Power Building for the Food Movement: A Mighty River From Many Streams

Power Building for the Food Movement: A Mighty River From Many Streams

June 19, 2015 Michael R. Dimock

As ROC has said before, the food movement is composed of many streams of advocacy: worker and food justice, public health, faith-based, sustainable agriculture, climate and environmental protection, local economies, farm to school and slow food. As individuals we are often too weak to win, but combined we become a powerful river strong enough to wash away resistance to policy change.

This river rises from formation of advocacy alliances whose members trust one another enough to fulfill two challenges. First, they fashion through deep and creative thinking  policy options that unleash multiple solutions through one act. Second, they practice the patient collaboration required to strategically implement multiple campaigns that over time achieve goals that serve every stream in the movement.

Here is how ROC and the California Food Policy Council (CAFPC) have been implementing this approach. The alliance is composed of three parts: ROC acting as a backbone structure and catalyst, the CAFPC’s 26 ratified member regions that are voices of communities and the CAPFC Policy Work Group that includes sixteen key nonprofits. The Policy Work Group creates an annual Legislative Report that reveals each legislator’s votes on emblematic bills. It is the food movement’s critique of the year’s work by the Legislature and Governor. The dialogue among advocates required to select the bills that are tracked and to develop the annual report fosters understanding of how the many movement streams are related and synergistic.

The primary impact of the alliance comes from the policies it supports. The 2015 agenda has focused on four proposed bills that, when realized, would together provide benefit to every stream within the movement.

  • AB 359 (Lorena Gonzales, Chula Vista) a grocery worker bill will protect them from the disruption unleashed when, with no warning following a buyout by another retailer, they are laid off. ROC has co-sponsored this bill with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
  • AB 1357 (Richard Bloom, Los Angeles) the Children and Family Health Promotion Program would generate – from a fee on distributors of sugar sweetened beverages — $300 million per year to foster healthy food systems for local communities. An unprecedented coalition, which included every stream within the food movement, worked together to support this bill. The Chamber of Commerce and beverage companies killed the bill in its first committee.
  • AB 1321 (Phil Ting, San Francisco), the Nutrition Incentive Matching Grant Program will maximize funding from the Farm Bill’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grants. Like AB 1357, it is supported by the full spectrum of the food movement. To fund AB 1321 ROC, Public Health Institute, Ecology Center and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California attempted to place a line item in the state budget for $2.5 million. Despite strong support from all CAFPC member regions, and passage by the Assembly-Senate Budget Conference Committee, the final 2015-16 budget negotiated by Governor Brown, Senate Pro Tem DeLeon and Assembly Speaker Atkins failed to include funding for nutrition incentives. ROC, CAFPC and it allies will continue to work to pass AB 1321 without the funding in order to create the legal code from which to build upon in 2016.

To change law is a long, hard process, but essential to define the intentions of the people. And good news remains. Three of the four bills supported by this grand alliance of advocates remain in the process, each having passed through one of the two houses in the Legislature. These many streams, when joined together, have been able to move their agendas further than ever before. We’ll know just how far in October and will update you then. The desired confluence of many streams sufficient to deeply alter a broad array of policies and create a healthy, resilient and just food system is just beginning.