In an effort to increase access to healthy foods, a California bill declaring “access to healthy food items is a basic human right” is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
The goal of AB 581 is to eliminate food deserts — large geographical areas will little to no access to affordable, quality, healthy foods — and increase access to nutritious foods. The bill, which Brown has until Oct. 19 to sign, would create the “California Healthy Food Financing Initiatives” which would implement recommendations to promote food access in the state.
“Berkeley does not fall within the definitions of a food desert, but that doesn’t mean Berkeley residents don’t have many of the same problems as folks living in federally defined food deserts” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center. “When it comes to barriers to purchasing fruits and vegetables many Berkeley residents face the same issues.”
One of areas that could be influenced is West Berkeley. According to Bourque, West Berkeley is rich in liquor stores and fast food outlets in high concentration and while there are areas to buy fresh food, they are not always cheap or easy to get to.
However, the city of Berkeley as a whole already supports a lot of healthy options, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. Berkeley has an extensive network of community gardens and provides a farmer’s market three days a week.
In a statement, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles — the main proponent of the bill — stated the bill would be “truly a win-win for Californians” because it could lead to both improved physical and economic health by increasing the number of grocery stores, farm stands, farmers’ markets and community gardens.
The bill has been approved by both the Senate and the House since it was first presented in February 2011.
The proposed legislation would use acquired funds comprised of federal, state, philanthropic, and private funds. According to a press release by Perez, the bill positions the state to receive federal dollars as part of President Obama’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
Perez submitted an almost identical bill in 2010 — AB 2720 — that was also approved by the House and Senate before being vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. AB 581 has been on Brown’s desk since Sept. 19.