Food policy for breakfast

Food security and public health are at the heart of the issue of climate change. Johanna Goetzel reports on a recent talk on the subject held at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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Worker loading apples at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center (Photo: NYC SIRR)
A worker loads fruit at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center (Photo: NYC SIRR)

“One of the least-known but most important rituals in New York takes place every night in the South Bronx at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. There, in striking abundance, delicacies from around the state, country, and the world are bought and sold—cabbage from New York, oranges from California, blueberries from Chile, bell peppers from the Netherlands, beef from Australia, and fish from Nova Scotia.” –– Opening description in the ‘Critical Networks’ Chapter of the NYC Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency report.

Food security and public health are at the heart of the issue of climate change. Johanna Goetzel reports on a recent talk on the subject held at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Climate change impacts the food system, globally and locally. Tuesday morning, at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, a panel of academics and business leaders explored the impacts of food accessibility and delivery in NYC in a far reaching session called Climate Change, Food and Health: From Analysis to Action to Protect Our Futures. The talk was part of the continuing series titled “Food Policy for Breakfast,” exploring different aspects of our enormous and complex food system.

Moderated by Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health, CUNY School of Public Health & Hunter College, and Faculty Director, NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College, the distinguished panelists included Nevin Cohen, Asst. Professor, Environmental Studies, The New School; Mia MacDonald, Executive Director, Brighter Green; Mark Izeman, Director, New York Urban Program and Senior Attorney, Urban Program, National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

Mia MacDonald began by speaking about the ecological and public health repercussions of the “global spread of US-style consumption.” One solution she offered was ‘cool foods,’ those that are less energy intensive to grow and transport.

[pullquote align=”right”]Hunts Point is the largest food distribution center in the world; much of New York’s daily food supply passes through the center. [/pullquote] Mark Izeman spoke about the dangers of sea level rise on the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center in the South Bronx. As the largest food distribution center in the world, the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change events like Hurricane Sandy will have significant impacts on the population’s well being. Addressing these concerns and other resilience efforts, the Hunts Point Lifeline project, a winning entry in the Rebuild by Design group of post-Sandy proposals, offers an avenue for sustainable future developments.

The giant food market is described by the Hunts Point Lifeline design team in this video:

Panelists also discussed transportation strategy for the 5-7 million tons of food that enter NYC, 95% over the George Washington Bridge. Nevin Cohen emphasized the importance of interdepartmental coordination (transportation, sanitation, health) to address the entire ecosystem of food.

Since the benchmark recycling law of 1989, making New York the first state to enact a policy,  only minimal progress has been made in state-wide composting programs. This provides an opportunity to elevate Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Food Print” proposals to reduce waste at multiple points in the food system. Local efforts can be made in supporting farmers markets, the majority of which accept EBT/food stamps.

Attendance at the talk was high and the discussion was robust, offering numerous solutions for greater involvement. One message that resonated was the need to update methods of advocacy. All were invited to participate in the Peoples Climate March September 21. The next discussion in the Food Policy for Breakfast series will be held October 14, about food provided in New York universities and colleges. The important take-away: local conservation efforts and personal commitments to eating better can have positive global impacts.