Securing Sustainability: How City Food Policy Affects You

By Alyssa Harding | Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture

Food policy is dynamic and complex. It deals with how food is produced, processed, distributed, and purchased. According to a publication from Duke entitled “What is Food Policy“, food policy makers regulate food-related industries, establish eligibility standards for food assistance programs, ensure safety of the food supply, and label foods. Food policy decisions can be made at a local, state, or national level by governments or other companies and organizations. With so many stakeholders and so many variables to address, the complexities of city food policy can leave some citizens feeling less than secure when it comes to the food they consume.


A local food policy council has several goals to improve food security within the community. Image via Lane County Food Policy Council.

City Food Policy as a Central Issue

Many cities and states are reorganizing the design of their policies with a focus on food security and sustainability, especially in urban centers. On a federal level, President Obama and the USDA have created new national health standards for school meals through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. According to the USDA’s website, these were the first major changes to school meals in 15 years. Ultimately, community-wide nutrition education and higher health standards will help raise a healthier generation of children, setting the foundation for a more sustainable future. I have also seen examples of this in the Human Services building for Jefferson County in Colorado. The county has a SNAP-Ed program that teaches families how to eat healthily and sustainably on a limited budget, which is especially important for urban areas where food deserts are becoming all too common.

State and city food policy affects us all. The availability and quality of the food we eat varies greatly by neighborhood or community, and the poorest neighborhoods are usually the most affected by food insecurity. The City of Detroit defines food security as “the condition which exists when all of the members of a community have access, in close proximity, to adequate amounts of nutritious, culturally appropriate food at all times, from sources that are environmentally sound and just.” This definition embodies the long-term objectives for the City of Detroit to promote sustainable, healthy, and economically viable food alternatives for members of its community.


A community-based food policy sets standards for food practices and nutrition. Image via christinelouisesirois, Flickr.

Community-Based Food Policy

Other cities are adopting food procurement policies, which are comprehensive programs that can be regionally designed to make healthier food more readily available, affordable, and appealing. The CDC explains how these policies can work to change individual factors, such as how to choose healthy food alternatives, and social/environmental factors, such as the accessibility and availability of healthy options. These policies utilize existing food budgets to create more nutritious food options while shifting demand toward more nutritious products.

By creating these educational programs and broadening consumers’ options when it comes to food, governments and organizations are laying the stepping-stones for healthier, more sustainable communities. In order to ensure a well-rounded representation of citizens’ health needs, individuals should get involved in their local community politics. Through spreading awareness and education about food policy, we can plan for healthier futures for our communities.

About The Author

Alyssa Harding
Alyssa is a recent graduate of the Environmental Science program at the University of Florida, and is currently employed by a non-profit which promotes environmental campaigns and ecological stewardship. An active volunteer for various organizations, she aims to promote environmental conservation and education in an effort to create a foundation for a sustainable future. Alyssa specializes in food science and natural resource economics, and ultimately has her sights set on grassland ecology and regionally appropriate agriculture in order to remedy the inequity that permeates our global food system.