Thoughts on Sustainable Food Systems

Why Local? Resilience

Why Local? Resilience

Look, for a second, at that tomato on your plate. It probably traveled a long way to get there—on average, about 1,500 miles. In fact, your lunch has probably travelled more than you have: the average American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.

In the US and developed places around the world, we expect food where and when we want it. To meet this demand in places like New York City, (with a population of over 8.5 million people) a very logistical and complex system of food production, processing and transportation is required.2 This globalized system delivers astonishing quantities of food at historically low prices.3 But it is also a fragile system; global supply chains can be disrupted and monocultures are vulnerable to changing conditions and disease.

When Hurricane Sandy hit NYC in 2012, I remember reading about (and experiencing some of it in Washington, DC) how New Yorkers were getting a glimpse at the fragility of their food system. There were empty food shelves at supermarkets for days. Trucks couldn’t make deliveries and some stores lost power that ruined their perishable goods.4 With climate change, cities will continue to face more huge storms, floods, and other extreme weather events. Events such as this, the 2008 food crisis, and many others show the need to make our food systems more resilient. Producing and distributing food on a local level could help us withstand these disruptions that will only increase in the future.

Local food systems can support the resilience of communities and individuals. Farmers growing for a large, global market have to choose varieties that are uniform and ship well, but producers growing for a local market can choose varieties for their taste and nutrition. The greater diversity in produce found on smaller, local farms leads to more nutritional variety for consumers and more produce resilience to changing conditions.5 When food travels shorter distances, it is fresher and tastes better. This encourages people to eat more of it and leads to better public health.6

By reducing the miles that food travels before it gets to our plates, local food systems reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system, from the storage and packaging of food to its transportation, is responsible for up to 1/3 of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions.Reducing the carbon footprint of our food systems could go a long way toward mitigating climate change, which in turn poses huge threats to food security globally.



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