Celebrated as ‘America’s Best Food City’ by food critics, including the Washington Post, there is no arguing that Portland is a melting pot of diverse cuisines from around the world, one-of-a-kind craft beer, farm-to-table dining experiences and legendary chefs.
The city’s backbone – made from organic and locally sourced ingredients– has inspired residents to make intentional dietary choices and has curated a culture of inquiry into the complex nature of our food system. Beyond vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options commanding attention on grocery store shelves, restaurant menus and the streets of farmers markets; Portlanders are talking about sustainable food choices and asking questions about the potential of our food system to address the root causes of social issues such as poverty and inequality.
The city’s commitment to social and environmentally conscious consumerism has not gone unnoticed. Engaged citizens across the U.S. are leading similar inquiries into the social issues and inequalities present within their own communities. Emulating the growing culture in Portland that rewards intentional consumer behavior, many people are beginning to consider their individual contributions to food system challenges and solutions.
Beyond organic and buying local.
Research led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that consumers address their concerns regarding health, the environment and animal welfare by purchasing organically produced food – despite price premiums.
“Making intentional food choices is an important step towards sustainability and an equitable food system, however there are many other ways we can positively impact our food system and encourage social change” says Emily Burruel, program coordinator for the nationally sought-after Master’s in Food Systems and Society degree offered by Portland-area-based Marylhurst University. “Anyone with an interest in food can join the conversation and take action to make a difference in their community.”
The food system can be impacted through many fronts; if everyone makes a conscious choice to work in just one area where they are passionate, issues in the food system will dissipate, leaving an equitable solution for all.
10 simple actions to positively impact the food system.
- Pack food boxes at local food bank. Organizations like Oregon Food Bank depend on volunteers to pack food, lead nutrition classes and support events. Most organizations offer volunteer opportunities that do not require a long term commitment, making it easier to get involved.
- Volunteer at a local urban farm. With increasing societal awareness of the food system and a revitalized local food culture in many dense markets across the United States, urban farms are quickly multiplying to address food insecurities and deficiencies within highly populated cities. Urban Farm Collective, is a growing Portland, Oregon based program, owned by the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, and designed to preserve agricultural land for educational and research purposes. Like many urban farms, Urban Farm Collective and Mudbone Grown Farms – a culturally ethnic farm that addresses racial inequity – are operable as a result of dedicated volunteers who donate their time and individual skill sets in agriculture, marketing, communications, and more.
- Start a community garden for local schools. Invest in the next generation and pioneer a school garden to address food security and access challenges present within local schools. School gardens are a sustainable food source for impoverished students and serve as an educational tool for the school’s population.
- Cut back on processed food. Skip the soda at your next meal. According to HBO’s The Weight of the Nation, technological advances and subsidies are fueling growth in packaged and processed food sales – contributing to their affordability, accessibility and the systemic challenges that result in an increasingly obese U.S. population. As a result, fresh fruits and vegetables cost more – challenging impoverished populations to afford a healthy lifestyle and furthering social inequality.
- Make more meals at home & reduce food waste. Control ingredients, portion size and your caloric intake by preparing meals at home. Restaurants and the food and beverage industry benefit from economies of scale and yield profitable sale margins by providing over-sized portions to value-driven consumer mindsets. The USDA reports 30 – 40% of the food supply is wasted – with the greatest offence occurring in retail and among individual consumers.
- Make sustainable food choices. Intentional food choices can reduce your carbon footprint. Decrease your meat consumption by choosing veggies instead, grow or purchase foods with reusable packaging, and place spoiled food in a compost rather than the garbage.
- Advocate for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) at local farmers markets. The USDA has reserved limited funding to integrate SNAP within local farmer’s markets – an effort to make fresh produce available to low-income Americans. Contact your local farmer’s market organizers to find out if they accept EBT cards in partnership with SNAP. Volunteer to complete the USDA application process seeking SNAP approval and EBT funding.
- Host a neighborhood dinner: Welcome friends and neighbors for a meal prepared with local ingredients, and screen a film about the food system. Popular film options include The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, Food Chains, Food Inc. and FRESH The Movie.
- Contact your local representative: Advocate for the Fair Farm Bill by contacting your state house representative or congressman. Each state’s representatives provide a phone number and email address to hear from constituents. Find your U.S. house representatives.
- Expand your network and education: Join a network of people exploring ideas and finding solutions to the equity and sustainability challenges of today’s food system. Portland-area-based Marylhurst University offers a nationally sought-after Master’s in Food Systems and Society degree program that allows students to remain in their local communities and continue working while taking courses online. Students use inquiry, experience and reflection to engage individually and with peers in fundamental challenges and approaches to developing more equitable and sustainable food systems.
To learn more about the influence of these actions, join other sustainably-conscious consumers in a food systems and society master’s degree program to evaluate and respond to the root causes of social issues in the food system. The Portland-based program delivers courses 100% online and unites students from across the country in Portland, Oregon one-weekend-a-year to engage in local conversations and reform initiatives.