The COVID-19 Crisis & Hunger
Why is this work important?
COVID-19 is increasing hunger. Prior to COVID-19, 135 million people around the world were on the brink of starvation. The crisis is amplifying the need two-fold, and the World Food Programme estimates that 265 million people will be facing starvation globally.
COVID-19 lays bare the weaknesses and inequalities that have existed in the food chain for a long time. Food workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants without worker protections, live in poor, tightly packed conditions that are breeding grounds for COVID-19. Monoculture crops deplete soils and agricultural biodiversity. Climate change (worsened by industrial agriculture) will increase flooding, droughts, and extreme weather events, as well as the ranges of pests and diseases. These are threats which our food system is woefully unprepared for. The unsustainable ‘just-in-time’ delivery model we have now is based on immediate supply for immediate demand, negating the need to have stores of food. This food system has contributed to the inability of food banks to deal with surging demand.
COVID-19 presents a window of opportunity to evolve how we feed ourselves. The days of large industrial agriculture are numbered, and the way we respond to the crisis today will determine how we eat tomorrow. We can either continue to depend on a food system that extracts and exploits, or we can pivot to one that regenerates as it grows.
As we respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we need to set up the infrastructure for just and sustainable food systems. We are committed to a vision of healthy people living on a healthy planet. Investing in sustainable agriculture will provide local jobs, increase public health, and boost economic and environmental resilience to climate change. Sustainable, resilient agriculture will help us recover from this crisis while solving the underlying issues that made us so vulnerable to it in the first place.
What are we doing about it?
We combine local knowledge with policy and data research to provide recommendations on municipal and state policies that:
- Alleviate hunger
- Increase healthy food access
- Support local and regional food producers
- Encourage long-term resiliency
How are we doing it?
We collaborate with frontline communities and local policy-makers to provide support on disaster responses that set people up for long-term success in three key realms.
- Uplift community gardening initiatives by connecting them to public resources
Empowering neighborhoods to grow their own food will help with long-term resilience to crises by localizing food systems and facilitate community knowledge essential to supporting ongoing local efforts and strengthening these neighborhoods. Community gardens increase community health, food access, and sustainability. While the initiative must come from the residents and the grassroots, local governments can play a critical role in facilitating land access.
This is why we are partnering with Cambridge Community Growers to recommend policies to support local gardening by providing access to public land and storage facilities. We have worked to create a map to find public spaces that would be useful for growing food and map the neighborhoods most in need of community gardens. We have made sure to ground-truth these maps with residents and community members to ensure we are respecting local knowledge and help grow the networks of knowledge and activism that already existed. Based on this community consultation, we will request areas from the City of Cambridge that would most allow vulnerable communities to increase their food security. We are providing support for this policy through a cost-savings analysis of the impacts of community gardens throughout Cambridge.
2. Increase the scale and accessibility of existing hunger relief programs
In the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the main avenue whereby the government supports people facing food insecurity. At a time of increased need, it’s important that this program is accessible to everyone who needs it. Many people who are facing hunger for the first time are not on SNAP and instead turn to overburdened food pantries. Meanwhile, SNAP products continue to be unavailable online and for curbside pickup, which is not accessible for the elderly and immunocompromised. Finally, healthy diets remain inaccessible for many SNAP participants.
We are working to encourage participation in SNAP in the city of Cambridge through outreach. We are facilitating a communications campaign to provide education and information about the SNAP enrollment process. This multi-lingual outreach program targets areas that we know are particularly burdened by food insecurity. We are also providing policymakers with resources about grocery store provision of curbside pickup. Finally, we are providing policy support on increasing funding and accessibility for programs that provide healthy food to SNAP participants like SNAP Match, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).
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