Leading the charge against a plethora of palette-related problems, the newly formed Food Policy Council of Santa Barbara County is looking to change the way the community looks at food.

The council became official in December of last year and is now focused on getting down to business on multiple fronts. According to Megan Carney, the council’s coordinator, the agenda is somewhat all-encompassing, set to tackle a variety of food-related issues. “Most participants [in the council] are concerned with the economic viability of small-scale agriculture, food access, diet-related illnesses (obesity, diabetes, heart disease) and public health, school lunch reform, and community economic development,” Carney said.

All great intentions aside, a question still lingers: What, at its most basic level, is a food policy council? According to the North American Food Policy Council — with which the Santa Barbara County branch is affiliated — councils “bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it.”

And why is that important? According to the Web site, because “no U.S. government entity has a Department of Food, food-related issues are addressed by various agencies” which “severely limits the potential for coordination.”

Hence the need to bridge that gap with a multi-member council, Carney said. “We have a general assembly that is open to anyone. We are beginning the process of selecting 10-12 council board members, ideally representing the diversity of backgrounds and interests of our county, and possessing direct ties to the food system.”

Such ties will be crucial to the council’s success, given its to-do list. Citing the goals for Santa Barbara County specifically, Carney assured that the council is “cultivating a network of resources to allow communities to make food-related choices that positively influence public health, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability.”

Among the goals, according to Carney: promote support for local farmers, promote use of federal vouchers at local markets, promote energy efficiency in the food system, encourage a countywide composting program, and encourage local restaurants to feature local foods.

Mainly, said Carney, the council is striving to “improve people’s access to and increase participation in urban agriculture,” with a high priority being given to minority groups. In terms of Santa Barbara County, Carney said, “Latinos have been the most affected by food insecurity yet have rarely been included in policy and/or planning discussions.”

Such lack of representation is startling, especially given the facts. According to Carney, Santa Barbara County rates 47th out of California’s 58 counties in terms of food insecurity. Scarier still, Carney said that not only are 17,000 Santa Barbara County residents type-II diabetics, half of the county’s population is obese.

Perhaps the root of this problem resides in another of the facts presented by Carney — Santa Barbara County hosts over 1 million acres in agricultural production, yet much of the crop is exported. This process, said Carney, is “rendering many ecological and social costs.”

“We need to do a better job of linking local people to local food.”

The Santa Barbara County Food Policy Council will be hosting its second meeting on March 1 at Casa de la Raza from 5:30 to 7 p.m. To RSVP, email Carney at megcarney@gmail.com.


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