Food in the City: How the Food Industry Creates Healthy Communities

Union Market

Guest post by Jessica Hersh-Ballering

Elevation DC and Smart Growth America on June 20 held a fun and well-attended “Food in the City” panel event at Union Market in northeast Washington, D.C. The second in the three-part “. . . in the City” series focusing on place making and the local economy, “Food in the City” addressed the many ways in which the food industry affects cities.

The panel consisted of Che Ruddell-Tabisola, political director of the DC Food Truck Association and co-owner/operator of BBQ BUS DC; Stacey Price, executive director of Think Local First DC; Gina Chersevani, founder of Union Market’s Buffalo & Bergen; and Richie Brandenburg, a purchaser for local restaurants and well-traveled chef who has worked closely with Eden Development LLC.

The panelists asserted that D.C.’s food industry has helped transform the city from a transient town, where people come and go with every change in presidential administration, to a connected community of residents who want to stay and raise families. Based on their experiences, the panelists argued that the food industry could play a similar role in other cities across the country. It was clear from their discussion that the food industry encompasses a multitude of actors, including restaurateurs, food truck owners, distributors, purchasers, farmers, developers, regulators, and city planners.

Ruddell-Tabisola suggested that food trucks (when supported by the regulatory environment) can influence the health and vibrancy of communities. A great use of public space, food trucks bring healthy and tasty food to neighborhoods that lack access to food options. In Washington, Ruddell-Tabisola said, food trucks bring diverse dining options to the area near the U.S. Capitol, where an abundance of public buildings means a dearth of restaurant choices within walking distance. Chersevani described how restaurants bring community members together and increase social capital. “People meet their neighbors in my restaurant,” she said.

The panel made a strong case that the food industry be considered a key player as cities make greater and more sustained efforts to be healthier and more vibrant.

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