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Food insecurity: Equity planning’s canary in the coal mine?

Date: Monday, March 2nd
Time: Reception at 5 p.m., Lecture and Discussion 5:30-6:30
Location: CU Building, 1250 14th Street Denver, CO 80202 2nd Floor
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Urban planners have long neglected food systems, often under the assumption that these are matters best left to the market. Yet it is increasingly clear that public interventions are needed to address numerous health, environmental, and economic food systems failures. This study focuses on one pervasive food justice failure – food insecurity – to consider two questions: How do the traditional functions urban planners focus on – such as transportation, housing, and economic development – interact with food insecurity? And how does the burden of ensuring a social safety net shift when the state retrenches from its commitment to ensuring the right to food? We carried out our study in Michigan in 2017, when we expected food security to spike as work requirements were being re-instated for individuals who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Using surveys, interviews, and secondary data analysis, we show how individuals facing food insecurity are forced to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities, transportation and other basic needs. We also found that SNAP dollars reach into the local economy and how the loss of SNAP coincided with an increased reliance on already struggling poverty alleviation organizations. Left unaddressed, food insecurity may undermine equity planning. As federal food assistance continues to come under attack as a key poverty alleviation measure, our study suggests an urgent need for local governments to step in. Concurrently, embracing food systems as a core public sector function may also enhance the ability of urban planners to fulfill their basic mandates.  

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