February 1, 2011

Dishing on the District: Food Agencies 101

In past weeks we explored the scale and scope of food insecurity in the District as well as the role of the federal nutrition programs in fighting hunger. I found myself asking, “Where do we begin, if we want to make it better?” Let’s start with how DC Government might contribute to building a more food secure DC.

As it turns out, understanding how the DC government shapes the city’s food system is no easy task. Local policy and administration have a role in everything from the location of supermarkets, to nutrition education in schools, to feeding programs for seniors, to food safety standards. These food-related functions, and more, are addressed by at least thirteen different city agencies, which in turn are overseen by seven different DC City Council Committees. DC has no “Department of Food” - no central agency or governing body tasked with ensuring quality affordable food for DC residents. This makes it very tricky to understand and track whether and how well our government is contributing to a more food secure DC.

Fortunately, we have some tools. Each government agency has its own web-page as part of the DC government website, with information on programs and initiatives. Agency budgets and activities are measured and shared through Track DC. The Office of the City Administrator also compiles performance plans and reports for all agencies.

Each agency reports to the mayor, but also operates with the oversight and influence of the City Council. Specific committees conduct regular public oversight hearings, where they receive public testimony and reports from the agencies. Anyone can testify by contacting the committee ahead of time. (Here are some tips.) The schedule for these hearings and information about how to get your name on the witness list can be found online. Resources and documentation from prior hearings are also available on the Council's website.

While it is helpful to provide feedback on individual programs within each agency, there’s no mandate or mechanism for addressing the big picture. Some cities have established bodies or working groups, commonly referred to as food policy councils, as a way to bring some combination of government, non-governmental organizations, citizens, advocates, and others together, an idea I hope to explore further in my next post.

In the meantime, here’s an alphabetical list of some of the agencies and initiatives that oversee or regulate or serve food, based on a document prepared by the Fair Budget Coalition for their annual issue briefing on food held last month:

This post is the third in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

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