NYC Food Policy Center May 2024 Food Flash

by Anna Speck
free school meals
WHAT’S HOT: Mayor Adams’s administration has put forth a budget proposal that would cut emergency food funding amongst rising child hunger and the City Council is debating the proposal.

The Food Assistance through Community Food Connection (CFC), formerly the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), is at risk of being defunded by 56 percent in the face of rising child hunger. Even though the Adams administration had previously doubled the funding with an emphasis on fresh produce, the newly proposed cuts would severely harm families that have been relying on the program since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Child hunger rates are increasing, with one in four children experiencing food insecurity. Without this program’s providing fresh food to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city, these families with children would be even more at risk. 

Food pantries have been reporting an increase in visitors, with City Harvest’s partner sites reporting one million more visits per month in 2024 than in 2019. According to Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, City Council members have “questioned the administration’s plan” to cut funding for CFC, urging the mayor to set aside at least $60 million per year for “the hundreds of community-based providers who operate the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries, which feed our city’s most vulnerable populations.” 

FOOD POLICY WATCHDOG: The degradation of rangelands is threatening the food supply and worsening climate change as a result of damage to carbon reservoirs.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has released a report about the “silent demise” of rangelands, resulting in threats to climate, food security, and the overall well-being of billions of people. Rangelands include grasslands used by domestic and wild animals for grazing and foraging; savannas, shrublands, tundra, and deserts. UNCCD’s Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw, compared deforestation to rangeland destruction, saying that “when we cut down a forest… it rightly evokes an emotional response in many of us. The conversion of ancient rangelands, on the other hand, happens in ‘silence’ and generates little public reaction.” He emphasizes the fact that, in addition to the negative effects on climate, this “conversion” also affects the livelihoods of those who breed and take care of the animals that previously inhabited these ranges.

Per the report, rangelands cover 54 percent of all land, and 50 percent of them are degraded, affecting one-sixth of the total food supply and one-third of the earth’s carbon reservoir. Urbanization is a significant contributor to this problem as rangelands are converted into cityscapes, and rising populations are increasing the demand for food. When a rangeland is destroyed, there is a dramatic depletion of the nutrient content of the soil, erosion, and the inhibition of plant growth. Each of these contribute to drought, loss of biodiversity, and changes in precipitation patterns.

The report provides many options for mitigating this problem, including policy suggestions that would aid in the stabilization, restoration, and management of rangelands. At its core, the policy recommendation emphasizes protecting pastoralism for the benefit of those who rely on it for income, those who rely on it for food, and for its climate benefits, including the preservation of carbon sinks.

FARM BILL UPDATE: A Scientist talks about how Big Ag is undermining US farm policy

In the hope of creating a more sustainable, resilient food system, more than 100 labor and advocacy organizations wrote a letter to leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees with more than thirty recommendations for the upcoming Farm Bill. Historically, through lobbying and making campaign contributions to various members of Congress, big business in the agriculture sector has prevented the Farm Bill from achieving its original intent, which was to provide an adequate amount of healthy food and protect farmers and the environment. 

In his May 2024 article, Ask a Scientist: Stopping Big Ag from Hijacking US Farm and Food Policy, author and environmentalist Elliott Negin interviewed Omanjana Goswami, who works with the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. From her perspective as a scientist, she described the effects of special interest groups and lobbying on agribusiness, emphasizing campaign contributions to House Committee on Agriculture Chair Glenn G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) and others on the committee or related committees. She emphasized the reach of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which simultaneously collects money from farmers who purchase Farm Bureau Insurance and lobbies for fewer farmer and environmental protections, and for policies that prioritize profits over public health.

Read more:

QUOTE OF THE MONTH: “Climate change and the rampant extreme events we are grappling with are a reckoning. We are realizing we don’t have a choice, and for some living in resource-constrained settings, the choice is even more limited. We have to change the way we grow food, how we distribute it, and how we consume it. We have to consider equity issues across food systems. We have to hold our governments and the range of private sector actors accountable to assist in this transition. We can’t leave it to eaters to fend for themselves when the cards are often stacked against them.” – Jessica Fanzo, Professor of Climate and Director of the Food for Humanity Initiative, Columbia Climate School

FACT CHECK: Is the biogas resulting from anaerobic digestion being used as a source of clean energy in NYC?

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which food and yard waste is collected, compacted, and broken down by microorganisms. The process differs from traditional composting because it occurs in the absence of oxygen. It can be a very beneficial, climate-friendly option for dealing with food and yard waste, especially on a commercial level. Correct storage and use of the resulting synthetic natural gas, commonly known as biogas, can provide clean fuel and reduce methane emissions. Preventing food and other biological waste from entering landfills in any capacity will reduce methane emissions, and creating biogas is a way to manage that waste while also creating a useful byproduct.

Compost currently collected by New York City is first treated to become an “engineered bioslurry,” which is then taken to a treatment facility in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to be anaerobically digested and turned into biogas. About fifty percent of this  biogas provides energy for the treatment plant, but the rest is simply burned — a severe underutilization of the byproduct that ultimately emits methane. While the plan is for the National Grid to eventually purify the excess methane so it can be used in residences around the city, the completion of the project has been delayed for more than a decade since its inception in 2013. Though it is promised to be complete “really soon,” we’ll have to wait and see if that actually happens.

Meanwhile, the city has defunded community-based compost-collection programs, reducing New Yorkers’ options for where to put their food waste and eliminating the most environmentally friendly option available: true composting.

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