No Hunger in Belo Horizonte

About 275 miles north of Rio de Janeiro there’s a city of 2.5 million people with no hunger. It’s Belo Horizonte, a technological industrial hub which had all the social divisions and hunger similar cities have in the US and elsewhere. But back in 1993 the city did something rather notable and rare, it enacted a municipal law that established the right to food. It went further, it established what was needed to make it real. It created a commission of  government officials, farmers, labor leaders and gave them a mandate, “ to provide access to food as a measure of social justice.”  The cost of all this, less than 2% of the city’s annual budget. The pioneering effort is made up of about 20 interconnected programs, as one might expect all sustainable. A core idea is to connect food producers to consumers, bypassing middle people, and the mark ups retailers can’t help charging. That involves  delivering food directly to public schools, nursing homes, daycare centers, clinics, charitable organizations, it means regulating some prices, it calls for food stands, something like farmers’ markets and  what can be called public restaurants who charge a fixed price.

It is not an approach that might fit a large urban center like Los Angeles, but many of its ideas could be adapted.  Food stands,  delivering food to daycare and nursing homes in certain neighborhoods for example. The cost of social services for those who are food insecure, and often unemployed or homeless as well, is much more than 2% of  annual budgets.  Yet any attempt would have to start with the notion underlying the effort of Belo Horizonte that  to provide access to food is a measure of social justice.

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