In Memory: Sarah Samuels and CFPA

Published on Mar 30, 2012

3.30.2012 Sarah Samuels, who died on Thursday, March 29, 2012, leaves a huge legacy at California Food Policy Advocates.  Having been a close friend of Marion’s (CFPA co-founder) for many years, Sarah joined the CFPA board in its infancy and has played a formative (a Sarah word) role in guiding the organization ever since. CFPA’s roots were in the anti-hunger movement, and we were focused on preventing hunger and food insecurity by bringing the benefits of the federal nutrition programs to as many people as possible, in other words, increasing access and expanding participation in those programs.

Sarah knew this was a part, but only a part, of the solution to the nutrition deficits that undermine low-income people’s lives.  She recognized the importance of improving nutritional quality in what low-income people eat and drink, including the diets of those relying on the federal programs.  She guided us toward an appreciation that obesity and overweight, in addition to food insecurity, were essential targets of nutrition policy and advocacy, and that all of these conditions were different expressions of the same lack of healthy nutrition.  She understood that policy development and advocacy at the national, state and local levels were the most effective way to realize an environmental agenda to improve what low-income people ate and drank.

Sarah’s deep conviction that good policy requires good research and evaluation underlies one of her great gifts to CFPA.  It was she who proposed that Samuels & Associates and CFPA examine the nutritional quality of what are now called USDA Foods, the items that USDA donates to the school districts participating in the National School Food Program.  We were successful in receiving an award in the first round of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research program.  The study was revelatory – we surprised ourselves and many others by unraveling myths and misconceptions that obscured the significant improvements that USDA had made (and continues to make) to this much maligned program. 

We also learned that a convening – entirely Sarah’s idea, a meeting to which stakeholders were invited to develop policy recommendations based upon the HER study – could turn good research into good policy.  As we have gone on to refine the process, we have seen policy change sometimes even before the convening occurs, or at the convening itself, or as the outcome of advocacy based upon the convening’s discussion.  She helped us develop a wonderful symbiosis in which neither the researchers nor the advocates could have done alone what they have achieved together.

CFPA’s research-policy partnership with Samuels & Associates and UC Berkeley’s Center for Weight and Health has resulted in six Healthy Eating Research studies.  In addition, Sarah encouraged CFPA to seek the Gilbert Foundation’s support for a study of nutrition in licensed child care in Los Angeles.  This study was the first step in a series of studies that provided the fact basis for CFPA sponsored legislation improving child care nutrition at the state and federal levels.

Sarah’s loyalty to CFPA knew no bounds.  Even during this past six months, she refused to discard her board member role.  In fact, she volunteered to play a very active role in our recent executive director search. She always wanted to know what was happening at CFPA; she wanted us to know exactly what she thought about it, and she continued to share with us her extremely valuable network of colleagues, researchers and funders, all of whom held a deep appreciation for all that she had accomplished.  CFPA always will reflect Sarah’s fierce determination to improve the diets and health and lives of low-income people in our country.     

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