From shopping at Greenmarkets to eating less meat, New Yorkers can reduce their carbon footprint three times a day by making more sustainable food choices—a fact many agriculture groups hope Bill de Blasio will champion during his term as mayor.
Up to 13 percent of all household carbon emissions can be traced back to what we eat and how it’s grown, packed, and shipped. With 8.3 million permanent residents and 52 million tourists visiting annually, New York City requires a lot of food—yet most of it is grown in other states (or even other countries), using pesticides and carbon-intensive growing methods.
Creating sustainable food policies and increasing local food purchasing could not only reduce the city’s carbon footprint, but also support our health, our economy, and our environment.
Putting Things in Context
Food policy is not a new issue for New York City. During the 12 years that Michael Bloomberg served as mayor, his administration maintained a serious focus on public health, working to increase access to fresh, nutritious food for all New Yorkers.
And on a state level, the Food Metrics Bill passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo this past December will ideally lay the groundwork for increased purchasing of local food by state agencies.
But many involved in agriculture and environmental efforts in the city feel Bloomberg missed a critical opportunity to highlight the connection between agriculture and carbon emissions.
For example, the first edition of the landmark PlaNYC was all but silent on the issue of food. The second edition, released in 2011, did introduce food as a “cross-cutting issue,” but devoted only two of the plan’s 98 pages to food, with no concrete policy steps. By comparison, Chicago’s regional plan has an entire chapter devoted to food systems.
Now that Bill de Blasio has taken office, many are scrambling to understand how his administration will approach these same issues.
While he has not yet tipped his hand with regards to climate change or food policy specifics, there is reason for optimism.
In July of 2009, then-city councilmember Bill de Blasio sponsored the first ever resolution linking food and climate change, “A Resolution to Reduce NYC’s Climate ‘Foodprint.’” In it, de Blasio called for the implementation of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s report “Food in the Public Interest,” a lengthy series of recommendations to increase the availability of locally grown food in New York City.
De Blasio also encouraged the establishment of “FoodprintNYC,” a citywide initiative that would include “climate-friendly food policies and programs, financial and technical support, a public awareness campaign regarding the city’s food consumption and production patterns and greater access to local, fresh, healthy food.”
Specifically, the resolution called for:
An analysis of New York City’s foodshed;
An expansion of local and/or organic food distribution centers, both wholesale and retail;
Increased support for community gardens and urban farming initiatives; and
Local food procurement goals of 20% for city-run institutions within 10 years.
Sadly, while Foodprint garnered a respectable number of co-sponsors and a lot of grassroots support, the full council never actually voted on it. Many suspect de Blasio became distracted by his own campaign for public advocate. Others argued that the resolution process was not the best approach for Foodprint in the first place: resolutions are nonbinding and often only express a legislature’s intent.
The Next Four Years
We have yet to see how food and climate priorities will shape de Blasio’s administration, and attempts to reach his office for comment have so far been unsuccessful.
But there is at least some hope that Foodprint remains a guide for future policy work. For one thing, de Blasio participated in the first-ever Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Future of Food in NYC this past July, and did not shy away from making the connection between food, sustainability, and climate change.
And, as the new mayor of a city built on a collection of islands with 520 miles of coastline, one hopes that preparing for and fighting against climate change will become a central tenant of his sustainability platform.
De Blasio’s previous support of Foodprint—and the coalition built around it—proves that he and other New York City policy-makers are aware of the critical connection between food and climate change. Whether he and his administration will take action around these issues remains to be seen.