Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here: http://secondward.blogspot.com/2006/05/disclaimer.html#links

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Possible Changes to the Staple Foods Ordinance

I’ve recently been hearing concerns about the staple food ordinance I was proud to author back when it passed the Council unanimously in 2014. Specifically, those concerns have to do with dairy and other animal products, and cultural practices and personal preference about those specific food items.

I’ve asked City staff to continue to give stores the flexibility to meet the intent of our standards with culturally-appropriate foods, as they have been in enforcing the ordinance to date. It’s important for everyone to know that in the last three and a half years, according to inspection records, no store has received a citation for failure to stock dairy or cheese (only two fines have been given so far, both for failure to provide cereal), no Asian ethnic market has been given a violation notice of any kind, and over half of the 28 violations since April of 2016 have gone to large corporations like CVS, Walgreens, SuperAmerica, Holiday, and various dollar stores.

But despite that, I plan to tweak the ordinance to codify the flexibility staff are already showing. Staff will be coming forward in the next few months with an update on the ordinance's implementation and impact, and I plan to use that opportunity to tweak the ordinance to include a provision that would allow a form of alternative compliance for stores that choose not to carry specific animal products, but provide customers with products that add up to a balanced diet.

This is in keeping with my intent in adopting this ordinance. That’s why we added so much flexibility in what Minneapolis adopted, compared to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) standards for stores, on which our ordinance is based. For just a few examples: we allow milk alternatives (like soy, almond, etc.) in place of cow’s milk, allow plant-based meat alternatives in place of meat, allow any whole grain rather than requiring bread, and don’t insist on very specific foods being present (like bananas and peanut butter). You can find the whole list of WIC requirements here:  The intent of the Minneapolis ordinance is to ensure that all licensed grocery stores are places where people can find enough whole, healthy foods to achieve a balanced diet and avoid diet-related diseases that we know impact some communities more than others, and to do so in a way that allows more flexibility to provide culturally appropriate foods.

There are two things I’d like to note.

First, I continue to be proud of my work, in collaboration with public health professionals, intense engagement with businesses and with the support of many activists from a variety of communities throughout the city, to adopt this progressive, equity-based, ordinance to address persistent health disparities in our city. When we held the public hearing on this ordinance in 2014, many advocates  – including those who may identify as African American, East African and Asian American – stepped up to speak in favor of it, and none spoke in opposition. You can see that public hearing here.

The second is that I want to be realistic with everyone about the fact that this tweak to the Minneapolis staple food ordinance will not remove all requirements for Minneapolis grocery stores to carry dairy and meat. Essentially every grocery store accepts Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP – still often referred to colloquially as “food stamps”). It is a good thing, in my opinion, that stores accept SNAp and I hope they will all continue to do so. But SNAP has its own requirements for stores, and they include stocking at least three varieties of products in each of four categories – two of which are dairy and meat. You can see more about these standards here: https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/snap/SNAP-Staple-Foods.pdf. Even if the City allows alternative compliance to not carry these kinds of food products, stores will likely still be required to do so by the federal government. So this ordinance tweak may have less real-world impact – but I am willing to move forward with it, because I agree with the concerns that requiring eggs and diary is not necessary for people to be able to maintain a healthy diet and actually perpetuates certain potentially unhealthy Euro-American centric biases about what makes up a healthy diet.