While some of the world’s biggest leaders over the past few days have been gathering in Copenhagen to discuss a future climate policy agreement, about 3,500 miles away in the city of New York, 1,000 people came together on Saturday to discuss possible ways that the ordinary person can implement sustainable living and how we the people can help to change existing policies for the better.
New York University, a college continuously working towards creating a greener campus and of which has the largest composting system in Manhattan, held the New York City Food and Climate Summit this past Saturday. Students, journalists, nutritionists, chefs, environmentalists, and an array of other people from in and outside the city gathered together to discuss and learn about ways that people, particularly urban dwellers, can take action to save our environment.
“This summit is a beginning of a journey,” said Jacquie Berger, the Executive Director of Just Food, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making locally grown food affordable and accessible for 1,000s of New Yorkers through popularizing the CSA movement, promoting community gardens, and advocating policy changes which support urban agriculture.
“The power is in the people. The power is in our hands,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU. “Our voices need to be heard to get people to take us seriously.” Nestle emphasized that anyone can grow food, and that community gardens, urban gardens, backyard gardens, and even plants growing on the window sill can all make a significant different.
While most people in America have more than enough food, there are billions of people around the world that are forced to go without food. According to Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned environmental leader, we’re producing only about half the food and nutrition that we could be. “By focusing on chemically based monocultures, we are wasting the sun and fertile soil, and abundance of biodiversity,” said Shiva.
Our current food system is pushing people towards hunger and is at the heart of our climate crisis, claims Shiva. Forty percent of greenhouse gases come from the way we produce and transport our food. The food and climate summit was a “journey” to address these issues, and discuss how local, biodiverse ecological food systems could be renovated through ideas such as reducing meat production/consumption, reducing chemicals and pesticides, and localizing our entire food system.
Mark Muller, the Director of Food & Society Fellows Program, said that in order to work towards achieving global food security, it’s important to get everyone involved. In order for long term change, it can’t just be the United States at the Copenhagen table pushing for reform and creating policy. Every country and every citizen needs to become involved in changing the incumbent food system.
According to Nestle, increasing both the health of our planet and its inhabitants can be simple. “Eat plenty of fruits, grains, and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food. This is good for both people’s health and the planet. It’s really simple, it’s just more people need to do it.”
The places where gardens used to exist 20-30 years ago are quickly being replaced by fast food restaurants. “Colors of vegetables are being replaced with those same colors in fast food in advertising,” said Karen Washington, a community and environmental activist who has been a community gardener for over 20 years. Washington is also the co-founder of La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition in the Bronx.
Along with getting regular citizens involved with climate change, we need to integrate the youth and make them aware of where their food is coming from, rather than shoving McDonald’s down their throat from halfway across the country.
“Nothing tastes as good as the food you grow yourself,” said Nestle. This is remarkable true. A sweet, crisp apple freshly picked off of a home-grown tree beats any substandard food sold in a fast food joint.
The Summit consisted of an array of “breakout sessions”, which consisted of expert panels illuminating and addressing certain issues, followed by audience and expert discussion-based forums. Sessions ranged everywhere from “Tackle Hunger, Health, and Environment in Your Community,” to “Greening Food Infrastructure,” to “Cool Food Demonstration: Preservation Without Refrigeration”. Audience members were allowed to choose two from the wide range of available session to attend.
The first session I attended was titled, “Cool Food on a Budget- A Good Diet for People, Pocketbooks, and the Environment.”
The first issue addressed was what exactly is “cool food”. Cool food is basically any food that requires minimal energy in order to be produced/transported. Our current food industry certainly isn’t centered around “cool food”. Food transportation is responsible for 30,800 tons of greenhouse gases each year. The average food travels 1,500 miles to get to the grocery store. Packaging materials that are oil based, such as plastic, account for 24,200 tons of greenhouse gases per year.
So purchasing “cool food” means buying foods in bulk, rather than buying heavily packaged/processed foods. Also, locally grown, in-season foods are considered “cool foods” since this decreases transportation impact.
greenhouse gases produced from food. This is partially due to the fact that livestock both requires and produces greenhouse gases. Livestock consume and require 14 billion pounds of fertilizer and 174 million pounds of pesticides per year.
In order to buy “cool foods” of which aren’t only cool for the environment, but also cool for your health and pocket, it’s important to be a smart shopper. This means buying in season, particularly to help afford organic produce. This also means planning meals, making lists, and sticking to those lists. Sticking to a budget reduces impulse buying, helping both your waist and your pocket.
The second session I attended was titled, “Urban Agriculture: Roofs, Walls, and Other Under-Utilized Spaces”. One of the first questions brought up that I found particularly interesting was, “Can New York City (or any city for that matter) feed itself?” The three experts on the panel for this session concluded that currently, no, cities cannot feed themselves. Why? Because right now, the American diet is too focused on cattle and sugar. It certainly isn’t logical to cultivate cattle and sugarcane within a city.
However, with awareness, we can work towards moving our diets towards a more sustainable, plant-based way of eating. In doing this and in order to localize our food system within cities, we need to start implementing urban agriculture.
It’s seems commonsensical. Urban agricultural techniques, such as green roofs and urban gardens, help both the environment and the health of its inhabitants. For instance, green rooftops help with water runoff, and heating and cooling of buildings, as well as produce jobs and quality food. So why isn’t urban agriculture booming across cities? There are numerous barriers that don’t make the logical idea of urban agriculture all that simple. For instance, most current zoning laws are extremely outdated, making it hard for one who wants to create a green rooftop to do so easily and quickly. Some laws consider greenhouses actual places of residency. Many buildings are already at their building limit according to certain set standards, and therefore the building would be deemed overbuilt if a greenhouse were to be added.
In order to make the process of urban agriculture less complex and more efficient in terms of time, the 1960’s policies need to be rewritten to address the 20th century issues. In addition, rather than having such limiting restrictions on green rooftops, incentives such as tax benefits, should be created to support and encourage people to build them. The government should get involved in jump-starting these essential ideas in order to localize our food systems and support our environment.
Greenhouses are major commitments, and they definitely aren’t cheap. But if they are created so that they are able to produce for years to come, their yields certainly pay off.
After the conclusion of the two sessions I attended, there was a reception and food expo. with tons of free organic and vegetarian samples (Def. one of a food bloggers many dreams). Chef Mario Batali was actually supposed to be there, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see/meet him. But I did get to sample some good eats!
Sorry for the brief break in the Soy Product posting series. I felt that the NYC Summit should take precedence over the the soy products, but don’t be alarmed because my favorite soy product reviews will resume on Monday!