Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Resilient Cities Require Resilient Food Systems

Kim Zeuli — Senior Vice President, Director of the Research and Advisory Practice
Ryan Whalen — Former Managing Director, Global Partnerships


To better prepare for the effects of climate change and severe natural disasters, city leaders are prioritizing resilience planning. New research from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), which was supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, makes a strong case that city leaders should include food systems as part of their resilience planning. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that food system disruptions may last months or years following a disaster, creating significant food access issues, especially in neighborhoods with limited food retail options and food insecure populations.

NOLA Resilience Timeline_FINAL

A Resilient Food System Playbook
The report, The Resilience of America’s Urban Food Systems: Evidence from Five Cities, offers five recommendations for strengthening food system resilience:

  1. Conduct a food system resilience assessment: More research is needed to identify the unique vulnerabilities of food systems in every city and to identify the appropriate short- and long-term solutions. Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City stand out as cities that have already started to analyze the resilience of their food systems.
  2. Incorporate food systems into resilience planning initiatives and prioritize resilience on urban food agendas: Most cities overlook food systems in their resilience plans. Likewise, most urban food agendas do not currently prioritize resilience planning. Food system resilience should be a priority for city food agencies, food policy councils, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Food Policy Task Force.
  3. Develop neighborhood food resilience plans: Planning should be prioritized for neighborhoods where food access would be disproportionately impacted by a natural disaster. In the long-term, food insecurity and a lack of food retail stores will need to be addressed. In the short-term, the resilience of food banks, the backbone of food safety nets, should be strengthened.
  4. Strengthen food business resilience: Many smaller food businesses are likely underprepared for business disruptions. Cities should work with the food industry to ensure all food businesses have adequate insurance coverage and business continuity plans in place.
  5. Develop government policies and practices that help food businesses quickly return to normal operations: Three government policies are critical for food business recovery—food safety inspections, the construction permit process, and transportation restrictions. Government agencies should develop a protocol for streamlining inspections and permitting, policies that eliminate restrictions on food business transportation, and a process for effectively communicating with all food businesses.

Food Waste Reduction and Food System Resilience
ICIC’s research also begins to integrate two disparate policy discussions: food waste reduction and resilience planning. Up to 40 percent of edible food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfills every year. Meanwhile, just over 48 million people in the U.S. are food insecure. In the aftermath of a disaster, households that are already food insecure face additional challenges, while others may become food insecure due to disaster-related expenses and hardships.

Diverting edible food from landfills can increase food donations for the food insecure, strengthening a city’s resilience. But, this could be offset by improvements in supply chain efficiencies that lead to less surplus food from key donation partners. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship of food waste reduction and food system resilience.

Food Donation Comparison_FINAL

In order to avoid extended food supply disruptions in the aftermath of any type of upheaval, city leaders need to prioritize food systems in their resilience planning. ICIC’s research will hopefully catalyze a national conversation and action to increase the resilience of urban food systems.

Learn more by reading the full report, The Resilience of America’s Urban Food Systems: Evidence from Five Cities.

Leave a comment