Institutional Purchasing

“Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability” 

EAT-Lancet Commission

Conducted by: Paula Daniels

Executive Summary: According to the EAT-Lancet Commission, widespread adoption of the ‘Planetary Health Diet’ (and avoiding food waste) could improve the health of 11 million lives each year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60%.  

There are few leverage points for food system change more powerful than the millions of dollars that food service institutions – school districts, hospitals, municipal agencies, correctional facilities, etc. – spend on food. One way to achieve this change is for these institutions to implement purchasing policies that help build robust markets for food that is not only nutritious and delicious, but also supports healthy local economies, a respectful relationship with the planet and its creatures, and values the well being of all workers in the supply chain.  

Sustainable, local food procurement is one of the recommended actions of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact signed by over 225 mayors around the world, which calls for “using the potential of public procurement to help realize the right to food for all.” And the C40 (a network of world cities that convene to address climate change) issued a Good Food Cities Declaration, now signed by 14 major cities, which pledges to align food procurement to planetary and dietary health. 

If cities or states as centers of regional food change were to coordinate their public food procurement contracts with value based goals, the combined purchasing power could be the basis for a more equitable, community centered mid-scale food supply chain, operating alongside the more globalized supply chain in the way renewable energy operates alongside the prevailing energy fuel system.

A community level system—one organized as a regional supply chain calibrated with value based purchasing policies with significant commitments from public institutions—could support entrepreneurial responsiveness to the varied needs of a community. Some elements to help achieve this: 

  • In order to accelerate the economic viability of an agro-ecologically oriented regional food system, an overarching goal should be developed to establish aggregate, quantifiable goals across the range of large anchor institutions (schools, hospitals, jails, recreational venues) in a region, to direct the combined purchasing power of the large anchor institutions toward increasing economic viability along a localized and values based supply chain (such as the goals found in the Good Food Purchasing Program, which prioritize the health and well being of people and planet).
  • Equity goals should be front and center, and should incorporate equitable access to land and capital for historically dispossessed communities.
  • Governments and investors can develop and direct financial incentives to the anchor institutions to enable purchasing support for fair wage and climate friendly food production practices such as soil health. Incentives should include an increase in school meal reimbursements for the procurement of local, sustainable, fair, and humanely produced foods to provide all students access to nutritious, high-quality, local food (Examples of this can be found in Michigan, Oregon, and New York.)

The Core Values of the Good Food Purchasing Program

The following key elements are instrumental in utilizing a procurement policy, such as the Good Food Purchasing Program, in creating a more agro-ecologically oriented food system on a regional scale:

  • A collaborative, multi-sector coalition focused on a localized food system with shared values of community, equity, economic and environmental health
  • Supply chain infrastructure that includes mission driven centers of aggregation, processing, and distribution (food hubs), dedicated to the same vision and goals of the collaborative
  • Deeply invested, community informed local government leadership to connect the necessary dots within and across the many city and county agencies that intersect with food – which should include the workforce and economic development teams, in recognition that the food system is an economic one that responds to financial incentives and investments.

A system that serves community health, workers, and local businesses along those supply chains, can be a more resilient system in times of crisis. Healthy food, and the ability to make a fair living producing, picking, packing, and processing it, are essential to the equitable well-being of everyone who participates in the food system. The food system provides an essential good and service, and managing it in a way that is sustainable for the planet and people is a social, economic and environmental imperative.