S:US Hosts Inaugural “Summit to Serve New York” With Focus on Food Justice
In photo from left-right: Dr. Jorge R. Petit, Former President and CEO of Services for the UnderServed; Michael Hollis, S:US Director of Urban Farms; Karen Washington, co-owner and farmer at Rise & Root Farm; Dennis Derryck, Ph.D., Founder of Corbin Hill Food Project, Inc.; Leah Penniman, Founding Co-Executive Director and Farm Director of Soul Fire Farm; Cathy Nonas, MS, CDN, Fellow at McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and Executive Director of Meals for Good, Inc.; Kate Mackenzie, MS, RD, Executive Director of The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy; and Andrew Zimmern, social justice advocate, chef and writer.
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S:US’ First Food Justice Summit brought together community leaders in the NYC-region food justice movement
S:US releases white paper with a framework of action to address access, mobility and food sovereignty in New York City
(New York, NY) – On Wednesday, April 19, Services for the UnderServed (S:US) hosted the inaugural “Summit to Serve New York” at New York University’s Kimmel Center for University Life, focusing on Food Justice and Food Security. Photos from the event can be viewed HERE.
The half-day gathering was the first in a planned series bringing together renowned community leaders and diverse speakers to discuss the most pressing social issues facing New Yorkers. The 2023 Summit showcased the work of organizations serving New Yorkers in the food security and food justice space and included discussions on innovative solutions to address food security and its impact on the most vulnerable populations in the city.
“Food insecurity is one of the most pressing issues faced by so many of our fellow New Yorkers,” said Dr. Jorge R. Petit, Former President and CEO of Services for the UnderServed. “S:US is deeply committed to ensuring that the New Yorkers we serve have access to the fresh, nutritious food they need and deserve. We are so grateful to those who are driving change for our neighbors that joined us today and shared their experiences and expertise on such an important issue.”
Guest emcee Andrew Zimmern, a social justice advocate, chef and writer presided over the Summit which brought together 175 guests from different sectors, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations and businesses.
“I’ve lived through homelessness. I’ve lived through hunger. I’ve taken meals at soup kitchens and at the Salvation Army,” said Zimmern in his introductory remarks at the Summit. “I also have been a chef my entire life and I’ve worked in kitchens nonstop since I was fourteen years-old. Chefs are at the heart of every public policy issue that I can name. We are in: Healthcare, immigration reform, climate crisis, farming, hunger, food waste, economic development. And I think that’s why you see so many chefs picking up a flag and trying to lead other people up the hill.”
Karen Washington, a long-time food justice advocate in New York and co-owner and farmer at Rise & Root Farm, gave the summit’s keynote address.
“Our food system doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be changed. And that change is shifting power. In order for the food system to change, power has to go back into the hands of the people who have been impacted by it,” Washington told the audience. “Growing your food is a leverage of power, because all of the sudden you understand the power that you have within your hands to put that seed in the soil. That it’s culturally appropriate. That you grew it, and you’re feeding your community. That’s power.”
The event also featured a panel discussion led by S:US Director of Urban Farms, Michael Hollis. The panelists included: Kate Mackenzie, MS, RD, Executive Director of The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy; Leah Penniman, Founding Co-Executive Director and Farm Director of Soul Fire Farm; Cathy Nonas, MS, CDN, Fellow at McSilver Institute for poverty policy and research and Executive Director of Meals for Good, Inc.; and Dennis Derryck, Ph.D., Founder of Corbin Hill Food Project, Inc.
“Our vision of food justice and food sovereignty is not just getting food into people’s bellies but making sure that we democratize the food system so that power shifts and puts resources and control back into the hands of the people who are currently under the boot of racial capitalism,” Penniman said of her activism at Soul Fire Farm.
“Any conversation about food insecurity is really a discussion about poverty. Whether we are discussing the criminal justice system, or housing, or the environment, or the litany of racial injustices we all face – those solutions all entail institutions operating designed to accommodate poverty,” Derryck added. “The accommodation of poverty is by design. It’s intentional. It’s perpetuated at every level. And it is a policy choice. Accommodating poverty compounds the range of disparities that we each struggle with in our little sphere in which we are working for change.”
“We right now are operating a $53 million emergency food program that encourages people to choose the types of foods that they want. And sometimes it’s not about food; sometimes it’s about food resources,” said Mackenzie of her work in the Adams administration. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to work with advocates, with communities, with businesses, and with parents to make sure that we are changing our food system.”
“There are a lot of community organizations that deal with new immigration, sexual abuse, the need for shelter. There are a ton of very small, hard-working community groups that really get down into the basic needs of people. They all have different needs and they all have different methods of survival,” Nonas remarked. “As much as I love to give people food, that’s not what everybody needs. They need a home ground, they need clothes, they need toys for their kids. But until we bring those community groups together, we won’t be able to come together to really improve poverty.”
S:US has also completed work on a white paper titled “Uniting for Food Justice: A Health and Human Service Organization’s Perspective.” Over 5,000 people served throughout S:US programs contributed to the paper’s findings, identifying food access, mobility, and food sovereignty as critical considerations for food justice efforts in public health. Ultimately, S:US developed a community action plan which calls for a shared commitment to food as a basic right, interdisciplinary collaboration on strategic planning and advocacy, and stronger public engagement in the food justice movement.
The “Summit to Serve New York” was the high point of a week of activations on food justice across the S:US organization. In addition to the Summit, S:US hosted a Food Drive where guests were invited to bring a canned or boxed food item with them to the Summit, with donations being distributed to S:US supportive housing sites on Friday, April 21st. S:US is also launching a new community fridge in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn this week, along with an Earth Day of Service on Saturday, April 22nd to beautify the gardens at three S:US supportive housing sites.
About Services for the UnderServed
S:US plays a critical role in the health and well-being of more than 37,000 of New York City’s most vulnerable individuals and families each year, helping them overcome complex and challenging life circumstances. At S:US, we understand that for there to be long-term social change, we must invest in people and communities. We work to eliminate the root causes of inequity and poverty, while addressing people’s unique needs—needs that are compounded by the challenges people face due to a lack of opportunity. We give people hope, providing a path to a bright future for themselves, their families, and communities, a future that is not defined by challenges, but by opportunity for all. Learn more at sus.org.