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New Food Equity Council to tackle food insecurity in Chicago

The council plans to work on five priorities ranging from eliminating barriers to food pantry expansion to supporting BIPOC food businesses.

Volunteers help break down and repackage food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
A new food equity council has emerged from a working group that started last year which included groups including the Greater Chicago Food Depository (above) and the Department of Public Health.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

A new Food Equity Council made up of city workers and community leaders plans to tackle food insecurity across Chicago, according to a news release from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office.

The newly formed council includes 24 members from groups such as the Urban Growers Collective and Chicago Department of Public Health workers.

The council is tasked with addressing five priorities: eliminating barriers to food pantry expansion; maximizing nutrition programs and benefits; eliminating barriers to urban farming; supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) food businesses; and leveraging city procurement to support local BIPOC food growers along with businesses and producers, according to the news release.

The council and its priorities emerged from a working group that started last year and included Lightfoot’s office, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Family and Support Services, according to the city.

Nicole Robinson, the chief partnership and programs officer at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said food insecurity was a silent pandemic before coronavirus. In a statement, Lightfoot said “food and nutrition insecurities were already plaguing many of our communities — particularly those on our South and West Sides.”

In the past, many groups and government agencies were tackling this issue independently instead of in collaboration, said Robinson, who is also one of the co-chairs for the council.

“It’s about public policy and how do we advance the policies that will make the overall system stronger, meaning more food access, bringing economic opportunities to the food system, bringing sustainability to the food system,” Robinson said.

The announcement of the initiative comes a week after a report by the Chicago Department of Public Health determined Black Chicagoans are not expected to live as long as non-Black residents. Access to fruits and vegetables was among the contributing factors to the gap in life expectancy, the report concluded.

As of June 7, about 8.5% of adults in households in the Chicago metropolitan area reported there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat, according to the Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage is down from about a year ago, when nearly 12% of adults in households reported there was either sometimes or often not enough food to eat.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.