Washington state in 2008 was the third largest exporter of food products in the country, producing copious quantities of wheat, peas, lentils, pears, apples, and cherries. In such an agricultural oasis, it ought to be easy for people to eat healthy food. But apparently it’s not simple enough.
Here are a few statistics found in a new University of Washington report: Opportunities for Increasing Access to Healthy Food in Washington. Only 25 percent of Washingtonians eat fruits and vegetables five times a day like we’re supposed to. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s adults last year were overweight or obese. Even in the years before the brunt of the recession hit, more than one in ten families were “food insecure,” which means they had trouble providing food for all of their members.
Lack of money is one obvious barrier that keeps people from eating well in Washington. The report also takes a comprehensive look at the less visible parts of our food system—from retail practices to school purchasing policies to farmland preservation to community gardens to transportation problems—to pinpoint places where it’s not working. Then it goes on to offer hundreds of concrete solutions to those problems, which are available in a handy downloadable database.
Since Sightline has long championed using our tax system to get more of the things we want, here’s a smattering of ideas the report offers on that front to expand our healthy food choices:
- Offer tax credits to grocery retailers that offer healthy foods.
- Analyze factors that make farms less viable, such as high property taxes.
- Offer tax credits for food production, processing, transportation and retail entities using alternative energy.
- Provide tax incentives for roof gardens in urban areas.
- Ease permits and regulations for farmers markets and food business incubators.
- Offer tax incentives for cooperative transportation, warehousing and wholesaling of locally produced foods.
- Tax the conversion of important agricultural land to non-farm uses.
- Tax less healthy foods such as soda or sweetened beverages.
The report, produced for the Access to Healthy Foods Coalition, offers more suggestions than are practical to count (though the Excel database suggests there are 572). Many are refreshingly tangible—decreasing promotion of junk foods at grocery checkouts, making water available to community gardens, strengthening nutrition standards for schools and daycares, having refrigerated trucks of produce visit food banks without freezers, developing affordable food processing kitchens, or adapting food safety regulations for small farms.
Frankly, it offers an overwhelming number of solutions. Which is a good problem to have.