The City of Oakland is undergoing changes to its food policy, with the primary goal of helping people in low-income communities gain access to healthy foods. We support changes to food policy that will allow people living in food deserts to feed themselves — neighborhoods traditionally under-served by grocery stores, and areas with little access to healthy fruits and vegetables.
We are disappointed, however, by the binding of animal agriculture with crop growing and community gardening that the Planning Department is pushing for. The Oakland Food Policy Council is a nonprofit organization that was mandated to make a food policy that would mitigate the problems faced by low-income communities and communities of color — people in food deserts who suffer from lack of access to healthy food. It is the consensus among public health advocates that fruits and vegetables are the primary food lacking in food deserts. About this there is no controversy.
What there is controversy about is around the idea of people raising and slaughtering animals for food in their backyards, on abandoned lots or anywhere else in our city. It detracts from the food justice mandate that Oakland set fourth. Creating animal farms is the wrong path for Oakland to take, if the goal is to solve the problems faced by people in food deserts. It’s not better for people, it’s not better for the environment, and it’s not better for animals.
According to Oakland’s initial food shed assessment 9,000 acres are needed to feed 30 percent of Oakland’s population using vegetable-based farming. If you are including animal agriculture, feeding 30 percent of Oakland residents requires 19,000 acres.
And this means what, exactly? This means that we can create more healthy food if we use all of our available land to grow crops. We can’t create as much food if we include animals in our food policy. No matter what we do, there will always be a need for grocery stores, farmers markets and other ways for people to buy healthful foods.
So the question that remains is who should have access to the scarce amount of supplemental food we could potentially create, and what types of food do we need to balance our unjust and unhealthy food system?
The answer is simple. If food is being created, it needs to serve the greatest number of people possible, with a focus on making sure that low-income people have equal access to the fruits of our harvest. Growing crops is a better solution to food injustice in Oakland because allowing animal farms to proliferate will make social and economic inequities worse instead of making them better. How?
If we add animal agriculture to our food policy, low-income people will lose out on access to healthy food, while people interested in creating locally raised organic meat, dairy and eggs will profit handsomely from selling their gourmet food products.
Meat, dairy and eggs are more expensive to create, and more expensive to purchase than many fruits, vegetables and grains. Since the standard American diet already contains too much meat, dairy and eggs, they are less healthy as well.
Introducing animal agriculture into Oakland’s food policy would be an unjust distribution of resources because it would serve the needs of a small group of people interested in creating artisan animal products instead of serving the low-income communities that the city of Oakland mandated the Planning Department to create food policy to serve.