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Chicago names first food equity policy leader

The new position is part of the city’s effort to tackle food insecurity in Chicago.

Volunteers help break down and repackage food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Volunteers help break down and repackage food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago’s first food equity policy lead was appointed Thursday as officials try to tackle food insecurity.

Ruby Ferguson will serve as the food equity policy lead and will work with the newly established Food Equity Council, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Thursday. The council includes 24 members ranging from city workers to community groups to create a plan for food equity in Chicago.

As part of the role, Ferguson will be employed by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, but she will also report to Lightfoot’s policy office.

She previously worked at the Near North Health Service Corporation, where she was involved in the expansion of the WIC program, clinical dietetic and cooking programs.

The Food Equity Council has already started out with five priorities to tackle which includes: 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.

The efforts come as the city continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic has laid bare the many inequities that exist within our city, with food insecurity and historic disinvestment being among the most pressing,” Lightfoot said in a prepared statement. “Equitably enhancing our city’s food assets and ecosystem thus provides an important opportunity for us to address socioeconomic issues across our city and Ruby is truly the perfect person to help us accomplish this mission.”

In recent months, the Chicago Department of Public Health determined Black Chicagoans’ life expectancy is shorter than non-Black residents, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables was one of the contributing factors.

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