Food Crisis as a Tool for Social Change: Lessons from New York City's COVID-19 Response

Elsevier, Urban Governance, 2022,  
Nevin Cohen

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted food availability and affordability and changed the daily food practices of New Yorkers in three critical ways: (1) closing restaurants and public institutions, including schools, reduced food access and changed shopping patterns, food expenditures, and diets; (2) economic disruption exacerbated food insecurity and increased the need for food assistance; and (3) altered food practices affected diets. Vulnerable populations were disproportionately affected by these disruptions to the food system. The city's response included emergency measures to stave off food insecurity and hunger, yet the crisis also prompted a refocusing of food governance to address other social equity issues in the food system: fears of engaging with food programs by immigrant communities; disparities in access to online grocers; worker rights and worker ownership; and new priorities for the use of public space. The paper presents policy responses to the pandemic that illustrate how the crisis has opened opportunities for initiating changes that can lead to a more just food system.