In New York City and around the world, it is women, people of color, recent immigrants and the poor who are essential for growing, producing, preparing and serving food. These groups are also most harmed by the failures of our food system: hunger and food insecurity, diet-related diseases, low wages and poor working conditions, and pollution and climate change caused by food production and consumption. And here in New York City and around the world, these same group are often excluded from participation in making decisions on local, municipal, national and global food policies.

A new Discussion Paper, Citizen-Generated Evidence for a More Sustainable and Healthy Food System written by Bill Vorley for the Sustainable Diets for All Project, proposes that engaging community residents in gathering, analyzing and presenting evidence to inform food policy is one strategy for bringing excluded voices into food policy governance.

The report makes the case that:

“participation in evidence generation can: enhance people’s capability to have a role in their own development, changing citizens from research ‘subjects’ into active researchers; foster ‘creative capital’ and a culture of innovation through awareness, motivation, improved trust and leaderships, and new alliances; mobilise community group engagement; generate ownership of data; and contribute to building local adaptive capacity.”

The Discussion Paper presents concrete strategies for gathering evidence and provides examples, mostly from developing countries. The report is based on the experience of the Sustainable Diets for All Project, a strategic partnership with the Dutch government that is active in Uganda, Zambia, Indonesia, and Bolivia.

The Discussion Paper also notes that for citizen-generated evidence to have an impact it needs to be part of the policy debate. For this, policymakers, planners, and civil society groups need to “learn how to seek out, value and interpret citizen-generated evidence.” By learning from the experiences of food policy advocates in other parts of the world, those promoting food justice here in New York City can assist in bringing new evidence and new participants into food policy deliberations and engaging policy makers in using that evidence to inform policy.