Mayor Paul Soglin will help Madison celebrate national Food Day today by holding the first meeting of the Food Policy Council, which has a goal of improving Madison’s food system.

According to a statement, Food Day takes place annually on Oct. 24. It said the Food Policy Council is made up of diverse stakeholders who examine and give input on how to improve the local food system.
“With the issues of poverty and poor food access in our underserved neighborhoods, establishing a food policy council to make critical decisions in regards to our food system is an exciting and necessary step forward,” Soglin said in the statement.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said Food Day is about healthy eating, making healthy choices and focusing on food and its relationship with poverty. The day is meant to create awareness about what healthy lifestyles are and how it impacts the at-risk parts of the community, he said.

Resnick said to achieve a healthier community, Madison needs to tackle the issues surrounding poverty.

He encouraged students to participate in Food Day by thinking about the awareness that surrounds food and take a moment to respect that while students have an array of healthy options available to them, not everyone in the community has those options.

Some neighborhoods in Madison do not have access to a grocery store, Resnick said.

He said Madison Fresh Market recently introduced an innovative, sustainable alternative to traditional grocery stores. Madison Fresh Market introduced the Freshmobile, a bus that brings fresh produce to Madison communities and began running last summer.

Resnick said he supports Food Day and the awareness it creates, though he noted the day could be better celebrated if students and other Madisonians were able to have the day off from work and school.

“[Food Day is] a way the city can help promote healthy lifestyle choices,” Resnick said. “It creates awareness.”

Mark Woulf, the city’s alcohol policy coordinator, said the Food Policy Council is comprised of members of the food community, which includes people who farm, grow, produce, distribute, prepare and compost food. The council will make critical decisions on food policy, he said.

Woulf added Madison has been considered a leader in the local food movement, because more than one percent of food in Madison is produced locally, a percentage higher than the national average. Unlike other cities, he said Madison did not have a coherent food movement or a clear, set agenda on food policy, and that the Food Policy Council will address this issue.

Similar councils in other places have taken actions such as passing moratoriums to restrict where fast food restaurants can be located in cities, requiring corner stores to allocate a certain amount of shelf space to fresh produce and improving incentive programs to use food stamps at farmers markets, Woulf said.

Woulf said Madison’s Food Policy Council will focus on providing incentives for food stamp use at farmers markets, look at zoning to restrict fast food restaurants and establish community gardens in public parks.