Thirty-six hours after registration for Just Food’s Food and Climate Summit opened, a thousand people had signed up online and maximum capacity was reached. A wait-list of a thousand more soon formed, and it too was closed shortly thereafter. According to event organizers, the outpouring of public interest was unprecedented, leading many to conclude that at long last, the intersection of our food choices and climate change has hit the mainstream.
Big names such as nutritionist and professor Marion Nestle, author Anna Lappé, and food-justice activist Karen Washington kicked off the plenary session, with video messages from food security activist Vandana Shiva and from Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai adding their voices to the mix. Shiva spoke about the irrationality of the global food system and trade agreements, where a country like India, with rich wheat-producing areas, now imports cheap wheat from Australia. Maathai drew the audience’s attention to the current hardships suffered by farmers in her country, Kenya, as climate-change induced erratic rainfall has led to failed crops and loss of livelihood.
Though all of the speakers entered the discussion from different angles, their conclusions were the same: our global food system, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and social injustice, is broken. To affect change on a global scale, the audience was urged to think and act locally by supporting our local food producers. The plenary session, held in NYU’s enormous Skirball Center – jam-packed and buzzing with excitement, wrapped up with the speakers responding to a question of whether or not they were optimistic about the future of the local foods movement. Everyone on stage agreed that the issues at hand seemed to have reached a tipping point, with Marion Nestle adding to the excitement, drawing parallels to the energy she felt during the early days of the civil rights movement.
The Summit’s events included skill-building workshops on how to grow your own food in the city, to public policy sessions on how to harness New Yorkers’ buying power to strengthen the city’s local foodshed. Members of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office were scattered throughout the building, gathering signatures for the New York City Food Pledge and Charter that makes clear the connection between the environmental, economic and health consequences of our food choices. Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office has also recently taken up the issue of New York City’s food infrastructure, and has launched FoodWorks New York, to address issues of how the city produces, transports and sells its food.
Throughout the day, I heard the same words repeated again and again: “What happens in New York matters to the rest of the world. New York can, and must become, a model for a sustainable, local, and socially-just food movement.” This no doubt is true, and while these are exciting times indeed, the fact there was very little talk at the summit on the climate impacts of livestock and dairy production, and that Quinn’s proposal does nothing to address these issues, tells me that there is still much work to be done. Learn more about the New York City Food Pledge and Charter, and FoodPrint NYC, proposals that do make these connections, here.