Over the last month, as Californians and communities around the world have shifted their daily patterns – including how we shop and eat – the disruption has been particularly visible in the empty grocery store shelves and shuttered restaurant windows. For me, this shift has meant more cooking at home with locally raised meat and sustainably caught fish, cleaning what feels like thousands of dishes every day, and investing in long-term resilience by planting fruit trees in my front yard. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to live my values in this strange moment.
Here’s what we know: a local, diversified and equitable food system can be one of our best defenses in moments of community crisis.
Our Local Food System, In Action
When CEC and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara spearheaded a community-led effort to future proof our local food system with the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan, we did not imagine that within the span of a few years our community would grapple with catastrophic fires, a debris flow, and a global pandemic. As anyone in emergency services will tell you, having a plan and partners in place before the emergency can make a huge difference. The Food Action Network, a collaborative of food system changemakers implementing the community plan, is a timely example of this type of proactive partnership. I am grateful to co-chair this network with Lacey Baldiviez of the Foodbank as we mobilize with our partners in response to this crisis.
I’m encouraged by how these changemakers are flexing their collaborative and creative muscles in response to COVID-19. Some are rapidly scaling up to meet the growing demand for daily home-delivered fish, veggies and meals. Others are working overtime to help local farmers and fishermen get their products to market. CEC’s Food Rescue Network is diversifying in real time to reallocate more prepared food to those in need. Together, these partners are offering up unused commercial kitchens, re-igniting World War II style Victory Gardens, building community-run resource hubs and hotlines for underserved populations in rural parts of the county, and redesigning markets to support the necessary physical distancing.
Learnings & Habits to Carry Forward
We are also experiencing how essential food system workers, like grocery store clerks and farm laborers, are disproportionately vulnerable to the economic and health impacts of this pandemic. It is not a coincidence that these same populations have disproportionate adverse impacts due to climate change. I am trying, and we should all try, to learn from this parallel.
As Michael Pollan recently said, we’re performing a big experiment right now. For some, this moment is an opportunity to learn new habits – such as growing, preserving and cooking food when we can, purchasing from local producers and businesses who employ our neighbors, intentionally eating more plants to strengthen our immune system, and creatively supporting members of our community who might not have options to take those steps right now. I am personally planning for these habits to be with me long after this pandemic is over.
As we are continuously learning, food system resilience is at the foundation of community resilience, which is the foundation of climate resilience. Let’s lean in to building all three, and continue to take care of each other.