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New report calls on next NYC Mayor to create 10,000 good food jobs

Diet related diseases, hunger, and high unemployment rates plague New York City, not to mention many other urban areas throughout the world. In the U.S. specifically, our food system is broken—damaging the environment, over-producing calorie dense but nutrient poor food, and in most segments of the food chain workforce, providing low-paying jobs lacking benefits and safe working conditions for employees.

We know how interconnected all of these problems are. Unfortunately, most efforts to address these challenges are disconnected and uncoordinated. A new report by the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College and the City University of New York School of Public Health explores the possibility of tackling all of these problems together. The report examines the intersection between workforce development and food policy and the potential synergistic effects of creating “good food jobs”–jobs that make healthier food more accessible to all New Yorkers, pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions, and promote sustainable economic development.

New York City’s food sector is huge, employing 326,000 workers and a growth rate of 33% in the last decade. Several public and private funding streams support workforce development in food services. As a sector that provides many entry-level opportunities for low- and moderate-skilled workers, it is an important target for new job creation, including for those hardest hit by the 2008 recession: those with limited education, recent immigrants, and entrepreneurs with high ambitions but little capital. Given the magnitude of the food sector in New York City, we are hopeful this report presents an adaptable model for other places.

JOBS FOR A HEALTHIER DIET AND A STRONGER ECONOMY: Opportunities for Creating New Good Food Jobs in New York City calls for the next Mayor of New York City to shepherd true intersectoral collaboration, bringing together city agencies, employers, workforce development programs and others to create 10,000 new good food jobs in New York City by 2020.

The report describes a sampling of existing New York City programs that are working to create good food jobs and analyzes models from other cities and states. These programs demonstrate that it is possible to improve pay and working conditions for food workers, who can then, in turn, make healthy food more available and affordable. However, the report also shows that more support is needed for these program to realize their full potential for economic development and improved nutritional health.

The report identifies six strategies that could each produce at least 1,000 good food jobs towards the goal of 10,000; both new and re-designed existing jobs with improved skill levels, pay and nutritional quality of the food produced or prepared. They are:

  1. Increase enrollment in the New York City Department of Education’s School Lunch program by 15% and in school breakfast programs by 35,000 children to generate 1,000 new jobs and train school cooks to use less salt, fat and sugar and prepare more fresh food.
  2. Create the New York City Healthy Food Truck and Street Vendors Project to assist 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs, including recent immigrants, unemployed people, or small business owners to prepare and sell healthy, affordable street food in New York City neighborhoods, parks and tourist destinations.
  3. Build new food processing plants in New York City that can process regionally grown food for institutions and small retail outlets thereby creating new jobs and new markets for New York State farmers while further improving the nutritional quality of food served in the city’s institutional food programs.
  4. Create or expand social enterprise organizations that can win contracts for institutional food in private schools, universities, health care facilities and city programs by providing affordable healthy food. Each year, New York City public agencies serve 270 million meals, and universities and voluntary hospitals serve tens of millions more. Creating local businesses that can sell healthy, regional, fresh and processed food to these institutions creates jobs and improves the health of vulnerable populations.
  5. Provide additional training and compensation to home health aides to prepare them to become healthy food shoppers and cooks for people with diabetes and other diet-related diseases in order to prevent hospitalizations and improve disease management.
  6. Enroll an additional 250,000 eligible New Yorkers in SNAP (Food Stamps) to increase demand for healthy food in small groceries, bodegas, farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) projects and enlist the city’s advertising agencies and food organizations in a citywide pro bono social marketing campaign to increase demand for healthy food.

The report also calls on city government and employers to build an infrastructure to sustain and expand the number of good food jobs, including an intersectoral city-wide task force and a new position in the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy to oversee these efforts.

Last year, the Applied Research Center released a report entitled GOOD FOOD + GOOD JOBS FOR ALL: Challenges and Opportunities to Advance Racial and Economic Equity in the Food System. This report identified the significant need and opportunity for deliberate and meaningful collaboration between the food justice and labor movements. Following up on this important piece, our hope is that our report’s in-depth exploration and analyses of these issues specifically in New York City provides concrete solutions and next steps at the local level that can ultimately serve as a model for other cities as well.

The authors of the report are Nicholas Freudenberg, DrPH,  and Michele Silver, MS,  a doctoral student in public health at CUNY and the CUNY Good Food Jobs Research team. The New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College develops intersectoral, innovative and effective solutions to preventing diet-related diseases and promoting food security in New York and other cities. The Center works with policy makers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments and to use food to promote community and economic development. Through interdisciplinary research, policy analysis, evaluation and education, we leverage the expertise and passion of the students, faculty and staff of Hunter College and CUNY. The Center aims to make New York a model for smart, fair food policy.

For more information, to subscribe to the Center’s e-newsletter, or to receive an invitation to the Center’s Fall Forum on Good Food Jobs, contact info@foodpolicy.org.  For questions or comments on the report, contact Nicholas Freudenberg at nf@nycfoodpolicy.org

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