Health in Motion: Growing Youth Leaders in the Conversation on Food Policy
Nov 03

Health in Motion: Growing Youth Leaders in the Conversation on Food Policy

By Dawn Plummer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council

This article is third in a new series called Health in Motion brought you by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Health in Motion is intended to showcase the efforts of schools and community organizations in the Pittsburgh region who are leading children to a healthier future. A new project with a guest author or interviewee will be featured each month. Let’s Move Pittsburgh hopes that Health in Motion will encourage leaders to adopt healthy programs in their communities and inspire readers to make healthy changes in their own lives.

We know that the typical American diet is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, while costing us more than $150 billion per year. We also know that this impacts the health of our region's children. Eating real food can save your own health and put our food system on a more humane, sustainable path. With America’s resources, there’s no excuse for hunger, low wages for food and farm workers, or inhumane conditions for farm animals. 

For these reasons, every Oct. 24, thousands of events all around the country bring communities together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies. Food Day brings together leaders and organizations united by a vision of food that is healthy, affordable, and produced with care for the environment, farm animals, and the people who grow, harvest, and serve it.

This year, Pittsburgh joined the national Food Day in a big way. The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council commemorated the event in several ways. We worked with Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to proclaim Oct. 24 Food Day Pittsburgh. We also collaborated to produce and promote a calendar of Food-Day related events and activities for the month of October and on Sat., Oct. 24, the Council hosted a strategic dialogue among Pittsburgh youth to discuss food and food justice issues that impacts their families, communities and schools. 

The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council is a collaborative advisory organization of over 65 food-related entities including Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Grow Pittsburgh, Women for a Healthy Environment, PGH Works, Operation Better Block, Kingsley Association, Penn State's 4-H and more. We work together to build a food system that benefits our communities, economy and environment. As highlighted in last week's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interactive, nearly half of Pittsburghers live in what is called a "food desert." As we wrestle with the conditions of childhood hunger, lack of access to good food, abundance of industrialized or "junk" food, and youth food choices, we know that the voices, input and leadership of local Pittsburgh youth themselves is needed as we work to develop solutions. As the Council builds momentum in the conversations and policy priorities for systems-level transformation of our food sector, we want to make create intentional space for youth leadership.

On Oct. 24 at Phipps, the Council partnered with national youth organizing network Youth for Healthy Schools (Y4HS) for a day-long Youth Strategic Dialogue on Food. The day was filled with games, laughter and critical thinking. Together the youth sketched out a tree of food justice, elaborating the daily manifestations of food in their lives as the leaves, the institutions that support these manifestations as the trunk and structural and systemic causes as the roots. Our young leaders unpacked the complexities of food, power, inequality, and the economy and began to envision an equitable food system.

We look forward continuing our work with youth and together taking bold steps towards change.