On April 13 I visited Pittsburgh, PA. The city was a longtime powerful industrial force in America, a major center of steel and iron production. The economic collapse of these industries in America that began in the 1970’s, left the city’s air much cleaner, but it’s economic health and vitality in a fragile state.
Yet, unlike a number of other Rust Belt cities – like Cleveland – that are still trying to pick up the pieces, Pittsburgh has since undergone an impressive degree of urban revitalization and to some degree seen a renaissance in the city’s arts, culture, and educational institutions. Yet, in what is an all-too-familiar story, this revitalization was not shared by all the city’s communities. A number of primarily African American neighborhoods, hit hard by the collapse of the steel mill – notably Homewood and the Hill District - have never recovered, and to this day, are afflicted by high levels of poverty and disenfranchisement that have led to the common consequence of food insecurity and rates of diet-related health problems so much higher than neighboring communities, that on a spreadsheet they’d be could be confused as being in different countries entirely. The city’s poverty rate exceeds 20 percent, and many of the poorest neighborhoods are food deserts, lacking full-service supermarkets and virtually no direct access to nutritional food sources.
Just Harvest, an anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocacy organization, and the lead local partner in the IFC Campaign, recently joined several other organizations in the city to form a food policy council. The council has advocated for the city to undertake a variety of policy initiatives to strengthen production, distribution, and access to fresh, sustainable, and local food. It also has worked for the incorporation of EBT at local farmers’ markets, making fresh produce available to food stamp shoppers.
The film screening, which will take place on June 9 in the Homewood neighborhood, is intended as both a forum to engage community members about issues of food security and nutrition, as well as a opportunity to promote the ideas advocated by the food council, and to gain the necessary buy-in from residents that might potentially benefit from the council’s proposed changes. Currently, the council’s members are largely white and not from the neighborhoods they are advocating for, a fact that presents a variety of dilemmas.
As Just Harvest Co-Director Ken Regal explained: “The Food Policy Council has been working on strategies for brig our message to a wider and more dives audience, and this event would be an ideal opportunity to begin implementing this plan.”