• Max Sano

What’s the solution to our problematic food system?

Even before the pandemic, Americans were struggling with hunger.

Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Projections estimate that more than 54.3 millionAmericans may experience food insecurity in 2020, according to a report by Feeding America. Before the COVID-19 crisis began, that number was 37 million. As of the first week of July, more than one in tenAmericans had trouble putting food on the table, while a 2012 Pew Research report says nearly one in five adults in the U.S. have received food stamps at one point in their lives.

Food insecurity is the inability to purchase enough nutritional food for a whole household. In developed nations such as the United States, food insecurity is a result of numerous factors, including poverty and lack of financial resources, as well as inadequate access to nutritious food.

Why do people continue to go hungry in one of the wealthiest nations in the world?

To understand the problem, and the repercussions of these disruptions to our food system, it is important to know a bit about how our food supply chain works.

A food supply chain refers to various actors that produce, process, transport, distribute and sell to the public. Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, serves as a local intermediary for a regional food economy that supports small-to-medium scale farms, fisheries, and other producers.

“Pre-COVID-19 numbers were around 5,000-6,000 customers a day,” said Lancaster Central Market manager of operations Mary Goss. “But between March and May it would barely break 1,000.”

Food waste was another problem during the early days of COVID-19, as much of our impressive agricultural output was going to waste — even before the pandemic. Recycle Track Systems, a sustainable waste advising organization, has explained the bottom line: 80 billion tons of food – or roughly 30-40% of the American food supply – is wasted in landfills, contributing to an astounding loss of $161 billion in revenue each year.

For producers, particularly small-scale, sustainable agricultural operations, their success is both reliant on and a product of local community support. Community-supported agriculture is so successful because local members collectively pay for the production capacity ahead of the growing season, ensuring financial security, higher returns on goods and reliable consumers moving forward, according to a 2003 Cornell University report.

Lancaster Central Market and several of its local, sustainable partners, such as Barr’s Farms and Horse Shoe Ranch, have depended on the local community to get through the uncertainty. Could this be a necessary step in the right direction to eradicate American food insecurity?

The food system amidst COVID-19

There are numerous concerns for safety assurance in the current food supply chain amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the scale at which factory farms operate in the United States, as Vox reports.

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