This series on “Practicing Public Deliberation” offers summaries of a college class deliberating together on issues of public and local concern. While there is no easy answer for the complex issues that communities face, practicing deliberation offers students the opportunity to build skills of critical thinking, public speaking, active listening, and collective decision-making – skills which generalize to any future career.
On October 25, 2017, members of the Practicing Public Deliberation course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Auburn University held its fourth deliberation on the topic of how we should ensure that people in America have the food they need, using an issue guide published by National Issues Forums. The first option was to improve access to nutritious food. The second option was to pay more attention to the multiple benefits of food, and the third was to be good stewards of the food system.
Before deliberation began, participants were asked to share personal stories about the issue. One of the participants, who had previously owned a fast food restaurant, made the point that the food business is a tight business and waste affects profits. This point was very applicable in the entire discussion because it reminded the class that although waste is inevitable, when it comes to food, it is critical that it be kept minimal and in order to do that, the three options must each be considered.
For option one, members of the class mentioned making food free of taxes and elaborated on the idea that making certain foods tax-free could promote nutritious eating. Some participants expressed concern that current food assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC are abused and therefore less useful than they could be. Another point of deliberation was that food co-ops could exist rather than pantries. A food co-op, while not free, may offer a less expensive way to increase access to food and to also preserve a sense of pride and the ability to provide for one’s family. However, the students identified a possible trade-off: someone could take over the company, increase the prices, and utilize a business like this for their own profit. Students also mentioned raising the minimum wage, saying people would have more money and therefore have more accessibility to food as well as be encouraged to eat better. A tradeoff was recognized, however, since raising the minimum wage would decrease access to jobs and increase machinery in the workplace. One participant mentioned that they did not think healthy food was tied to income, but that education on food would encourage people to save their food as well as eat better. This thought led the discussion into Option Two.
The second option discussed paying more attention to the benefits of food. How might this option be implemented? The class felt that if students were educated in the school system on the effects of food, then they would eat better and waste less. It was also mentioned that if students at school were educated on the importance of food, they would be able to bring these ideas home to their parents and encourage their families to reduce waste. The trade-off, however, is that it is a challenge to get programs such as these into public schools and their impact would not be guaranteed.
Option three brought to the table great deliberation about being good stewards of the food system. It was noted early on that once food expires, Americans are not allowed to buy the food even if the food still appears to be good – this indicated mismanagement in the food system. Students raised questions as to where this food might go if Americans are not consuming it, or why it cannot be sold at a lower price with an expired label. Others countered that people could and would utilize this idea to create lawsuits to receive money for their own benefit after buying expired food. Growing and increasing access to organic food was another idea that came up. However, the trade-off was that growing organically costs too much and that the United States is getting its organic food from outside the country…therefore prioritizing the organic alternative would not truly resolve the issue of food mismanagement.
After discussing all three options on increasing access to food, the class was asked to choose what they felt was best to combat this issue. Some participants felt that while taking the sales tax off of food and raising property taxes might be seen as a loss, that loss would allow more access to food. Some also felt that if food insecurity were fought locally with initiatives such as co-ops or education in schools, then people would be more likely to utilize systems already put into place to allow more access to food.
Summary written by Bailey Edge, a sophomore at Auburn University majoring in General Social Sciences Education.