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The e-newsletter of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute
Photo credit: Carlos Martinez
 Supermarket Closings in New York City:
What’s the Impact on Healthy Food Access? 
The Pathmark Supermarket located at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, which served 30,000 people a week,  closed in November 2015, putting more than 200 people out of work.
Despite well-publicized supermarket closings over the past year and the net loss of approximately 16 stores citywide, since 2013, the number of traditional supermarkets in New York City has actually increased by about 9 percent to a total of approximately 1,100 stores.
However, this citywide trend masks the devastating effects of the loss of an individual supermarket -- to workers who lose their jobs and to communities already lacking quality food retail outlets. For some vulnerable residents who may not be in a position to shop at more distant, more affordable or familiar locations, supermarket closings may reduce access to healthy affordable food. 
At a recent Forum on Supermarket Closing in New York City, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute;  LISC-New York City, a support organization for community development corporations; and City Harvest, a food rescue organization, convened policy makers, supermarket operators and advocates to consider appropriate policy responses to supermarket closings.

Forum participants acknowledge that the traditional supermarket industry is in the midst of a transformation. Big box and limited variety grocers on the one hand and drug stores, dollar stores, and online delivery services on the other are competing for sales revenue.  Consumers are more likely to shop at multiple retailers, reducing the already razor-thin margins of traditional retailers.
The city’s pattern of economic growth means that commercial rents have increased significantly, especially in neighborhoods that have experienced an influx of higher-income residents. As a result, as supermarket leases expire, operators face rent increases that in some cases would render the business unprofitable.

A shuttered D'Agostino in New York City
Protecting traditional supermarkets from cost increases that put them out of business requires either commercial rent control or other mechanisms such as mandatory rent negotiations that enable grocers to withstand rising property values in rapidly growing neighborhoods.
Creating more stable food retail options that provide access to the poorest New Yorkers may also involve re-creating the public markets that were the main source of food for New York City before the growth of the supermarket chain. Public markets  can range from conventional market halls offering subsidized rents for small food retailers; farmers markets for direct sales; or public commissaries like those operated by the US military to subsidize the cost of healthy food. Food delivery to homes or community centers is another way to meet the shopping needs of New Yorkers without new brick and mortar locations.
In the last decade, city policy on supermarkets was often based on the theory that many New York City neighborhoods had too few supermarkets. More recent developments suggest that policies need to focus on improving the quality and affordability of the food retail system. This may include incentives for new supermarkets but it also requires supporting a wider range of retail outlets that  make selling healthy food to all sectors of their communities at affordable prices a priority.

Developing food retail policies that can solve this problem will require understanding the shopping practices and preferences of a wide range of New Yorkers; better recognition of the obstacles faced by existing small and large  retailers; and systematic assessment of a range of policies, programs and funding streams that can be directed to expanding healthy food retail options in New York City.

For a more in-depth discussion of this topic see our new report Creating Policies to Support Healthy Food Access in a Changing Food Retail: Invitation to a Dialog by Nevin Cohen and Nicholas Freudenberg. We invite readers to join a dialogue on shaping the policies that can increase food access in a changing retail environment. 

Download the report
CUNY Food Policy Forum on Food and the 2016 Election
Panelists from left: Nicholas Freudenberg, Bill Telepan, Nancy Huehnergarth, David DeVaughn, Michael Lavendar
Most observers of the 2016 election would agree that to date food and food policy has not been a front burner issue.  But are there other top tier election issues that could provide an opening for food advocates—climate change and energy policy, trade policy, income inequality and minimum wage, the role of government in safety net programs?  Can food activists use the distrust of corporations by many of Bernie Sanders supporters and some of Donald Trump’s followers to focus on the role of Big Food in health and hunger?  Can the threats to democracy that “dark money”, campaign contributions and PACs pose enlist food and other activists to join the fight for campaign finance reform?  On June 7, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute sponsored a forum on Food and the 2016 Election to consider these and other questions. 

Four speakers considered the role of food in the election from various perspectives. Michael Lavender, the Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment program, described the work of Plate of the Union, an effort of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, Food Policy Action Education Fund, and the HEAL Food Alliance. Plate of the Union is mobilizing a broad range of Americans—including farmers, scientists, community activists, thought leaders, chefs, and ordinary citizens—to amplify the call for healthy and affordable food that is fair to food workers and protects the productivity of our farmlands. Its goal is to persuade the next president to take bold steps to improve our food system. He also described a public opinion poll Plate of the Union commissioned last year that showed strong public support for many food policy reforms. 

David DeVaughn, Senior Manager, Policy & Government Relations at City Harvest, helps to convene the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the bill that funds the nation’s school food and several other feeding programs. He described how the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is seeking to reshape the bill by reducing funding and converting it into block grant that would allow state’s more leeway to spend the money as they chose. Most food security advocates oppose this change and hope the Congressional and Presidential election can provide a forum for discussing what role the American people want the government to play in maintaining strong safety programs and eliminating hunger and food insecurity. 

Nancy Huehnergarth is the co-founder of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance, a coalition dedicated to improving policies and practices that promote healthy eating and physical activity. She also writes on food for the Huffington Post, Forbes, and Civil Eats. At the forum, she described some of the nuts and bolts tactics advocacy coalitions can use election campaigns to advance their agendas. These include letter writing campaigns, op-eds on campaign issues, candidate questionnaires and candidate forums, voter education guides and voter registration drives. Through these and other activities, food groups can enlist new supporters, educate candidates and voters, and promote new policy ideas. 

Finally, Bill Telepan, a chef who is one of New York’s most acclaimed proponents of Greenmarket cooking and the Executive Chef of Wellness in the Schools, described how school food, child health, fitness and military preparedness and the costs of diet-related diseases can become openings for discussions with parents and voters about the need to elect candidates who can work for reforms in these areas. He also described the growing role that chefs have played in educating Congress about food and off policy. 

Nicholas Freudenberg, Food Policy Institute Director and Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the CUNY School of Public Health closed the session by reminding participants that many reforms are discussed in two, three or more election cycles before they become law. By using the 2016 election to talk about the food system we want 10 years from now, we can begin that journey now. 
Resources on Food and the 2016 Election
The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute is Hiring!
We're looking for a Deputy Director, a new position we hope to fill as soon as possible. The ideal candidate will have several years experience managing and leading food policy or food justice organizations, familiarity with food policy issues in low-income communities in  New York and other cities, a track record of fund raising, and a commitment to using university resources to promote health and social justice.

For the full job description and access to the online application process, click here
Position 14894