Episode 19: Ensuring a Food Secure Future with Paula Daniels

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Transcript

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, the existing inequities and vulnerabilities of our food systems were starkly exposed. Join me as I chat with co-founder and chair of the Center for Good Food Purchasing, Paula Daniels, about how we can meet this moment to make transformative progress in our food systems. Paula, this is just such a pleasure to talk with you on our Live Well podcast. I’ve been waiting for the day to be able to interview you formally on this podcast.

 

Paula Daniels  00:37

The pleasure’s mine.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:38

Oh, thanks. And we’re going to be talking about two very important reports that came out in the last month. One is the “Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities across America” that you helped write. And then the Rockefeller Foundation report that you contributed to titled “Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System.” We’re going to talk about both of them, because it seems to me that in the area of food, and food security, and food systems, they have a lot of similar messaging, although the Rockefeller report, as we all know, is more focused on food. But I’d love to discuss with you, first of all, what was the impetus of both of these reports?

 

Paula Daniels  01:21

Yeah, well, both of the organizations that did these reports were very alarmed by what they were seeing happening in the food system, but you know, the long lines of people needing to get food. And then at the same time, you have that paradox this, you know, complete conflict and almost dissonance that you had a number of farmers that had food, but that weren’t able to get to the places of need. So it revealed a lot about the food system that a number of organizations were trying to draw some lessons from and to move forward and to think about how we can make changes so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. And for both, I mean, going through this effort, I think so many of us saw this, as well as all the other places that did news reporting. But the connecting-the-dots part that was very important through these processes of preparing the report for “Springboard” as well as Rockefeller was that these problems in the food system predated the COVID pandemic, and predated what was revealed. Because of the pandemic, the fissures in the food system, the fault lines became the earthquake that shook everything wide open, but these fault lines were already there. So many of the people who are working in the food system saw that this is what they had forewarned about the need to have a more resilient food system and the need to have more value-based relationships built into the food system. So these organizations embarked on an exploration of that. So the “Springboard” report which was done by the Well Being Trust, which is a mental health organization that’s affiliated with Providence Saint John’s, they combined with the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, and they did a paper on all the areas that have been impacted in this time. The economy, housing, governance, and food was one aspect of it, and which I did write that section. The Rockefeller Foundation had been making its entry into the United States. They’ve mostly been funding food issues on a global basis but started their U.S. initiative just last year. And so they had been examining how to engage with the U.S. food system, but also felt quite responsible once this crisis hit us and all these issues were revealed, to start trying to pull some initiatives and make some sense out of it. So for the Rockefeller Foundation, I helped facilitate two roundtables, they had quite a few roundtables. All told, they spoke with over 100 individuals from a select list representing every aspect of the food system, and in a diverse way as well, to get input. And that resulted in the paper called “Reset the Table,” which has a number of key recommendations.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:56

So you talk about the food system and its fragility even before the pandemic. So in other words, they really weren’t prepared for this kind of a stress. That’s what you’re describing. So tell me, what makes you make that comment? What are you basing that on?

 

Paula Daniels  04:12

Well, the food system leading up to the pandemic was one that already was suffering from being fractured along these silos of production, distribution, and access. And there’s a lot of work that’s been happening in the last 10 or more years, some of which I’ve been a part of, to try to look at the food system in a more holistic way. It’s basically an economic system and has thrived in the last many decades based on economic incentives and disincentives that have been set into place by our federal government, largely to support lots of export and that’s the 20th century model. The Cold War imperative that came out of you know, post-World War 2 to compete with Russia and out-grain Russia, just you know, grow more grains, grow more of five key products in order to compete on the world stage. So that was how our system was built. But what that did was it left a lot of people out on the margin. It started shrinking out small business owners. So the consolidation into large companies, because of this competition, lends itself to kind of singular economic and linear approach to food system. Grow, distribute, eat. Grow, export, distribute, eat, it was just very linear. But what was lost in there was the aspect of health and also the aspect of supporting a smaller economy. And that’s been a problem for decades now. And that has been known for decades. And that’s why we formed the L.A. Food Policy Council in Los Angeles, this is trying to address those problems. Well, with the COVID system, just completely shaking up and disrupting and breaking the supply chain lines that moved on existing commercial relationships. That’s what broke, it revealed itself to be quite complex, but also quite fragile once it was shut down. So it’s like a spider web that you just break apart. And then the spider has to re-weave its connections. So the fact that there was a lack of connection, or a lack of a robust connection to the local food economy, to the communities that had need, is what was revealed. So a good example is with chicken, because we know that the chicken supply was disrupted because of a COVID outbreak in the meat processing plants. So that’s been on the march toward high consolidation since the beginning of the 20th century. And there are only now a few, there’s one main chicken supplier in the United States. It’s Tyson’s. There’s a handful of meat suppliers in the world. There’s six multinational companies that control all the meat supply, that means chicken and beef. So they have it consolidated into these very well-prescribed contractual relationships that are geared toward economics. But it’s not geared toward health. And it’s not geared toward serving certain communities. So all those relationships were disrupted, and the relationships where there was more of a direct connection to community are the ones that did thrive. So the farmer’s markets, the CSAs, meaning the direct sales where a farmer had a direct relationship with a restaurant or with a consumer already, those types of relationships went through the roof in terms of really supplying need. And they really showed how important it was to have a community relationship versus a purely commercial relationship, if that makes sense.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:20

Yeah, it does. That last example makes a lot of sense. So let me understand the example about the chicken. So you’re saying because of the COVID outbreaks in the chicken centralized growing or processing site, that is what disrupted the distribution to the communities around the country.

 

Paula Daniels  07:40

Well, so because chicken is consolidated into the hands of six multinational companies, they’ve started consolidating to create economies of scale into a few processing plants. So for economies of scale, the more efficiencies you have in the system, the better, that’s what they always work towards. So efficiency means high production, it means less people, if they can manage it, like less labor to pay, like highly automating things so it’s cheap, and they can get as much profit as possible, right? That’s the business imperative. So meat processing has been consolidated into 15 meat processing plants, and there were very few that were local. So when there was a COVID outbreak in the meatpacking plants and they had to shut it down, that disrupted the meat supply chain, which is why they then went to the federal government and asked for an emergency declaration that this needed to keep working. But that’s to keep that existing model going. If you had local meat processing, some of the more local producers, so maybe some of the free-range chicken producer, some of the heritage poultry producers, some of the grass-fed-and-finished beef producers, might have had somewhere to send their meats for processing and that could have still supplied the local communities. In fact, there are places where there are local abbatoirs, like places that do process their own meat, and that send it to local communities. So those are the relationships that are more robust if they’re already geared towards supporting local economies and supporting local communities. That’s what we found was still working well.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:05

What you’re describing is a situation where some of the solutions you have been thinking about for probably decades. And now during this time of stress, and there’s an opportunity to make a change and transform us to a more sustainable food system. And I know, in the “Springboard” paper you wrote, you detail how we should transform the U.S. food system. And I know there are three areas that you specifically focused on. One is what you’re just describing now, which is the coordinating for regional change, such as food hubs. And so I’d love to hear from you. What does that mean, you’ve described farmer’s markets and CSAs, which I think a lot of people are familiar with, but I don’t think a lot of people might understand what that means: food hub.

 

Paula Daniels  09:48

Yeah. So food hubs are an essential part of a local food system. And it’s something that many have been working toward for the last, I would say, 10 to 15 years or so. And food hub can sound, like, vaguely meaning it’s anywhere where you go to get food that’s been collected. So in some ways, some would think of a farmer’s market as a food hub because food’s been aggregated there from smaller farmers. But the way we’re thinking of it, the way it was recommended in these reports, is it’s a business that is intentionally mission-driven to support the regional food economy and to support community health. So it’s intentionally designed to support smaller farmers in the surrounding region, and also to provide healthy food to communities. So typically, the food hub that I’m thinking of and that we recommend here is not a for-profit enterprise. It could be, but part of what I’ve seen in some studies of food hubs, and then some of the information I’ve gathered from firsthand interviews, is that a for-profit enterprise starts needing to continue to make money and sometimes the mission of the enterprise drifts. So they start needing to make value-added foods, they start not being able to give as much time to the small farmer to help them with their food safety needs, whatever it is. So typically, a really successful food hub is either a nonprofit or some other form of business, so that they can devote themselves to the mission. And there’s a very well-known one that started in Pennsylvania called The Common Market. So it’s a nonprofit, and it provides support to the small local farmers in the region, particularly farmers of color. And they provide technical assistance, and they provide marketing assistance, they act as intermediaries for the farmers. And for smaller farmers, it’s a struggle to compete in that larger marketplace. So The Common Market, this food hub, would provide that cushion for them and just be able to aggregate whatever they’re selling, versus having the smaller farmer have to figure out their sales chain, other than through the direct sales of a farmer’s market or a restaurant. But to get to more volume, so you can get to more success, you need to sell to larger institutions. And the food hub can be that intermediary, because large institutions have very efficient ordering processes. So sometimes that doesn’t match with how the farmers growing, or what their capacity is in terms of fitting into that high-volume setting. So the food hub would be that very important intermediary, mission-driven. And the food hub will also make sure that the produce goes to certain communities, so school districts, but also communities of need, they often will work with food banks. So when COVID hit, the food hub Common Market in New York already had a number of relationships with the small farmers and relationships with the school districts and relationships with the food bank. So there wasn’t any disruption, they went directly from serving a certain stream and operating a certain way to, okay, now I know where the need is, and they could move everything to the need. Whereas the very large distributors didn’t have those relationships already. And you can’t make those relationships overnight. And you can’t make them in the middle of an emergency. So those relationship-driven and values-driven nonprofits are the ones that did really well, as well as the others that were more local. So there’s a number of food hubs from around the country that I think we’re hearing some similar success stories from.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:55

It sounds like a really promising proposals. So how do these food hubs that are not-for-profit, how do they sustain themselves?

 

Paula Daniels  13:02

Yeah, really good question. So right now, a number of them are philanthropically funded. That’s not often a good long-term solution, because philanthropy has funding cycles. So a number of them do also have earned income. So The Common Market is a combination of philanthropic funding as well as earned income. But I believe, and this is one of the recommendations in the “Springboard” report, that this is a place for government support. So we recognized during the COVID crisis, that food is an essential good, and that food workers are essential workers. I mean, it was declared as such, because they’re allowed to continue working, but if we take that idea to a philosophical point, if you’re an essential worker, you’re providing a public service. This is a public good, there should be public investment in this. So it seems like a really good opportunity for local and state government, and particularly local government, to invest in food hubs to create economic development, funding streams and direct their economic development funding towards support of food hubs, so that that can be a more long-term solution and could maintain its viability with some public funding that’s durable. There could also be public finance arrangements. We pass a lot of bonds for water protection for parks and open space for transportation. Can you imagine if we were to pass some sort of a bond that would allow us to support food system infrastructure, so we could have a more robust local and regional food system and create a lot of jobs out of that. We know for a fact that there’s jobs in the food system. So if we were to make sure that they were supporting a more regionally resilient food system, and we could keep those jobs here, instead of some export line somewhere else, we’d really benefit the local food economy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:44

That’s a lot for me to think about. Because, you know, I remember trying to find, digging in to what resources are out there in terms of how people define food hubs, and like you said, it’s kind of a big umbrella for a lot of different structures like the farmer’s market versus this more Common Market model. Would you be able to direct the listener to a summary of these kinds of options? Or is it really something that is on your to-do list? You’re such a great writer.

 

Paula Daniels  15:14

Well, thank you. There was a really good report done by a USDA specialist. It’s about food hubs. And his name is James Barham. He did a study on food hubs and did quite a good analysis. And they came out around 2013, I would say.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:31

Yeah, I remember reading that. That actually was the only paper that gave me any clarity, besides talking to you verbally. But I do think that there’s something to be said about the lessons learned that we’re coming out of with COVID in these kind of examples that you have just described in terms of The Common Market in New York. I feel that these kinds of models, would I think, inspire other municipalities, potentially, or local governments, just seeing how it works. So these are really important lessons that we’re all really trying to capture at this time. And I think these two papers that we’re discussing are the beginning, because it’s really sort of this first phase, like, hey, let’s not forget the lessons we’re learning, the hard lessons we’re learning, let’s, you know, be able to at least get something good coming from this real tragedy that we were confronted with today with the pandemic and continue to be. I think the food lines around the food banks and the students at UCLA have just exponentially gone up in terms of foods insecurity, as well, as we know, here in Los Angeles, all these families that have always been living sort of on the edge are now over the edge. So food hubs is one and I think this is interconnected with the next recommendation that you made in your paper for the “Springboard,” which was account for true food costs. What do you mean by that?

 

Paula Daniels  16:57

Yeah, this recommendation was in both papers, the Rockefeller Foundation as well, is true cost accounting in food. And it’s something to be taken into account by decision makers and buy businesses when they look at food. So what we know now is that our food is very cheap, we’re fortunate. It’s still hard for some folks to afford food, but by and large, when we look at it as a percentage of the average person’s budget, we’ve managed to keep food at affordable levels. But the reason it’s affordable is because some of the true costs are not embedded in the food product. And that’s because of government support in the production process and sometimes in other forms, like tax incentives, or other benefits. An example is if you were to look at the cost of, I’ll say, an organic strawberry, or the cost of a hamburger patty at McDonald’s. So a pound of ground beef, if it’s an industrially-produced beef, and it’s not grass-fed, is gonna be about the same as a pound of organic strawberries. Maybe organic strawberries might even be more. I know for sure, it’s the same as a cost of a pound of apples. So why is that? That you have this very large animal that takes up an awful lot of resources, that uses a lot of water, uses a lot of land in order to graze and then be maintained, and then its processing and transport emits an awful lot of greenhouse gas emissions. So why is it that it’s so cheap? It’s because all those consequences of producing the beef are either supported by subsidies, or they’re just not embedded in the cost of the food because of the economic efficiencies and the economies of scale.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  18:29

Meaning the government. So people that are against government subsidies have to remember that their meat product is subsidized.

 

Paula Daniels  18:36

Highly subsidized. The water’s subsidized, there’s a lot of tax breaks that are given along the way, there’s a lot of different ways it’s subsidized. The growing of the corn and soy to feed the cows is highly subsidized. That’s where a lot of farm bill payments go. So those costs, those impacts, are called externalities. They’re external to the actual cost that you’re paying. But they’re not embedded in it so they’re not truly accounted for. Take that organic strawberry. It’s not subsidized, and you’re paying more for it, because it’s organic. So organic has a price premium. But what that means is that you’re also paying to not have the ground be polluted and to not have the farmworkers be exposed to one of the more toxic pesticides that strawberries are normally sprayed with, methyl bromide – very toxic. So it’s embedded in the cost of the strawberry when you pay that higher price premium, and it’s not pushed off on to the public. So the public, like the EPA, might have to clean up after some of the toxics that are emitted. That’s a public health consequence. If you’re paying for health care for somebody who’s been impacted by inhaling that methyl bromide, that’s an external cost that’s being borne by the public but not by you when you purchase the strawberry, so it’s embedded in it. Do you see what I mean?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:47

Yeah, let me recap it, because really, in your paper, you do talk about true cost accounting, and I wanted to understand that in more detail. As I understand what you are describing is that there’s a lot of money costs in our food that the consumer doesn’t pay. Well, we end up paying for it indirectly, not directly, indirectly by our taxes that go to the farm bill that subsidize what appears to be many of the foods that you described early on would be part of the competitive commodities that we were focusing on post-World War 2, corn and soy and grain.

 

Paula Daniels  20:23

Yes, corn, wheat, rice, sugar, soy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:26

Much of that is exported. Is that correct?

 

Paula Daniels  20:29

Much of it is exported, yeah.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:31

Okay. So that’s a cost that then goes through our taxes to support those foods that are then sold in the market externally. So we don’t even necessarily benefit from those foods that are subsidized that get exported, in a sense.

 

Paula Daniels  20:48

Not necessarily, yeah. And sugar is a really good example. So if you were to just take the cost of any sugary beverage, it’s not very expensive, let’s say it’s $1 for a can. But when you have lots of youth drinking lots of sodas every day and then experiencing obesity, as well as diabetes, then you have the public health costs of taking care of those children who had these cardiometabolic disorders. And that’s significant. And that public health costs of caring for the children or whoever else has those impacts is not borne by the cost of the product itself. So those are the negative externalities that we’re talking about, the negative impacts that aren’t in the cost of the food. So taking that into account, so that the idea of true cost accounting is to be aware of them, to assess them, and to make sure that we’re acknowledging that. So that if there’s a food product that has these negative externalities, and sugar is probably one of the best examples, that we’re aware of that. But also, as a decision maker, you can take that into account. A very, you know, blunt instrument for dealing with that is a tax. So when you’ve seen places where there’s been attacks on sugary beverages, and there was an attempt to do that in California in the city of Richmond, and in Mexico. They’ve done it in other places. That’s an attempt to cut level things out and to have the product then bear its true cost, it’s when you put a tax or a fee on it, that’s one way to do it. There’s other ways to do it. But that needs to be acknowledged, is what the impacts are of certain food products.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  21:40

Well, in addition to the poor health outcomes of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, which has been shown, two servings of sugar sweetened beverages increase your chances of getting diabetes by 26% and the billions of dollars, it costs in health care industry, or to us, ultimately, and the individual from all the lost work and pain and suffering that isn’t even accounted for. But we saw the cost to our environment. And experts call out that specific non-nutritive food as one of the methods to reduce the impact of our food system on the climate. So I think your point is really well taken in terms of we have to be looking at certain parts of our food system that not only are negative to the individual that we’ve seen with COVID. But overall in the future, I don’t think this is a sustainable step.

 

Paula Daniels  23:00

Yeah, that’s a really great example of, I mean, because we’re not going to be able to get this done without having corporate, you know, for-profit, nonprofit, university partnerships to solve these big challenges of our time.  Sorry, I just have one other quick example. So there’s a company, Danone, that’s based out of Europe, and they are beginning to do this. They’re beginning to be responsible about true cost accounting, and they are starting to add carbon into their financial balance sheets. They declared that as of last year, and they’re going to start doing it. So they’re being responsible corporate citizens, and and trying to implement true cost accounting in their financial frameworks, so a lot of ways to do it. And government, everybody.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  23:40

And government. Exactly. And the third area that you cover is leveraging the power of public contracting. So explain to me what that means.

 

Paula Daniels  23:49

There’s an awful lot of money in food service that we learned about during COVID. We saw how much of a disruption rippled throughout the system. But the food service industry and institutional food is about 120 billion a year, it’s a lot of money. And of that, a large percentage of it is through public institutions. So school districts in particular are the largest food service provider in any given region, because they’re feeding tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of students a day when they’re all in school and in the cafeteria. But we’ve also seen how important they are in terms of rising to meet the moment because they were quite heroic during the COVID crisis and regardless of the consequences to their budget, they just started feeding people. And it did cause a lot of them to lose an awful lot of money. LAUSD I think is in the hole for 30 million or something like that.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:37

And they’re continuing to do that. No questions asked.

 

Paula Daniels  24:40

That’s right. Yeah, it’s quite heroic.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:42

Largest food program in the country, L.A. Unified School District.

 

Paula Daniels  24:45

And New York is pretty big too. So New York and LAUSD are the top two so they have hundreds of millions of dollars that they spend so L.A. Unified School District was around $150 million, about 120 of that spent on food per year. So that’s a lot of money that can influence an economic system that we started talking about our food systems largely economic, in response to economic incentives and disincentives, primarily. So using those public purchasing dollars toward helping to build and create market demand, create market viability I should say, for regional food systems is really key. And that’s our theory of change. So we’ve been working with school districts and other municipal institutions to help direct their food purchasing dollars towards supporting local food economies and fair labor and community health. But the more institutions do that in any given region, the more likely you’ll really be able to build some robustness in those relationships that can be more resilient, more regionally resilient. So it can be a really key position, it’s a really key energetic lever toward developing a more regional food system because it creates the market demand for it. So if Mayor was to call for all large institutions serving over a certain threshold, let’s just say, I’m going to give an easy threshold, over 5 million of food purchasing in a year, to set aggregate targets to support the local food economy. Just think of how strong that would be in times of crisis. You’d already have those pipelines built, you’d already have those relationships in place for when there’s any sort of emergency such as in New York, there was Hurricane Sandy before there was COVID, where they had complete disruptions in service. And they’ve invested an awful lot into the local regional food economy there. So if we were to do that here in Los Angeles, if we were to do that in any region, to use aggregate purchasing targets, to say, we’re going to start creating this market relationship with our local food economy, and we’re also going to make sure we’re serving communities of need, and we’re also going to make sure everybody along that supply chain is well paid, then you start building that robust regional food economy. And it doesn’t have to replace the global system 100%. I don’t think that’s realistic, but if we were to get to a strong percent, like a 30% target, like we have with our renewable energy targets, then we’d start making a big difference in terms of supporting our original farming economy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:00

Okay so what you’re saying, actually, Paula, sounds like two important ingredients to this leveraging the power of public contracting. One is setting up what you’ve done. And I think you’ve been alluding to it, but we haven’t really specifically talked about it yet: your Center for Good Food Purchasing. And you’ve actually outlined what it would take to have something that you’re describing give people a roadmap to get to this kind of ultimate goal, which is really the best for everyone, right, this more regional kinds of food systems, at least some sort of hybrid of industrial and regional. Right now it’s just mostly all industrial. So we really need to have some sort of balance. But also setting goals. So maybe what would be great for us right now is hear a little bit about the history of your Center for Good Food Purchasing, where it started, and then some examples of how it’s really taken off in a significant way.

 

Paula Daniels  27:54

Sure, yeah. So the Center for Good Food Purchasing is an outgrowth of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. We founded the L.A. Food Policy Council, oh, the work started back in 2009 with that idea of wanting to celebrate then the 30th anniversary of farmer’s markets by building on the idea. So farmers markets, when they were started in 1989, were intended to provide economic support to small struggling farmers, and then also to get food to low-income communities that didn’t have access to it because there weren’t enough supermarkets because of redlining. There wasn’t enough healthy food in their neighborhoods, just junk food in their neighborhoods. So it was intended to solve that problem. So taking the nub of that idea, the central philosophy of that idea, and saying, how do we then make that be bigger than an occasional Saturday market? How do you make that be a larger idea and have it really start making transformative shifts in this disaggregated system? So we founded the L.A. Food Policy Council and developed a food policy framework having Los Angeles be a leader in that region, which we saw is the 250 mile radius around L.A. So taking into account the 10 county farming regions around L.A. And among the key goals was to develop a procurement policy for large institutions so that we could support the direction of food service providers to buy food that would support the local food economy, as well as support fair labor and community health and environment, for sure. So the Good Food Purchasing Program does have those five values, and it has a rating program for large institutions. It works something like LEED certification works for buildings. In other words, we have the five very clear categories: local economies, environmental sustainability, fair labor, animal welfare, and nutrition. And it’s metric based. So when an institution enrolls in the program, they agree that their purchasing will be directed and rated on how well they’re doing in the five categories. So we get their purchasing information and analyze it. And because we give the direction and give a pathway for the institutions to know how to do it, it does make a difference right away. It might be something they’ve been trying to figure out, how to be environmentally sustainable, but they wanted to support local economies, perhaps, but hadn’t come up with a plan, etc. So we have the plan that we can give them and that they can follow. An example was L.A. Unified School District. So when L.A. Unified School District enrolled in our program, they had been thinking a lot about nutrition and making nutritional improvements. But I think you were part of a program, Wendy, they put salad bars in schools that was tremendously successful. So they’d been thinking about that for a while, but hadn’t focused as much on some of the other aspects. So once they enrolled in our program, they went from less than 10% local sourcing of produce, on average, to then an average of 60% local sourcing of produce. And that directed $12 million into the local food economy just in the first year, and it created 150 new jobs in food processing. So that is one example. Then their vendor, the person who was supplying them with the produce was also inspired by the program to start sourcing local and sustainable wheat for the bread products. And then that also had the ripple effect of then LAUSD looking at its meat contracts. So then they put a requirement that all poultry would have to be raised without the routine use of antibiotics. So those sorts of changes started happening. And LAUSD is now directing even more money into the local food economy, which is sustaining more jobs. So then we expanded after that, it got some national attention. So now we’re the Center for Good Food Purchasing. And we’re now in 20 cities around the country and 53 institutions. So we’re also in New York, and Chicago, and Boston, and DC public schools, and San Francisco, Oakland, Fresno, a lot of different places, and all these places, in aggregate, are making these shifts in the food system. So it’s not actually surprising, then, that we’re learning that the school systems have been a huge safety net, not just during pre-COVID but during COVID. In a way, you’ve actually enhanced that because of the nature of your local system that you’ve helped develop through Good Food Purchasing. That’d be an interesting look at, I mean, looking at the ones that you had the schools committed to your Good Food Purchasing to see how they played out compared to others. Well, yeah, I think that they deserve the credit on their own for being pillars of the community and for being very responsible and very interested in serving the public that they do serve. So they’re all very committed public servants and really want to do a good job by their community, which is why they were interested in our program to begin with.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:23

Yeah, I totally agree. There’s no question. You know, there’s no i in team. So that, you know, I know, the Urban School Food Alliance, you were actively working with them, too, around this commitment to no antibiotics in poultry. And tell me has that impacted the industry itself? Based on that purchasing signal from the school districts in terms of more poultry being offered up with no antibiotic? Have you been able to determine that or…?

 

Paula Daniels  32:52

I think that a number of the large poultry producers are reformulating their product lines, for sure. And they are moving more toward trying to figure out how to develop poultry products that are raised without the routine use of antibiotics. So the school districts are a big market, and it can have quite a difference.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:09

So in other words, just that one lever of that one purchaser or group of purchasers can really make a difference.

 

Paula Daniels  33:16

They definitely can.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:17

How do you see the Center for Good Food Purchasing fitting into these recommendations in these two different documents we’re talking about?

 

Paula Daniels  33:25

Well, we’re happy to support all of the recommendations in the documents, and we definitely do have a path toward helping municipal and other institutions direct their purchasing. So if there’s an opportunity for folks to participate in our program, and use that to help set their aggregate purchasing targets, that would be terrific. Doesn’t have to be ours, they can move forward in any way that makes a difference. But we’re happy to offer what we have.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:50

Well, to wrap up, what good do you think will come out of this pandemic? Or what do you want to see come out of it?

 

Paula Daniels  33:56

Well, I think it’s high time that every level of government understood and invested in the value of having a robust regional food system. And that means really not just talking about local, but putting some backing into that. So providing whatever economic development support they were able to provide to creating more of a renewable energy portfolio, taking that same level of effort and putting it into a local regional food system. I think it’s high time. And you can see that need arising in a number of places around the country. But for too long, we have depended on our federal government to be able to fund these strategies. I think it’s in the hands of local government to take it from here.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:38

And so what would be the path that you would like to see happen to make that a reality?

 

Paula Daniels  34:43

I think there’s a suite of initiatives that any local government could embrace. So one would be to set aggregate purchasing targets in their region. And the other would be to, and I know how difficult it is when you’ve got a crumbling budget and you have to lay off government workers and put them on furlough and programs are being diminished. So I don’t say this lightly, but developing a regional food system can create jobs. And it can create local jobs. And it can create jobs that are long-term and actually quite satisfying for the workers. And that can be a good source of income and well-paid. So it’s an investment in the future of the region, if you can provide that economic development support, once you set the aggregate purchasing targets, to then back that up with all the capital infrastructure and the soft infrastructure. So the local processing, the local distribution, the relationship infrastructure, the technology infrastructure, all of that to make that local food system work well, and then to invest in the health of the communities at the same time. So that means having the capital infrastructure, the hard infrastructure of those access points, if it’s small markets, or however else, you’re going to be able to access it, and then invest in the people that make all these things happen.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:56

That sounds like a win-win-win for everybody, locally, or even regionally, or nationally. To end, then, I guess, what keeps you up at night, Paula?

 

Paula Daniels  36:06

Oh, gosh, Wendy. I mean, we’re seeing all the behaviors of the past of our society coming to bear in a way that’s quite powerful and cataclysmic. So we’re seeing the consequences of climate change right now, in the heat, and the fires that are burning outside our doors in California. We’re seeing it throughout the world, we’re seeing the consequences of a 100-year pandemic, a lot of which has to do with how we manage our agricultural production and animal production. We’re seeing the consequences of a lack of investment in our healthcare systems. We’re seeing the consequences of our participation in democracy coming to bear. So there’s just so much here right now that I think we’re at a moment where we need to really show what we believe in and what we value. If we were to learn anything from this, it’s that we need to rethink our relationships to each other and to the world. And I think we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that we could automate so much of all of that, and that we could attenuate it through commercial transactions or other transactions. But we need to rethink our relationships to each other and the world in this sense. We’ve not been in partnership with the world for a long time. But ages ago, we understood that we were but a part of the earth. And the Earth wasn’t separate from us and wasn’t a resource to merrily exploit. And I think what we’re seeing now, in this time, is that the Earth is pushing back and telling us you haven’t been a good partner. You’re not paying attention. We need to change how this works. So we need to rethink all those relationships and to work in all of our relationships with much greater respect.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  37:48

I couldn’t say it any better. That’s so right. Mother Nature is raising her hand and telling us to slow down, put pause on our lives, and think about where we’re heading. Well, that’s a great way to end this conversation because clearly, your work, your commitment to creating a fair, equitable world through food is huge. I know you have other commitments as well. I think food is a great unifier. And also, it’s a necessity of life. It’s directly related to health and well-being in so many different facets. So thank you for all you do, Paula, every day, you think about it. You live and breathe it, you enjoy food. And I think you really are a great leader and I can’t wait to see some of this work continue to transpire and augment and multiply in our country and around the world as well.

 

Paula Daniels  38:47

Thank you so much, Wendy, and I can say it right back at you, all the change that you’re making.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:56

Thank you for tuning into UCLA Live Well. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA Live Well on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Get to know us a little better and follow us @healthyucla. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, tweet your idea to us, please. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.

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