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Our youth, our future

Schools can “preprogram” the way children eat COURTESY PHOTO

Schools can “preprogram” the way children eat COURTESY PHOTO

By Phil Jones
Special to the Michigan Citizen

As we examine our food system, it is quite obvious it needs help. We are faced with large-scale issues that include a damaging diet, which consumes our people with diabetes, cancer and a host of other deadly and avoidable illnesses. We are bombarded by unscrupulous food producers with waves of false messages and product lines that are poor, at best. We are pumping our food dollars into a system where economic equity is not a part of the equation.

How do we fix it? It seems engaging our youth is at the core of a successful food future. It is arguable how many people live in Detroit, but we know it is in excess of 700,000, which is still significant wherever you stand in the demographic debate. Of this number, it is estimated there are 190,347 children living in the city, and, sadly, a staggering 57.3 percent are living in poverty, as of 2011. This is compared to a still disappointing 34.8 percent in 1999, so it is clear our needs are rising with this increase of 64.7 percent in the number of our children living lives burdened with yoke of economic despair.

These disturbing facts are balanced by solutions within our collective grasp, and it should be recognized these solutions live in our youth.  I have long had a personal belief that by investing in our children’s food, we can repair our food system. By focusing on our children’s needs, we will be able to work out the health issues associated with poor diets. We will begin to answer the issues surrounding healthy food access and its historic foundation in racism and classism. We will “re-localize” our broken food economy with a just and equitable framework.  We will see the solutions we seek today.  We just need to give our focus to our children and their food needs so all might benefit.

Schools are the perfect place to begin. What more sensible starting point? Schools are the primary gathering place for our children, and there is an infrastructure in place that could be the launch pad for aggressive policies that could actually, both, reprogram and “preprogram” the way our children eat.

Aggressive policy has birthed progressive food programs, such as Universal Breakfast in the Detroit Public Schools, which is a free program that places breakfast in both the cafeteria and classrooms. DPS is also moving to more local food procurement. That, however, could use policies that encourage processing closer to the city, which is also a great economic opportunity.  We can build upon this and truly change the destinies of those in need.

What this comes down to is a call to passionately, positively and productively engage our youth in a way to create pathways to a stronger and more equitable food system, which grows community and stabilizes lives. This is a plea for your involvement and commitment. However, be assured this request is not without the tools needed to support the work.

The Detroit Food Policy Council and its Schools and Institutions Workgroup are working to empower children by examining the policies that influence how and what kids eat, develop the relationships needed to change the direction of local food systems and foster economic development with food at the center of its activity.

You can be a part of the solution. You can lend your talents to this workgroup by attending a special meeting Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in the Eastern Market offices, located at 2934 Russell.  In addition to discussing an exciting new survey project, there will be conversations around the design of the 2014 Detroit Food Summit with a focus on a view of the local food system through a lens of racial equity. The summit will be held March 20 – 22, 2014 at Focus: Hope, so save the date.

Our chance to make a better future is here, and we must step forward bravely and lift up our youth to ensure a food secure future. We must develop policies that work to that end, so we need your input. The Schools and Institutions workgroup is your tool to affect real change, and we encourage your involvement.

Phil Jones is the chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council, and acts as the chef and general manager of COLORS – Detroit, a social enterprise of The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan – ROC – MI.  He can be reached at chefphiljones55@gmail.com.

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