New Article Sheds Light on NYC’s Potential for Dangerous Future Food Shortages

You’ve likely heard of food deserts, but did you know that New York City is a food island?

By Beth Buczynski - Source:

Courtesy of bergie/flickr

Courtesy of bergie/flickr

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the U.S. last year, it did more than just flood streets and knock out power. In its wake, the superstorm also revealed terrifying deficiencies in infrastructure and a troubling food crisis in the making. In many parts of New York, small to mid-sized grocery stores remained empty long after the power was restored. Why? Because they depend on distributors who truck food in from 100 miles away or more. A recent article in The Atlantic points out that it wasn’t always this way in New York City, and makes a case for returning to a locally-focused food system that could be the only way to avoid this type of crisis in the future.
Courtesy of loozrboy/flickr

Courtesy of loozrboy/flickr

You’ve heard of food deserts? Well, turns out New York is a food island.

Not only were stores damaged and tons of food tainted when Hurricane Sandy struck, but there were also physical challenges that made restocking a nightmare. ”They only can get here if they can get here,” Franklin Fernandez, a manager at Met FoodMarkets in SoHo, told The Atlantic about supply trucks. And this isn’t the first time New York has faced this same troubles: ” The massive blackout of 1977 (and the subsequent looting), the great northeastern blackout of 2003, and Hurricane Irene in 2011 all caused similar crises,” writes Siddhartha Mahanta.

So how did it get this way and why haven’t we done something about it? The answer is complex, with both political and economic forces at play. The simplest explanation is that big food companies edged out small, local producers, replacing central distribution points like New York’s Meat Packing District (yeah, it wasn’t always bars and clubs) with their own factories and warehouses located hundreds of miles away. The companies that control these warehouses have changed the way they manage the flow of food. Concerned about profit and loss, they often stock “just enough” produce to meet stable demand–when a crisis hits, they’re completely unprepared to respond.

Things get even worse when we consider that only a portion of the food we eat is actually produced in America. Globalization of the food supply compounds all of these problems, putting our stomachs at the mercy of disasters–natural and manmade–in other countries as well.

The companies that created this global, highly-centralized system aren’t likely to change their ways any time soon. And for now, New York’s governmental leaders seem oblivious to the problem: they’re more worried about sea walls and resilient buildings. It remains for us, those in New York and across the country, to support local growers with our dollars (and grow our own!). Creating demand for locally produced and distributed products is the best way to shift the system back to our own backyards, where we can access and protect it come hell, or you know, high water.

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