Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Food Policy and the Food Business

Our basic premise in all of our discussions of the city's efforts to craft a food policy-whether in regards to trans fat or in the attempt to insure greater access to healthier food-is that any policy proposal, if it is to be effective, needs to include in a collaborative way the city's food retailers, wholesalers and restauranteurs.

This is the point that Richard Lipsky makes in today's NY Daily News story on the new "food czar." As Lipsky points out, "The new food czar should be a person who is sensitive to the economics of the food distribution system as well as the health issue." This is imperative so that we can avoid regulatory heavy-handedness that, because it lacks sensitivity to the economics, uses coercive edicts to impose a politically correct public health ideology.

The supermarkets, bodega, green grocers and restaurants need to be made partners in any public health effort. At the same time, the city needs to understand that the businesses are over-taxed and over-regulated; and that enlisting their support means looking for ways to make these businesses more productive.

When the speaker of the city council talks about getting fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income New Yorkers she needs to realize that, by-passing the existing retail sector, she may be making it less likely that her goals will be achieved. This results from the fact that lasting solutions must be incorporated within the established business model, and not through a methodology that seeks to create an alternative route that weakens the viability of local stores and restaurants.

Another key factor here is the need to address the hearts and minds side of the equation. The public health community all too often views the food industry as the "evil empire." What is missing in this demonization is the reality of consumer consciousness and preferences. Certainly manufacturer's try to generate demand with their advertisements but the stores that sell the products have much less flexibility in the marketing of the products they sell.

What this means to us is that the city and the food retailers and restaurant owners need to get together in a collaborative public health initiative that begins to educate consumers and customers about the need to eat better and live a healthier life-style. This is precisely what the Health Corps is all about. All of us, business owners and public health experts alike, are concerned with health. We just need to find a way to row the boat together in the same direction.