By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — Just days before New Yorkers will gorge themselves over the Thanksgiving holiday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn outlined a comprehensive plan aimed at altering the ways we obtain, consume and dispose of food.
Quinn introduced a 59-point-plan called "FoodWorks," inside Hell's Kitchen's Food and Finance High School Monday. The plan tackles a wide range of systematic problems including hunger, lack of access to fresh produce in impoverished neighborhoods, and the city's 25 percent childhood obesity rate.
"There are some who think of food as a fringe issue," Quinn said, speaking inside the auditorium of Hell's Kitchen's Food and Finance High School. But, she said, "we can't afford not to talk about food right now."
The plan, which Quinn described as an unprecedented "ground to garbage approach," includes initiatives for each phase of the food system — agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption.
On the agricultural production side, Quinn emphasized growing connections between city shoppers and the state's 36,000 regional farms. She cited apples as an example of what city agencies and grocers should be buying more of locally — while New York ranks second in apple production, it continues to import them from Washington, and (in juice form) from China.
FoodWorks also calls for more community supported agriculture programs (CSA's), more farmer's markets, and more food-stamp eligibility at those markets.
Food processing, meanwhile, is one of the few manufacturing sectors still doing well in the five boroughs. Quinn said the city must create a supportive business environment for companies like Damascus Bakeries, an 80-year-old pita maker which employs about 120 New Yorkers — and could be buying onions and garlic from upstate farmers.
"We're going to fight as hard as we can to keep all these businesses in New York," Quinn said.
Quinn also called for a wholesale makeover of the 40-year-old Hunt's Point Food Distribution Center, which she called an "environmental nightmare." Storage trucks which run all day outside the plant have contributed to asthma rates in the Bronx neighborhood, which are the city's highest.
Once food from the Hunt's Point center makes it way to grocery stores around the city, Quinn said it is unaffordable for many New Yorkers. The city's requirement that food stamp recipients get fingerprinted, a rule aimed at preventing fraud, ultimately deters many eligible people from applying for them. Quinn called on the Bloomberg administration to immediately halt the rule.
Finally, Quinn's proposals for the post-consumption phase of the food system include expanding composting programs and the number of restaurants participating in grease recycling.
"We need to stop thinking of food scraps as garbage," she said.
Also on hand for FoodWorks' unveiling was Cheryl Rogowski, the only farmer ever to win the MacArthur genius grant. Rogowski, who helped bring the first ever farmer's market to the city 15 years ago, spoke of the need to create a unified dialogue about food policy between Manhattanites and rural upstaters.
"We're farmers, we're planting seeds … we need you to help on the other side, to cultivate the facilities," Rogowski said. "It's never been a more challenging, or a better time, to be involved in agriculture."