Memphis Food Systems Summit will seek solutions to city's food woes

Plenty of food passes through Memphis thanks to its location in the fertile Mississippi Delta, status as a transmodal shipping hub, truck-heavy I-40 corridor, and abundance of warehouses.

But many Memphians still lack access to basic nutrition.

On October 22, local nonprofit Church Health is co-sponsoring the free virtual Memphis Food Systems Summit to address the shortcomings in the city’s food systems and outline sustainable solutions. 

Representatives from local government, nonprofits, healthcare, education, business and faith-based organizations are slated to attend.

The event will kick off with a greeting from Mayor Jim Strickland at 9:15 a.m. It is scheduled to end at 1 p.m. Learn more and register for the event here. The deadline to register is Oct. 15.

Dr. Fedoria Rugless is director of research with Church Health. She said a food system is a combination of people, things, and activities involved in providing food for a population. It follows the path from growing, harvesting, and packing food to marketing, storing, consuming, and disposing of food.

"There are various aspects that contribute to a food system like infrastructure, access, transportation, finances, and technology,” said Rugless.

According to the City of Memphis, one in five Memphians has inadequate access to full-scale grocery stores and fresh, healthy foods. Instead, there are corner stores and fast food restaurants.

Chronic health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes are also prevalent in those food deserts.

Related: "Corner Stores: A South Memphis love story"

“Being able to access healthy and much needed food items has become a significant issue. In addition to the neighborhood lacking these options, residents often don’t have the means or adequate transportation to make it to a grocery store that is miles away,” said Rugless.

What to Expect

Dr. Robert Lustig, professor emeritus of pediatrics at UC-San Francisco, will deliver the keynote address. Lustig is one of the leaders of the ‘anti-sugar’ and ‘real food’ movements. Cathy Pope, CEO of the Mid-South Food Bank, will give the opening remarks.

Roshun Austin, president and executive director of local nonprofit The Works, Inc., will wrap the event with a call to action.

Breakout sessions will also be held and lead by experts from government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations dedicated to addressing issues surrounding food insecurities.

They include the City of Memphis, Shelby County Schools, Mid-South Food Bank, and the South Memphis Farmers Market, to name a few.

“We have developed a Food Insecurity and Food Accessibility Collaborative, which has brought multiple organizations involved in various aspects of the food system together to execute a sustainable, cross-sector coordination plan to achieve the eradication of food insecurity and food accessibility in the Memphis Metropolitan area,” said Rugless.

So far, the collaborative has mapped assets in Memphis like the location of food pantries, the composition of food deserts, and routes to grocery stores and farmers markets via public transportation. They've also identified gaps in access.

“A lot of this groundwork is culminating in the upcoming Memphis Food Systems Summit,” said Rugless.

Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.
Signup for Email Alerts