Road Map to Achieving a Sustainable, Equitable Food System in Washington

Monday, September 11, 2017

In Washington state, 300,000 children experience food insecurity and 61 percent of adults are obese or overweight. All the while, farmland is decreasing, farmers struggle to earn a living wage, and food system practices generate pollution.

Members of the Washington State Food System Roundtable, including a researcher from the University of Washington School of Public Health, address these food issues and others in a report released online this summer. Called a “prospectus,” the report presents goals and strategies to achieve a 25-year vision for the state’s food system.

“This report answers the question, ‘How do we transform the food system so that it is equitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant?’” said Jennifer Otten, assistant professor of environmental and occupation health sciences and a core faculty member of the nutritional sciences program at the School.

The report identifies three key action areas – people, environment and economy – “with equity serving as an overarching intention through which all goals and strategies are examined,” according to the report. Among the roundtable’s 13 goals:

  • Everyone has enough nutritious food at all times.
  • Prevent, reduce, reuse and recycle to move toward zero waste throughout the food system.
  • Soil, air, water and biodiversity are protected and restored for future generations.
  • Emerging and existing farming operations are economically viable.

To ensure the availability and accessibility of nutritious food, the roundtable suggests ways to increase participation in food and nutrition assistance programs and to expand initiatives that connect these programs to farms. The roundtable also suggests opportunities to protect the quality of surface, ground and marine waters, to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gases generated from the food supply chain, and to prevent soil erosion and manage nutrient content.

The roundtable, a coalition of public and private partners, including the Washington State Department of Health, have been working on the report since 2012. As part of the process, UW graduate students, nearly all from the School of Public Health, investigated and reported on the way the state produces, processes, distributes and consumes food.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to see the complexities of policy development and the unique role of public health in food system interventions,” said Shelly Johnston, a 2016 graduate of the School's nutritional sciences program. Other student contributors include the program’s Chris Benson, Jamie Bachaus, Katherine Getts and Jessica Jew, who have all since graduated. Kidan Araya, from the UW Department of Geography, also took part.

The roundtable included representatives from state government, tribes, local food policy councils, food enterprises, economic development organizations, academia, as well as experts in agriculture, labor, anti-hunger and nutrition, public health, philanthropy and others.