Crowdsourcing Ideas for More Sustainable Food Systems

By Jody Dean,  Climate and Society ’13

As stated eloquently in the opening of the IPCC AR4’s chapter “Perspectives on climate change and sustainability”, “Vulnerability to specific impacts of climate change will be most severe when and where they are felt together with stresses from other sources.” I came to the Climate and Society program with the intention of learning the tools to apply climate impact information to urban food systems, which is a sector that is touched by a number of the outside sources that lead to increased vulnerability to climate change, including poverty, access and food security.

Climate change affects the agricultural sector directly, by altering growing seasons through precipitation and temperature changes and increasing the number of extreme events that can destroy whole crops. In an urban environment, however, the effects can be compounded by reliance on the transportation sector to ship in most food items, population density creating high demand in a small region and economic disparity. This enhanced vulnerability became a reality in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when infrastructure disruptions caused by the storm impacts caused food shortages in some sections of the city and reportedly left some residents without access to water or food. As predicted by the IPCC, the effects were felt disproportionally by those living in poverty, many of whom were already struggling with issues of food quality and ease of access. In addition to the obvious lessons instilled by Hurricane Sandy regarding the vulnerability of New York’s transportation, power, telecommunications and infrastructure sectors, the storm highlighted an already existing public health risk surrounding the sustainability of the city’s food systems.

The need for New York’s food infrastructure and policy to move towards a more resilient and sustainable model was addressed in the groundbreaking “Mayoral candidate forum on the future of food in New York City”, which I covered for my internship with City Atlas. This organization strives to be an evolving, community oriented sustainability plan for New York and my work there involves communicating new sustainability initiatives to the public by blogging about events, organizations and policies that impact the city and seek to move it towards a more sustainable future. The forum, which was organized by a number of food systems and anti-hunger organizations, was convened so that the public could hear the position of each mayoral candidate on issues related to food policy, food access and the future of food in New York. These topics, while essential to the health and stability of the city, are frequently left out of mayoral debates or tied in with other issues, such as education. Of the nine declaredcandidates, six attended the forum, where moderator Marion Nestle, author and Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University asked each to consider questions on hunger, such as the socio-economic factors that drive access to food, food governance, where candidates were asked about food policy and government transparency in policy making and finally, food economy, where the issue of the food service industry’s role in New York’s overall economy was raised.

The forum quickly sold out and overflow rooms were set up to accommodate demand, which suggests that this issue is of great interest to the community. The questions posed and the candidate responses will be outlined in a piece for City Atlas, where, in line with the organization’s participatory approach, I will be attempting to answer the questions asked of the candidates and then offering the readership the opportunity to weigh in on the discussion. The hope is that this open forum will generate novel solutions to the serious problems surrounding our food system and perhaps some of those suggestions will be exactly what is needed to combat the stresses of climate change and vulnerability and move us towards a more sustainable future.


Feature image by:  NatalieMaynor/Flickr

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