NYC, Taking Food Policy to the Next Level at the Food & Climate Summit

While delegates debate what to do about climate change in Copenhagen, citizens will gather in New York City tomorrow at New York University for a climate summit all their own: one that puts much-needed focus on how the food we eat contributes to climate change. A collaboration between Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office and Just Food, an organization that focuses on increasing access to fresh food for all New Yorkers, the Food & Climate Summit will feature some of the best minds on food issues, all discussing our carbon “foodprint,” like Marion Nestle, Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Colin Beaven (AKA “No Impact Man“), and Joan Gussow.

The Food & Climate Summit is the first of its kind in the US, and shows that New York City is ready to lead on improving how cities fit into the food system. Cities have a particularly big role to play, because as the global population increases, urban centers will be growing the most. So how do we do it? Tomorrow’s summit focuses on empowering individuals through skills-building sessions as well as bringing together academics, policy makers, and activists to discuss ideas like breaking down barriers for urban agriculture, opportunities for promoting the local food supply, bolstering child nutrition programs, reducing food waste, creating “food-collar” jobs, and more in the day’s policy sessions.

Last Friday, the Borough President’s office launched the Food Charter, which outlines ten principles for a sustainable food system (you can sign and pledge your support here), but Borough President Stringer is not the only politician proposing new food policy. Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced her office will do a six-month review of the food system, called “FoodWorks New York,” which will aim to improve the city’s food infrastructure among other goals. If New York can succeed at lowering it’s planet impact when it comes to food, then so can all cities.

People everywhere are beginning to realize the impact our food chain has on the climate conundrum; how we currently produce, distribute and consume food accounts for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions according to the new book by another speaker at the summit, Anna Lappé. The book is called Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, and you can bet we’ll be getting a taste of it at Lappé’s plenary speech tomorrow, and that you’ll be hearing a lot more about it when it debuts in April. Despite this high number representing food systems emissions, Lappé is hopeful because the answers are known, and people are becoming more and more empowered to make changes.

On the Leonard Lopate show today, Borough President Stringer said that the Food & Climate Summit was an opportunity to “drill down on [food and climate change] issues and come up with specific proposals for New York City government.” He continued, saying “we’re hoping that through this effort, we will be able to go to the state legislature, go to the council, go to other town councils around the city, and give them legislative ideas with specific policy initiatives…”

He even projected into the future: “When they learn about these issues… the livestock issues, the production issues, the job creation, hopefully [more] elected officials and legislators will get involved in Farm Bill issues.”

Lappé and Nestle joined him on the program, and its worth listening to their lively conversation here.

If you were not lucky enough to be one of the 1,000 people to get a ticket to the conference (the free event filled up in 36 hours), do not despair. The plenary will be streamed on the summit’s website, beginning at 9:30am tomorrow, and there will be follow-up and repeated sessions in the future, according to Just Food’s executive director, Jacquie Berger. If you do plan to attend, here is a great map [pdf] of nearby sustainable food choices for lunch, put together by the splendid team over at the Eat Well Guide.