The Fordham Urban Law Journal hosted its 2017 Cooper-Walsh Colloquium, “Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple: A Conversation About Urban Food Policy,” on Oct. 20. The colloquium, which addressed the American public health crisis surrounding diet-related diseases, featured panels on food policy analysis and developments in urban communities.
The morning panel “Foraging Food Justice through Cooperatives in New York City” addressed the unequal access to healthy food among New Yorkers. Surbhi Sarang, fellow at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Natalie Bump Vena, assistant professor of urban studies at Queens College (CUNY), suggested that the formation of co-ops could help members of vulnerable communities achieve food-based justice.
“As cities design policies to achieve food justice, they should consider solutions that address the root issues,” said Sarang.
According to Sarang and Vena, probable benefits of establishing co-ops include cheaper food prices, higher job compensation, increased job quality, and economic reinvestment in local communities. Potential challenges include the acquisition of affordable spaces, limited time and energy for overworked lower-income families, and the threat of gentrification if the co-ops do form.
The panel’s respondent was Jonathan Brown, director of the Food and Beverage Law Clinic and adjunct professor of law at Pace University. Brown discussed other alternatives besides co-ops that could promote nutritional justice among low-income families, including nonprofit food businesses.
The next panel, “Want to Increase Food Access? Ban It from Your Vocabulary,” proposed a different solution to unequal food access. Nathan Rosenberg, a lawyer and researcher in Iowa City, argued that justice will arise simply by giving money to impoverished individuals.
“The issue, we now know, is not proximity but poverty,” said Rosenberg.
Citing research that reveals how increasing food retail in “food deserts” does not much increase the consumption of healthy food, Rosenberg showed how people rank money, by far, as the largest factor preventing their purchase of desired food. He discussed how programs like SNAP have been proven to increase the health and success of children who receive it.
The panel’s respondent was Nevin Cohen, associate professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. Cohen claimed that policy makers should not discard discussions of food access but should discuss it in light of critical race theory. He asserted that people need to make alternatives to conventional grocery stores seem desirable.
An afternoon panel, “Food Law Gone Wild: The Law of Foraging,” addressed a particularly unconventional means of acquiring food. Baylen Linnekin, adjunct professor at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, proposed that the American government should allow all foraging unless problems arise.
For centuries, the American government has imposed strict anti-foraging laws. Linnekin explained how such laws, as in the case of colonists’ conflicts with Native Americans, formed because of racial and class biases. Today, strict laws continue to reign, and they could (and did) result in fines for picking and eating dandelions. Given the benefits of foraging (free, healthy, environmentally friendly), Linnekin recommended that regulations against the activity should be reduced.
The panel’s respondent was Joshua Galperin, research scholar, lecturer in law, and Environmental Protection Clinic director at Yale Law School. He agreed with Linnekin’s proposal but argued for maintaining some regulations according to science-based standards and citizen enforcement provisions.
“In fact, foraging does have ecological consequences,” Galperin said.