New York City Food Policy Watch
May 2014
New York City Food Policy Watch is the monthly e-newsletter of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College. We keep an eye on food policy in New York City and on urban food policy around the nation and the world. We also provide updates on our own policy analyses and research activities and on the food policy activities of City University of New York faculty, students and staff. To subscribe to our newsletter click here >>>

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An ongoing series of interviews with food policy advocates

Rhys W. Powell is the President & Founder of Red Rabbit, a New York City-based company that works with over 90 public, charter and independent schools as well as Head Start programs to serve more than 18,000 meals and snacks every day. This regionally sourced and competitively priced food is delivered from its kitchens in New York City to school children throughout the Greater New York area. It also has an active educational program. Before founding Red Rabbit, Powell studied computer science and engineering at MIT and worked as an equity trader for a privately held financial services firm, Carlin Financial Group.

FPW: What motivated you to get involved with food policy and to become a food policy advocate? Was there a specific trigger or inciting incident?


RWP: A friend was looking for a healthy food service to provide lunches for his child at school, due to the poor quality of the food being served there. When we couldn't find such a provider, the idea for Red Rabbit was born. That was 2005, and since then we've grown to serve 18,000 meals per day to over 90 public charter and private schools, as well as daycares and afterschool programs, throughout the five boroughs. We provide nutritionally balanced, made from scratch meals from our East Harlem kitchen as well as cooking and gardening labs that engage students, parents and/or teachers/school administrators in a fun and memorable way. As we grow and expand our services we are excited to further our mission of change the food culture in this country, one community at a time.


NYC Food by The Numbers:  
East Harlem 

In order to create healthier local food environments, public officials, advocates and community residents need detailed information on current conditions.  To help develop that understanding, we summarize data on food environments in East Harlem.  Some highlights: 
  • In 2012, 44.2% of East Harlem children lived in poverty. The child obesity rate in East Harlem was 23.4%, the 13the highest in the city's 59 districts.
  • The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets lists 204 food retail establishments with active licenses in East Harlem.
  • Community Board 11 estimates that East Harlem residents spent about $340 million on food each year, the largest spending category in the district.  Of this, about $90 million is spent in East Harlem.
  • In 2013, SNAP provided an estimated $38.2 million dollars in benefits to 11,629 East Harlem households.


Food Policy in Action  
The Debate on Salt:
A Primer 

In preparation for our next
Food Policy for Breakfast Seminar: Getting to Yes on Salt: How to Translate Conflicting Evidence into Public Health Policy, here is some background reading to familiarize our readers with the ongoing debate on the health effects of salt consumption.


Health officials, scientists and the food industry debate  science and policy on salt. Is there common ground for action?  


Farley, T. The Public Health Crisis Hiding in Our Food. New York Times. April 20, 2014


Bakalar, N. Study Linking Illness and Salt Leaves Researchers Doubtful. New York Times. April 22, 2014.


Johns DM, Bayer R, Galea S. Controversial salt report peppered with uncertainty. [letter]. Science. 2013;341: 1063. PMID: 24009376. doi: 10.1126/science.341.6150.1063.


Bayer R, Johns D, Galea S. Salt, Science, And Public Health: The Challenge Of Evidence-Based Decision Making. Health Affairs. 2012; 31(12): 2738-2746. PMID: 23213158.


He FJ, Pombo-Rodrigues S, MacGregor GA. Salt reduction in England from 2003 to 2011: its relationship to blood pressure, stroke and ischaemic heart disease mortality. BMJ Open 2014;4:e004549. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004549


The National Salt Reduction Initiative, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

RSVP to the event  here>>> 
New Report from Union
of Concerned Scientists 
"Sugar-Coating Science: How the Food Industry Misleads Consumers on Sugar"

We ran across this and thought we would share.... 

With big budgets and deceptive advertising practices, sugar interests target vulnerable audiences and turn misinformation into profit.

We eat too much sugar, and it's bad for our health.

A growing body of scientific evidence supports this proposition, and groups such as the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have confirmed it by recommending sugar intake limits far below typical American consumption levels.

Yet despite the evidence that we need to eat less sugar, we continue to consume far too much of it-encouraged by the aggressive, and often deceptive, marketing strategies of the food and beverage industry.

Download the report here>>>

If you come across a food website that you would like to share with us, send us the details at [email protected]
Pie in the Sky
Half-Baked Ideas
that Just Might Work  



What if eligibility standards and reimbursement rates in federal Child Nutrition programs were adjusted for local cost of living?


Current Food Policy News 


Participate in the 2014 Health Bucks Program

"The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would like to invite you to participate in the Health Bucks program this summer and fall.


Health Bucks, $2 coupons redeemable for fresh produce at all NYC farmers' markets, help low-income New Yorkers access high-quality, fresh fruits and vegetables direct from our region's farmers. With almost 1 in 5 New Yorkers relying on SNAP and 1.5 million identified as food insecure, Health Bucks fill a critical need by making fresh produce more affordable for New Yorkers who benefit from it the most."

Learn more about distributing Health Bucks here>>> 


High CO2 Makes Crops Less Nutritious

"In the largest study yet, Samuel Myers of Harvard University and colleagues report that the CO2 levels expected in the second half of this century will likely reduce the levels of zinc, iron, and protein in wheat, rice, peas, and soybeans. Some two billion people, the researchers note, live in countries where citizens receive more than 60 percent of their zinc or iron from these types of crops. Deficiencies of these nutrients already cause an estimated loss of 63 million life-years annually."

Read more here>>>  


"Bountiful buffets can make many people's eyes too big for their stomachs as they pile too much food onto their plates. For customers at one Swiss restaurant, wasting food is going to cost them," reports the International Business Times." Petrizietta, a restaurant in Losone, Switzerland, charges customers 12 francs for an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. But for customers who do not consume all the food on their plate, they will be charged an additional 5 francs. Restaurant owner Giovanni Tafuro implemented the rule this week to discourage customers from wasting food. The new policy is clearly stated in the menu and at the food counter of the restaurant."

Read more here>>>     


"The ever-increasing number of people working to improve the growing, processing, transporting, marketing, distributing and eating of food must think through our messages more thoroughly and get them across more clearly," writes Mark Bittman in the New York Times. "I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I can say that a couple of buzzwords represent issues that are far more nuanced than we often make them appear. These are "organic" and "G.M.O.'s" (genetically modified organisms).


I think we - forward-thinking media, progressives in general, activist farmers, think-tank types, nonprofiteers, everyone who's battling to create a better food system - often send the wrong message on both of these. If we understand and explain them better it'll be more difficult for us to be discredited (or, worse, dismissed out of hand), and we'll have more success moving intelligent comments on these important issues into the mainstream."

Read more here>>>  


"With real world play through a virtual interface, the game Feed aims to raise awareness of underlying issues of world hunger. "Games for Change" challenged a team of game developers from Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center to make a live outdoor game that can be played by 200+ people at the Games for Change festival in Washington Square Park. The design team spent the first six weeks of development time researching social issues, brainstorming game ideas, and finalizing the three statements that the game would focus on. The team also researched how to make an outdoor game that can be played by two hundred people and still be fun, as well as how to use art to convey the messages of the game with an appropriate emotional tone. For technology, the team chose to create a webbased game using node.js and GPS tracking system. These tech decisions also shaped the final design."


Interview with Public Health Advocate Nick Freudenberg  

Diet Detective: Marion Nestle has commented that corporations are not social services, and they have an obligation to their shareholders.  How can you ever see companies like Unilever, Coke, Pepsi, Nabisco and General Mills changing their tactics?  

Nick:  Almost everyone agrees that government has the authority and responsibility to protect public health.  What people disagree about is which particular decisions should be left to markets and corporations and which to government.  In my view, beginning in the 1970s, corporations and their allies began a counter-offensive to roll back the added health protections won by the consumer and environmental movements of the 1960s.    In the early part of the 20th century, our spectacular advances in public health depended on government action to bring clean water, sanitation, safe food and drugs and better working and living conditions to millions of Americans.  As a nation, we need to bring our approach to public health into the 21st century.  My three recommendations for food-and other-companies? First, every company should have the duty to disclose what they know about the health effects of their products.  Second, no company should be able to pass on the costs of the health damages their products cause to consumers and taxpayers. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which required tobacco companies to reimburse states $240 billion for the costs of tobacco-related illnesses, sent an important deterrent message.  The growing scientific evidence of the role added sugar plays in diet-related disease provides a similar opportunity for using the law to discourage companies from promoting unhealthy products.  Third, no company should be able to bypass parents to market directly to children, who lack the capacity to distinguish between facts and persuasion.  New laws that require companies to follow these three steps would reduce the ability of Unilever, Coke, Pepsi, Nabisco, General Mills and other companies to promote products that contribute to premature death and preventable illness. 

Read more here>>>

Food Policy Center News 

As the spring semester draws to a close, the NYC Food Policy Center has continued to listen to and learn from our community partners and collaborators. Moving forward into the summer we plan to continue our efforts to foster community participation to inform meaningful policy discussion citywide.


This spring marks the completion of the first ever East Harlem Research Action workshop, taught by co-directors Nicholas Freudenberg and Janet Poppendieck. This course brought together students, community advocates and local nonprofit organizations to learn about food system issues in East Harlem and other low-income communities and collaborate on solutions to the challenges of food insecurity and diet-related disease. Upon completion of the course, Center staff will work with students and community partners to take action on the problems they have investigated.


In staff news, we congratulate Center co-director Jan Poppendieck on the updated re-release of her 1986 book, Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression (University of California Press, 2014). Read about it on Marion Nestle's blog, Food Politics.  


About The New York City  

Food Policy Center at  

Hunter College


The New York City Food Policy Center develops intersectoral, innovative and effective solutions to preventing diet-related diseases and promoting food security in New York and other cities.

The Center works with policy makers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments and to use food to promote community and economic development. Through interdisciplinary research, policy analysis, evaluation and education, we leverage the expertise and passion of the students, faculty and staff of Hunter College and the CUNY School of Public Health and other CUNY campuses. The Center aims to make New York a model for smart, fair food policy.  


Center staff include Hunter College faculty, staff and students:

  • Nicholas Freudenberg, Co-Director and Distinguished Professor of Public Health
  • Jan Poppendieck, Co-Director and Professor Emerita, Sociology
  • Charles Platkin, Editor, Food Policy Watch, Distinguished Lecturer Public Health and Nutrition  
  • May May Leung, Assistant Professor, Nutrition
  • Diana Johnson, Director of Community Projects 
  • Michele Silver, Research Associate and DPH candidate 
  • Ashley Rafalow, Operations and Communications Coordinator and MPH candidate  
  • Dory Kornfeld, Research Assistant
  • Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, Research Assistant  
In This Issue
Rhys W. Powell
NYC Food by the Numbers
The Debate on Salt: A Primer
Sugar-Coating Science
Pie in the Sky
Food Policy News
Food Policy Brief
Spring 2014 Food Policy for Breakfast 
Seminar Series 

 Getting to Yes on Salt: How to Translate Conflicting Evidence into Public Health Policy   


Date: May 20, 2014  

Time: 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM

Location: The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College
47---49 East 65th Street between Madison and Park


RSVP Here >>>



Dr. Thomas Farley, Former Commissioner of Health, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Joan M Tisch Fellow for Public Health at the Roosevelt House Institute for Public Policy at Hunter College  


Dr. Sandro Galea, Gelman Professor and Chair Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University  


Moderated by Nicholas Freudenberg, Faculty Director, NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College.


Programming begins at 8:45am - arrive early to enjoy breakfast.


RSVP Here >>> 


Stay in touch for more event information and our Fall 2014
Food Policy for Breakfast Seminar schedule