations and businesses serve unhealthy breakfast, lunch, and snack foods at conferences and meetings. And that’s easy to do when there aren’t policies in place that provide guidelines.
“For example, if you’re a health insurance company and your mission, in part, is to keep healthcare costs down, serving fried chicken at a meeting makes it hard to say you’re staying true to your mission,” says Stanley. “The same is true for any business, small or large. If you care about employee health and wellness, you should have a policy in place and enforce that policy.”
Since its inception in 2007, ESMMSC has maintained and implemented a Healthy Meetings and Wellness Policy: Given our mission to make the healthy choice the easy choice for every South Carolinian, ESMMSC aims to create a workplace that promotes and supports healthy lifestyles for both employees and partners. As such, ESMMSC has adopted the following wellness policies: Healthy Meetings and Catering, Movement Meetings, Physical Activity Opportunities, Sharing Food, and Staff Wellness.
Each of these policies provides opportunities to those who attend ESMMSC meetings and events, as well as staff, to eat healthy foods and to engage in healthy activities. Download the ESMMSC policy.
“I’ll be honest, when I started working at ESMMSC eight years ago, I wasn’t thrilled about the policies, but I’ve come to appreciate them. They make me accountable for my health and wellness,” says Brandie Freeman, communications and marketing manager at ESMMSC. “With these policies in place, I drink more water, snack on fruits instead of chips and candy, and have managed to eat more vegetables with my meals. I mean, I’m not perfect. I still indulge, but I don’t do it quite so often.”
If your organization or business would like to adopt a Healthy Meetings and Wellness Policy, there are a couple of reputable resources available online. You can also contact ESMMSC.
- The American Heart Association’s Healthy Workplace Food and Toolkit
- Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Healthy Meetings Resources
Adopting a Healthy Meetings and Wellness Policy is a great way to highlight the culture of health within your organization or business and be part of the growing movement around health and wellness. For more information, contact Executive Director Meg Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Manager of Policy and Advocacy Phil Ford at email@example.com.
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably been advocating for things throughout your life. Did you ask your parents for a pet and give them reasons why you deserve one? Have you ever asked your boss for a raise and explained why you deserve it? What about raising concerns about your loved one’s healthcare with their provider? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are an advocate.
Advocacy is an activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy is presenting a problem or a need to elected officials, and it’s almost always accompanied by a solution.
“One thing my mom used to tell me growing up: don’t just come to me with a problem. Come to me with a solution as well,” says Phil Ford, manager of policy and advocacy. “It’s important for legislators to be made aware of the problem but it’s even more important to let them know that you want to work with them to find an appropriate solution.”
Advocacy is, perhaps, the most effective way to make change happen on any level of government because the issues directly impact the day to day lives of every citizen in a town or county – not to mention the state.
Communicating with your elected officials is important. They often only hear from constituents when they need something. It’s just as important to thank them for a vote on a bill or resolution, or for standing with you on the issues.
“Don’t be afraid to contact your decision-makers. They often hear from constituents only when something is needed, but they’re not recognized when they do the “right” thing. So, when you notice a decision-maker who’s done the “right” thing, thank them and let them know,” says Ford.
Everyone can advocate. Whether it’s asking your own legislator for support or only distributing facts to elected officials, every individual has the right to advocate. Use our Steps to Effective Advocacy handout to guide you through your next advocacy campaign. For a further explanation of advocacy, download our What is Advocacy handout.
Eat Smart Move More SC (ESMMSC) engages community and state partners in efforts to support healthy eating and active living policies at the local, state, and federal level. In a state that suffers from one of the highest rates of obesity in the country, ESMMSC and our partners are advocating for the state and local policy changes necessary to support individuals in the adoption of lifelong healthy habits.
The new advocacy platform includes initiatives that positively effects PSE change, which ultimately help prevent and reduce the high incidence of obesity in our state. The platform addresses the following settings: Early Care, K-12 Schools, and Community. The document outlines healthy eating and active living policy initiatives from out-of-school time, FitnessGram, and accountability to healthy food sales and service, Complete Streets, and SNAP and Healthy Bucks.