The Deering Oaks farmers’ market, held every Wednesday and Saturday in Portland, Maine.
Consider, for a moment, that lettuce leaf on your plate. It probably traveled a long way to get there—about 1,500 miles, on average.1 In fact, your dinner has probably seen more of the world than you have: the average American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.2
The complex, globalized system that puts food on our plates is a technical and logistical marvel, delivering unprecedented quantities of food at historically low prices.3,4
But that system is surprisingly fragile. Its globe-spanning supply chains are easily disrupted and its vast monocultures are vulnerable to drought and disease.5,6 And, because the system is entirely dependent on fossil fuels, it is subject to the shortages and price swings that afflict those commodities.7
New Yorkers got a firsthand look at the fragility of the food system when Superstorm Sandy pummeled the city in 2012. Days after the storm, trucks were still stranded on roadsides, unable to make deliveries. Some grocery stores saw their stocks destroyed by the storm surge; others lost power and trashed their perishable goods. Thanks to “just-in-time” supply chains that kept inventories to a minimum, shortages set in quickly.8 As a result, hungry New Yorkers stood in line for hours, waiting for emergency supplies of food and water.9
Most New Yorkers weathered those shortages, and a massive crisis was averted. Still, Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. In the era of climate change, our cities will face more monster storms, floods, and other extreme weather events.10 At the same time, a wide range of natural and human-made crises—from epidemics to terrorism—have the potential to bring our food system to its knees.11
In these turbulent times, we need to make our food supply systems more resilient. Producing and distributing food on the local level could help us weather disruptions of all kinds.
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