Food as a Right

Author: HLP

Scorecard Categories Addressed

  • Community
    • Living in Poverty
  • Employment
    • Unemployment Rate
    • Live and Work in the City
  • Cost of Living
    • Overall Cost of Living
  • Services
    • Grocery Stores
  • Resources
    • Local Food

Solution Description

Create a right to food policy for the city.

"To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer. " – City of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

"I knew we had so much hunger in the world. But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it."

Example actions to make the right to food policy effective. Note: This is a revamping of the entire food system:

  • Allow local farmers to set up stands in high traffic public spaces
  • Allow private companies to establish a market in high traffic areas on land owned by the city. A set of heathy food options must be sold below market value, while other food can be sold a market prices.
    • Owners of markets in the best locations have to use a mobile food store (a truck) to service poor neihgborhoods on the weekend
  • Establish low cost restaurants that serve healthy, local food
  • Establish community and school gardens
  • Establish nutrition classes
  • Monitor food prices and publish the results

Stakeholder Impact

All People
Access to healthy, local food
Lower cost food

Local Farmers
Higher profits (selling direct to customer)

Families with Kids
Access to healthy, local food
Additional job opportunities

Access to healthy, local food.

Less people needing a pure handout for food
Less need for special food programs for seniors

Access to prime city land (Consider a mixed-use development in a high traffic area. First floor is grocery store selling a percent of the healthy food for a lower markup and using a food truck to sell healthy food in poor neighborhoods on weekends. Upper floors are allowed for other developer determined uses.)

Case Study

"Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, ... Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 per cent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 per cent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you."

"The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers."

"offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 per cent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food."

"we approached one of these stands. A farmer ... with 'Direct from the Countryside,' grinned as she told us, 'I am able to support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck.'"

"The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that, as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw their incomes drop by almost half."

"In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for 'ABC' markets, from the Portuguese acronym for 'food at low prices.' Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price."

"'For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,' ... 'Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city centre, so everyone can get good produce.'"

"Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy 'People's Restaurants' (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal. ... diners—grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still others in business suits. ... No one has to prove they're poor to eat in a People's Restaurant, although about 85 per cent of the diners are. The mixed clientele erases stigma and allows 'food with dignity,' say those involved."

"Belo's food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers."

"the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to 'keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,' ... They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are."

"In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 per cent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 per cent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up."

"less than 2 per cent of the city budget. That's about a penny a day per Belo resident."

Additional Information

Except where noted, all quotes and information for this toolkit entry has come from this article.

Problem Motivation

Too many people in the world go hunger: "A World Hunger Report (WHR) issued by World Hunger Education Services stated 925 million—13 per cent of the world population—went hungry in 2010"1

"Of each 100 kg food produced, only 35 per cent is actually consumed, the rest is wasted or destroyed along the distribution network from grower to consumer. Almost 50 per cent of all food produced is destroyed BEFORE it reaches the consumer."1

1 Source article

"Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy."

"Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is ... a 'new social mentality'—the realization that 'everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.'"

"The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more public handouts ... It can mean redefining the 'free' in 'free market' as the freedom of all to participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect."