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Chicago Launches New Plan to Fight Food Insecurity as City’s Hunger Crisis Worsens

Plus, the city could bring back the 15 percent delivery cap

A woman in a pink mask hands a big cardboard box of food to a person in a grey sweatsuit and black winter hat
The pandemic exacerbated Chicago’s hunger crisis.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

In response to a growing crisis of hunger in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration on Thursday announced a new initiative to address food insecurity and longstanding gaps in access to affordable nutrition, particularly on the city’s South and West sides.

Dubbed the Food Equity Agenda, this multi-pronged endeavor aims to help food entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) access capital to grow their businesses; make it easier for Chicagoans to grow their own produce and operate urban farms; enhance nutrition programs and benefits; and promote expansion at food pantries. This agenda, announced with a mayor’s news release, is among a number of issues Lightfoot and others will consider at a Friday City Council meeting.

A new group city department employees, community leaders, and academic experts will lead the agenda’s efforts and form the Food Equity Council. It’s a move that city hopes will help increase transparency. Members of the inaugural counsel include representatives from area food banks, community groups like Grow Greater Englewood, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and more. A full list is available on the city’s website.

While obstacles to food access predate the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic downturn coupled with sweeping layoffs has severely exacerbated hunger issues in Chicago and throughout the U.S. Food insecurity in Cook County rose by 51 percent last year, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD).

Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities are among the hardest hit, with overall rates of food insecurity at 37 percent and 29 percent respectively — all of which adds up to shorter life expectancy and worse health outcomes than white residents. The agenda aims to address those groups specifically, as well as Chicagoans with disabilities who also often face barriers to food access. It’s starting out with tools like GCFD’s Find Food Map, a digital map available in English and Spanish that helps users locate nearby food pantries along with details on hours, programs, and contact information.

Local street vendors like cooperative members at Cocina Compartida de Trabajadores Cooperativistas could be among the beneficiaries of efforts to support BIPOC food entrepreneurs, many of whom have struggled due to lack of access to capital. Numerous Chicago vendors — including famed “Tamale Guy” Claudio Velez — have spent decades fielding tickets, threatening cease-and-desist letters, and encounters with police because of city rules barring them from selling food prepared at home or on carts in the street. Financial support from officials could mean that more vendors can rent or buy commercial kitchens and get licenses to operate legally.

Here’s other restaurant-related City Council business:

— Earlier this week, San Francisco became the first American city to impose a permanent limit on what third-party delivery companies could charge restaurants. That means DoorDash and Grubhub are now locked in at 15 percent service charges. Chicago’s pandemic-set restriction expired earlier this year, and now the city is looking to extend its 15 percent cap.

— On Wednesday, the council introduced measure that would restrict the use of disposable items like “cups, containers, lids or closures; plates, knives, forks, spoons, stirrers, paddles, straws, place mats, napkins, doilies, wrapping material, bags, and all similar articles which are constructed wholly or in part from paper, paper board, molded pulp, metal, wood, plastic, synthetic or other readily destructible materials.”

The council wants to prevent restaurants from automatically including these items with orders; plastic bags with disposable silverware can be still be requested, and the measure wouldn’t affect drive-thru orders. The Sun-Times has more.