Honesty is the best policy when it comes to good food policy.

Honestly, we need to rethink food policy for this day and age in four ways.

First, I think food policies (plural) can do a lot more than the stand alone and singular capital-P Policy we have traditionally talked about.

Policies need to be thought of in the plural and small-p sense because food lends itself to small interventions by policy entrepreneurs, policy acupuncturists, guerilla policy wonks, and pilot policyists – especially in cities.

  • We need pilot policies on backyard chickens – like the one in Toronto that caused a reporter to ask What the flock? The biggest policy fear is fear itself, so why not allay fears with a pilot?
  • We need ‘little p’ policies on hundreds of makeshift or stand-alone projects that can become a thing – like pollinator gardens or rain gardens, wherever they can be wedged into a space.
  • In Massachusetts, there’s an inspired pilot to provide people on low income facing health risks with extra food to see if that will bring down the state’s medical costs.

Policy may be dead! Long live policies!!

Second, when problem-solving requires consistent rules, legal enforcement, and significant resources, government must be the main player. In a democracy, such heavy lifting by government is triggered by a vote on a policy. Wage and working conditions in food operations, food safety practices, and regulations on deceptive food ads are now and will forever be typical government initiatives.

Third, comprehensive food policy is inevitably linked to a strategy that links food policies to policies about health, energy, water, land use, and so on. The need of the moment is policy that responds to overlapping collapses and crises in the environment, society and economy. Whole-of-government/ whole-of-society thinking is indispensable. To succeed, such measures require vigorous popular support to overcome three entrenched forces — neoliberal and austerity-minded approaches to funding, government departments locked into separate silos, bureaucratic hierarchies preventing cooperation among government staff and with engaged citizens.

No much use starting such a project without the will and resources to run the marathon.

The fourth point is today’s bold new policy opportunity. Policy is no longer the monopoly of governments. Faith groups can adopt policies—to buy fair trade tea, coffee and cacao in bulk and sell it at congregational events, for example. Neighborhood groups, business improvement associations, and unions can adopt policy. Universities can adopt policies to buy local and sustainable food. The power of public and para-public purses is more widely available  than ever before. As well, the talents of citizens for self government and leadership are higher than ever before. We need to look ahead to a world of policy partnerships.

Policy wonks still have purpose and value. But policy belongs in fields of action.

“There’s nothing more political than food. Who eats? Who doesn’t? Why do people cook what they cook? It is always the end or a part of a long story, often a painful one.” Anthony Bourdain

Ed note. This piece was published in Wayne’s latest newsletter Waynes’ Weekly Hacks: Policy on Policy