Sunday, December 13, 2009

NYC Food & Climate Summit

As I mentioned Friday, I attended the NYC Food & Climate Summit yesterday, held at NYU in Greenwich Village and sponsored by the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, NYU, and Just Food. Over 30 organizations contributed to the day long conference. The goal was to create a dialog in concert with the climate talks in Copenhagen that was expanded to include the effects of our food system on climate changes. Over 3 billion Americans now live in cities and there are numerous barriers when it comes to accessing fresh, healthy foods in these cities, that contribute to global warming and the poor nutrition of countless people. One third of global warming is due to the production, distribution, and disposal of food products as well as the various inputs into the food system.

The day began with opening remarks from Lynne Brown, the SVP of University Relations & Public Affairs for NYU, Jacquie Berger, the Exec Director for Just Food, and Scott Stringer. A pre-taped video message from Wangari Mathaai, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner & Founder of The Green Belt Movement, who spoke from Africa before leaving for Copenhagen. She believes that it is what we do, and our respect for each other and the earth that will determine what life is like for future generations. Another video, this one from Vandara Shiva, the director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology in India, stressed the need to create an efficient and fair food system that will feed everyone. Only 12% of earth's food potential is actually feeding humans. Vandara, too, is in Copenhagen participating in the discussions, and hopefully, creation of agreements. I had never heard of either woman before yesterday, but was instantly inspired and awakened by both.

After the opening remarks, a panel discussion featuring Mark Muller (Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy), Marion Nestle (Professor of Nutrition and author of several books including "Food Politics"), and Karen Washington (Urban Farmer & Co-Founder of La Familia Verde) was moderated by Anna Lappe (Founder of Small Planet Institute). They discussed issues we are facing today in regards to climate change and the food system and that while policy is needed, each person can take part in changing the way things are done in order to create a food system that is healthier for the environment and our bodies.

The 1000 people in attendance then broke out into smaller groups for discussions, demonstrations, and policy brainstorming sessions. There were 14 sessions to choose from both before and after lunch (we were given a guide for sustainable lunch places provided by the EatWell guide). The abundance of choices for learning were almost overwhelming.

I attended the Policy Session on child Nutrition, School Food & Food Education during the morning session. It seems that with so many other issues now, funding is one of the biggest issues facing school lunches, along with current procurement requirements. Most of the panelists are looking for better funding to provide universal lunches, mandate local, fresh, nutritious foods, and the encouragement of school gardens being integrated into the curriculum. All great ideas and even more important while families are finding it difficult to put food on the table, but also even more difficult to implement when local, state, and national funds are being cut.

After lunch at Peanut Butter & Co., I attended another Policy Session exploring the Structural Discrimination related to Food & Climate Change. Here, attendees and panelists worked to develop policy changes that can provide healthy, fresh, affordable foods to people in low income areas. While we focused on NYC in particular, the panelists acknowledged that this is also a problem for rural populations. They also recognized that the price of food does not need to decrease, rather the ability for people to pay for food needs to improve. Infrastructure improvements, education, marketing of healthy foods, need to be improved.

The day concluded with an expo featuring several organizations ranging from higher education, the humane society, Project HEALTH, Watershed Ag Council and others, as well as vendors such as Hot Bread Kitchen, Katchkie Farm, Food for Life and more, was hosted by Mario Batali (picture below)!

It was an interesting and eye opening day. these issues are so important to all of us yet most people don't give them a second thought as they go about their day. And I am usually one of them! But just think about this - the amount of carbon dioxide created by producing a serving of french fries in California that ends up on the the tray of an 8 year old in New York is staggering. Multiply that by the 31 million school children in the school system today and it's even more depressing. Then, think of instead, the idea of putting an apple or orange on that tray from a local farmer.

As I write this, I'm eating one of the best apples I've had in a long time. Woody picked it up from the grocery store yesterday and I wonder where it came from. I wonder (but doubt) if it came from a NY orchard. If I can leave you with one thought from yesterday, it is the advice to eat fresh, eat local, and support local businesses who follow sustainable practices whenever possible. It's good for your body and the environment!


Simply Life said...

sounds like a fascinating event!

Mnowac said...

How neat that you got to go to that!

Barbara said...

Batali has a place near Traverse City. He's in the paper a lot up there , promoting the local farmers and products. He usually donates "doing " a dinner for 12 at his place with local ingredients as a fund raiser for the NPR station up there.

Lele said...

That conference sounds INCREDIBLE! I wish I could have gone! I'm in a Nutrition and Public Health class right now and we talk about all those issues. Food is so at the center of so many public health and public policy issues!

Anonymous said...

Scott Stringer has helped to displace many affordable supermarkets in Manhattan. He's completely bought by developers and landlords, just like Christine Quinn. Many local groups, not in his pocket, were not notified about this "summit." This was just politics to make him look good when he runs for Mayor in 2013.

Lisa said...

To the person who left the last comment - I'm sorry to hear this and will definitely look into your assertions before I vote for him in the future. I agree that the summit was not well publicized and that may have helped the other organizations learn about it in advance.

Nonetheless, I do think that it opened many people's eyes to the general problem and hopefully has encouraged an ongoing discussion between people and will spur change. Even in small ways.

Hopefully Stringer's office will take what was said and discussed seriously and not just look at it as another day.

I greatly appreciate your thoughts and opinion.