The Next Wave for Good Food

Pete Huff

Every day of the school year, more than 80,000 meals are served in the cafeterias of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public School Districts—that’s over 1.3 million meals a year. While these school districts are two of the largest in Minnesota, they share the daily rhythm of providing meals and snacks with the other school districts in the state—over 540 districts in total, which spent close to $450 million in the 2014-15 school year on food service.

These school meals, as well as those served by other public and private institutions—such as hospitals, universities and colleges, child care centers, government offices, prisons and beyond—are critical sources of nutrition for the 5.45 million Minnesota residents who rely on their services, either directly or indirectly. Beyond nutrition, the scale and consistency of institutional meals means that food purchasing—also called food procurement—by Minnesota institutions has a significant impact on the economy and environment of the state and the Upper Midwest region as a whole.

The focus on how institutions—particularly public institutions—can use their food procurement dollars to leverage positive change from farm to fork has grown exponentially in the past two decades. With practices such as farm-to-school increasingly well established and other efforts such as farm-to-hospitalrapidly gaining momentum throughout the United States, institutions are influencing how food is produced, priced and distributed at the national, regional and local levels. With this increasingly pivotal role, there is a need and an opportunity to work within and across institutions, as well as within the communities they support, to ensure that what ends up on the cafeteria tray, so to speak, supports a better, more equitable world from the soil to the salad bar.

The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) is an important tool to help institutions down this path. Created by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) in 2012, the GFPP helps major public institutions measure and shift their food procurement to prioritize food that is healthy, sustainable, fair and affordable. This is done through a comprehensive and progressive framework for verifying, scoring and publically recognizing responsible and holistic practices centered on five core values. The unique aspect of the GFPP’s structure is that rather than prioritizing one value at the expense of others (e.g., increasing purchases of local produce from farms and/or food businesses with unfair labor practices), it strives to create a holistic approach to improving the food system by balancing all five of the following values:

  • Support local and regional economies by prioritizing purchases from small and medium scale farms and food businesses located near the institution;
  • Promote environmental sustainability by sourcing food that is produced through verifiable sustainable and regenerative practices;
  • Advocate for a valued workforce by requiring safe and healthy working conditions, as well as fair compensation for all workers and producers at every stage of the food system;
  • Uphold animal welfare by requiring healthy and humane care for livestock; and
  • Encourage balanced nutrition by providing food offerings rich in seasonable fruits and vegetables, whole grains, reduced salt, minimal added sugars and free from deep-frying.

To accomplish this, the framework uses a tiered, points-based scoring system that, once adopted by an institution, allows for the creation of a tailored action plan for that particular institution’s food procurement needs. This action plan is rooted in the institution meeting a minimum baseline commitment within each value category and improving their performance in each over a set period. The end result of the point-system is a one to five star rating for the participating institution. This recognition provides the public and other institutions with an understanding of how the institution is leveraging their dollars—often public dollars—to create public benefit. Further, this recognition, and the GFPP as a whole, creates an opportunity for the public and decision-makers to work with institutions to identify, address and—hopefully—reach shared goals.

After its creation by the LAFPC in 2012, the GFPP was adopted by the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and several other institutions. Implementation efforts were evaluated after one year, with the biggest factor being that the school system served over 716,000 meals per day! Along with greater understanding and transparency about the food procurement of seven participating institutions, the GFPP effort in Los Angles also reported key outcomes in each of the GFPP value categories: it created $12 million in new local produce purchases, saved 19.6 million gallons of water per week via Meatless Mondays, created 150 new well-paying jobs in the supply chain; secured a commitment to source 100 percent antibiotic free chicken by December 2016, and inspired healthier food products such as low-sodium bread that is free of high fructose corn syrup and made with sustainably produced local wheat.

The adoption of the GFPP is currently being explored in multiple cities, including Chicago, Oakland and New York City. The work of developing, adopting and upholding the GFPP—regardless of the city—is supported by the Center for Good Food Purchasing (CGFP). This organization was formed as an offshoot of the LAFPC efforts with the GFPP and provides planning, implementation and evaluation support for institutions using the framework.

As these cities learn how to adopt the program to meet the unique needs of their communities and environment, those in Los Angeles continue to lead the way in pioneering the implementation of the GFPP. Most recently, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), organized a coalition of organizations that included the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW),Food and Water Watch, and other environmental, animal rights, and public health groups to demand that the GFPP standards be upheld by LAUSD in its chicken procurement contracts. Specifically, the coalition demanded transparency in the procurement process when LAUSD was considering bids from Tyson Foods, a major poultry producer with a long record of labor violations, and was successful in stopping the rubber-stamping of the contract between the district and the company.

In February and March 2016, a group of Twin Cities stakeholders came together in two preliminary meetings to discuss how the GFPP framework could be brought to Minnesota. These stakeholders—representing a diverse range of perspectives from each of the five GFPP value categories—have begun the process of building the relationships, shared understanding and agreements on the process that will be necessary for determining if the GFPP is a useful tool for Minnesotans.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the conversation about the Good Food Purchasing Program in the Twin Cities, and help build a more resilient and equitable food system for all, please contact Christina Spach.