Art Friedrich: Food Insecurity Is A ‘Weakness That Will Be Exploited By Adversaries’

When COVID-19 shut down his five Miami farmers markets, Art Friedrich spoke up. Friedrich, president of food justice nonprofit Urban Oasis Project, is a longtime advocate for underserved communities, such as the 1,000-plus families who rely on the markets’ double SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Now, spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and the November election, he says, “I’m more vocal.”

Urban Oasis Project, which has now gone virtual, offers fresh produce from local growers. It also provides links to resources to help people confront climate change, poverty and racism, as well as a link to register voters. The project’s mission is focused on “making fresh, local food available and accessible to all,” connecting growers and consumers to create a local food community.

For HuffPost’s Voices in Food series, Friedrich explains why November’s election “is about the future of the United States of America, how we can unite.”

On the value of a healthy food system

Back in 2010, under the Obama administration, I came to Washington with the Farmers Market Coalition. We met with people from the [U.S. Department of Agriculture], demanding more money for SNAP recipients. We were able to show how incredibly efficient the SNAP program is. We buried them under a mountain of data. Directing a little bit of money to small farmers will improve public health, especially the underprivileged and underserved. It benefits the country’s economics, local farmers and the environment.

“Farmers and food sector workers deserve a lot of respect. No economy can get along without them. If the whole country becomes food insecure, that is a weakness that can and will be exploited by adversaries.”

Under our current administration, there’s no looking at data. Decisions are based only on ideology. This administration has cut SNAP benefits and made a lot of people ineligible. If you want people to work at our pitiful minimum wage, you can’t cut their SNAP benefits. They can’t be starving.

The policies of the past four years have mainly benefited the rich. Wealth gains have come through deregulation, policies that destroy the environment and exploitation of different classes.

The biggest players take up more and more of the market share and squeeze out the smallest people. So much is lost in public jobs, public health, diversity, resilience, economy. They’re not supporting the food system.

A lot of farmers are really mad. The Trump policies have hurt them, specifically the trade wars and commodity crops. Farming has become less and less viable as a source of income. Coming from a farming family, I understand the difficulties of it, making economics work. Farmers and food sector workers deserve a lot of respect. No economy can get along without them. If the whole country becomes food insecure, that is a weakness that can and will be exploited by adversaries.

On the prospect of change under a Biden administration

For the past four years, there’s been a war on truth. Under a Biden administration, I hope, decisions will be based on what is factual, data-driven, science-based, evidence-based. We can start to address the problems we face, to rebuild trust in each other, government, journalism and the truth.

“Under our current administration, there’s no looking at data. … This administration has cut SNAP benefits and made a lot of people ineligible.”

The most important thing I hope for is to keep SNAP funded and increase what’s allotted per person. The maximum of $4 a day is very tight on every budget. SNAP benefits are a major safety net for more and more people. SNAP dollars prevent medical expenses, especially when it goes to fresh produce. It’s the most effective and efficient health intervention. Keeping people functioning and healthy is best for the country’s economics as a whole.

What should American voters keep in mind?

The pandemic showed we can have extreme dramatic societal reorganization without everything falling apart. We did not do lockdown and quarantine to curtail the pandemic like other countries with better leadership did, but even the limited amount we did accomplish was pretty dramatic. That same thing can happen as people recognize climate change is an incredible crisis.

We’ve had years of climate change denial. We need to have a major reckoning. We can mobilize on a grand scale and make some really big changes. [Tackling] climate change is not going to put people out of work and destroy the economy. It can create jobs that can improve the quality of life and economy over the long term.

We cannot treat climate change in a silo. We have a chance to make meaningful progress on climate change, racism and poverty in America, with legislation working for everyone.

November’s election is about the future of the United States of America, how we can unite, improving the quality of life, providing better outcomes for all Americans — and by Americans, I mean everyone living and working in this country.