The Food, Faith, and Health Disparities Summit was an all-day deliberative event between residents, officials, and experts from New York's five boroughs. The summit was part of a wider dialogue-to-change initiative to build a healthy food system in the city.
Problems and Purpose
NY Faith & Justice, Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice, and the Riverside Church partnered to address concerns about food and health disparities in New York City. The Food, Faith, and Health Disparities Summit was held to bring residents from all five boroughs together for a day of dialogue and prioritizing actions. As the deliberative portion of a larger dialogue-to-change (study circles) initiative, the summit's planned outcomes were (1) creation of action teams to help implement the final decisions and ensuring ongoing communication, and (2) collaboration between residents and elected officials.
Background History and Context
According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. An estimated 3 million people in New York City live in "food deserts." (Food deserts are areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, and are often located in low-income neighborhoods.)
African American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the lack of fresh food. African Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to live in a food desert. Predominantly white neighborhoods have about three times the number of chain supermarkets as predominantly Latino areas.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The summit was organized collaboratively between the NY Faith & Justice, Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice, and the Riverside Church. Everyday Democracy and Conversations for change helped plan the structure of the event and provided facilitator training and briefing materials in the form of an issue guide.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants to the summit appear to have been recruited largely through community channels and networks. The Bronx Health REACH coalition's event advertisment was circulated on their only blog, calling for participants and offering sign-ups for interested facilitators. The coalition's message goes on to read: "we strongly encourage you to get people from your community to participate. For this Summit to achieve its goal of engaging the communities in coming up with solutions which will work for everyone, we need representation from congregations, community residents, store owners, parents, and teachers, to work together with food advocacy groups, political leaders, and businessmen."
Methods and Tools Used
The Summit followed a 'dialogue-to-change' process - also known as Study Circles - which Everyday Democracy describes as process in which "diverse groups of people meet over several weeks, and take part in activities that build trust, provide opportunities to share honestly, learn about an issue and work together on solutions and action."
The process requires "a commitment of time and a diverse group of core supporters" that begins with an dedicated publicity and advertising campaign overseen by an organizing team to recruit participants representative of community demographics. Following this, a structured dialogue is held to deliberate the issue(s) and determine an action plan. Before beginning the dialogue-to-change process, organizers must make plans to follow through on the actions which emerge from the dialogue.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
According to the Everyday Democracy Issue Guide, the Summit's agenda was as follows:
8:30-9:00am Arrival and Check In / Continental Breakfast
9:15-10:30am Session One: Who are We? What is our Vision for a Healthy Food System for NYC?
10:35-12:00pm Session Two: What is at the Root of the Problem? Why is this a Problem in our City?
12:00-1:00pm Lunch Time Panel Discussion on Approaches to Change
1:15-2:45pm Session Three: Approaches to Building a Healthy Food System for All New Yorkers
3:00-4:30pm Session Four: Moving to Action. What Can We Do?
4:30-5:00pm Light Meal
5:00-6:30pm Action Forum
Influence, Outcomes and Effects
After the summit, six action teams formed to address concerns about food and health. The action teams focused primarily on connecting residents with elected officials and local businesses, educating the public around the federal Farm Bill, and developing incentives for people to make healthy food choices. Six months later, four of the action teams were still working to change policy and engage the community around these issues.
As part of their work to connect the community engagement process with policy change, some of the community leaders involved with this initiative sent a memorandum to the mayor's office to be incorporated into PlaNY, a 25-year plan launched my Mayor Bloomberg in 2007 to make New York City more sustainable.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As the deliberative component of the dialogue-to-change process, the Summit sought to bring citizens, experts, and officials together to discuss the cause and effects of New York's health disparities. Through deliberation, it was hoped that participants could build the trust and understanding necessary to collaboratively develop and commit to an action plan to reduce both the immediate consequences of such inequalities as well as teir systemic, institutional, and historical causes. According to one of the Summit's participants, Kimberly White, intern with local NGO Sustainable Flatbush, the event appears to have been successful in convening a diverse group of participants and in developing understanding between groups with a history of distrust. Ms. White states that "we were there to elicit change – to empower ourselves with the ammunition of knowledge to change the system in solidarity with disadvantaged New Yorkers. Every eloquent speaker further equipped us with the tools we needed to collectively dismantle New York City’s incompetent food system." She echoes the sentiments of many organizers in stating that "the inherent inequalities in NYC’s food system cannot be fixed by people who are not connected with the significance of ensuring food justice." In this regard, Ms. White views the Summit as a success, "serv[ing] to unite people that are forced to dance with food inequality by economic disadvantages and people protected from marginalization by food security." Another participant's experiences support this conclusion: "Our small-group facilitators guide us through self-examination, tracing the roots of food system problems, discussing suggested approaches, and finally, to create priorities for action. The conversation is lively and respectful, spirited and illuminating. Interestingly, many of the dialogue circles come to similar conclusions: a need to bridge the world between small business and communities concerned about the food system."
 "Making Health Equality a Reality," Bronx Health REACH Blog, September 28, 2010, https://bronxhealthreach.blogspot.com/2010/09/food-faith-and-health-disparities.html?m=0
 Kerry Birnbach et al, "Food for Health: Building a Healthy Food System for NYC," Everyday Democracy Issue Guide Exchange, https://www.everyday-democracy.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Food-for-Health_Everyday-Democracy.pdf
 Kimberly White, "Kimberly reports on the Food, Faith, and Health Disparities Summit," Sustainable Flatbush, November 23, 2010, http://sustainableflatbush.org/2010/11/23/kimberly-reports-on-the-food-faith-and-health-disparities-summit/
 Jessica Powers, "Food, Faith, and Health Disparities Summit," WhyHunger, October 30 2010, https://whyhunger.org/category/articles/food-faith-and-health-disparities/
Freudenberg, Nicholas, John McDonough, and Emma Tsui. “Can a Food Justice Movement Improve Nutrition and Health? A Case Study of the Emerging Food Movement in New York City.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 88.4 (2011): 623–636. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157506/
Lead image: NYC Health + Hospitals, http://bit.ly/2EsfS9M