As part of the GRI Whitepaper Series, GRI has released 10 Special Investigation Reports supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These reports bring together analysis and policy recommendations in cross-cutting critical areas including municipal and state budgets, housing, food, healthcare, K-12 education, childcare, higher education, small business, energy, and fisheries. Each sector-specific report was authored by subject matter experts of these areas from GRI’s Northeastern Faculty Affiliates and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, providing an in-depth, accessible review of the challenges, opportunities and actionable policy considerations in each area facing the COVID-19 crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the food system as patterns of food consumption changed abruptly in March 2020 and food supply chains were disrupted. Americans are accustomed to plentiful, diverse, convenient, and inexpensive food, enabled by a nationally centralized food system. However, increasing centralization results in vulnerabilities during times of disruption by limiting the capacity of producers, processors, distributors and consumers to rapidly adapt to changing needs and priorities. Food system inequities, especially for low-income populations without ready access to affordable and healthy food, also have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Part 1 of this paper reviews New England’s food system, both its “emergency” component that supports the food insecure and the regional network of local producers, processors, and retailers that are often overshadowed by their far larger national and international counterparts. Part 2 looks at the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on national and regional food systems. Part 3 offers recommendations to foster.