Each year, ten New York City agencies serve an estimated 260 million meals, making the City one of the largest meal providers in the world. With the rising prevalence of diet related disease and mounting evidence of the crucial role of nutrition in determining health, interest has escalated in what urban planner Kevin Morgan has called “the public plate” as a lever for improvement of public health. Others have noted that the sourcing of food for the public plate can support local and regional agriculture and food producers and provide stable employment for the growing population of under and unemployed New Yorkers. At the same time, environmentalists have raised concerns about the handling of waste from municipal agencies in general and from meals in particular, and about the carbon footprint and other environmental implications of urban food procurement practices. Finally, institutional meals are an important defense against hunger, a problem that continues to disrupt the lives and health of too many New Yorkers. Thus institutional food is at the intersection of health, economic development, environmental protection, and social justice.
A report by the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College, The Public Plate In New York City: A Guide To Institutional Meals, examines the health and economic impact of the more than 260 million meals the City serves each year in public schools, child care and senior citizen programs, homeless shelters, jails, hospitals, and other settings. This market power can make healthier, more affordable food available to all New Yorkers. Over the last decade much has been done to improve this system; this report suggests specific ways and areas in which the new Mayoral administration can further improve.
The report also includes a supplement that provides brief overviews of the institutional food program in each of ten NYC agencies. The sources are public records and interviews with agency staff. In some cases, descriptions are limited by lack of available data.