New York’s food crisis: where will it be stored and what will we do with it?

NEW YORK — On a list of apocalyptic problems like devastating natural disasters, the pandemic is, well, simple. Of all the common stuff in our lives, the food supply is one of the easiest…

New York's food crisis: where will it be stored and what will we do with it?

NEW YORK — On a list of apocalyptic problems like devastating natural disasters, the pandemic is, well, simple. Of all the common stuff in our lives, the food supply is one of the easiest to avoid. Thanks to our cold-war-era policy of surplus and rationing, we aren’t as dependent on shipping food and supplies through the cargoes of entire nations to get what we need to eat. So we should be better prepared, right? Unfortunately, it turns out that we’re just not as well equipped as we think.

For one thing, the food supply is international, so we’re actually not so much “fooding” people who happen to be in areas where the crisis is unfolding. In Haiti, for example, the UN has arranged food and other aid from China and Brazil, while the people of Haiti keep it all in their own house. Good idea? Perhaps. But if that is all we do, we are not preparing for the massive influx of U.S. aid, which would likely double the country’s food production, as the Texas governor’s office speculated. Further, our food supply is almost entirely domestically grown, which makes the real need to prepare for the disaster an internal one. For US Food Banks, that means preparations have to account for all the logistical challenges of dropping off millions of meals in the heat of a hurricane and keeping it all hot and cold in some of the roughest neighborhoods of New York.

That requires food warehouses that are not only adaptable to emergency situations, but also ready to meet and sustain the food needs of over four million people until the storm is over. Earlier this year, the non-profit Alliance for a Hunger-Free New York launched an initiative called Food Transfer Points in response to Hurricane Sandy. As the name suggests, these hubs are intended to bring food all the way from the wholesale distributors back to the retail side, allowing for the quick movement of perishable food from the storage areas.

They’re open 24 hours a day, and they’re of course completely air-conditioned to give the donated food the best chance of reaching the hungry, so they are also a uniquely ideal solution in an emergency. While they are trying to expand their food access throughout New York City, their main base of operations is at the New York Terminal Market, one of the largest and most respected cold storage facilities in the US, and a short train ride away from the city’s most desperate corners.

It’s interesting to see that disaster preparedness is rarely thought of from a supply and demand perspective, and that it’s possible to provide even more food to the most devastated areas of a crisis than the cities we ordinarily think of as poor. While the Alliance has only enough space for some 1,000 people, it can house about 4,000 throughout the entire state of New York, and has warehouses in all 50 states. Most non-profits are looking for relief supplies of between 100 and 250lbs.

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