City Harvest: A Revolution for Urban Food Deserts

What is more sustainable than reallocating perfectly healthy fresh produce to urban food deserts?

Segal’s reading, which discussed the food deserts in New York City, and the class discussion on creating sustainable food communities, prompted me to reflect on my experience looking at food insecurity. Throughout my academic career at Davidson I have been continuously interested in food insecurity and have taken opportunities to explore this idea in both empirical and field research. I have done two economic research papers, both an econometric analysis and a theoretical health economics analysis on the connection between the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) and obesity rates. Moreover, in the fall I organized a Food Drive to benefit the Loaves and Fishes Pantry at the Ada Jenkins center as a component of Dr. Foley’s Issues in Medicine class. This field research, coupled with literature analysis of American food insecurity, enabled me to explore a lot of the upstream issues with both obesity and food insecurity. In particular, I noticed that access to healthy produce, especially inhibited by inadequate structural policies of food assistance programs (SNAP) remained a constant barrier for food insecure individuals.

The theory behind my research approach, which was supported in Segal’s article, was the the structure of food stamps do not enable healthy eating behaviors. For example, issues such as all the benefits being loaded on the EBT at the beginning of the month creating a fluctuating metabolic response and a lack of incentives to purchase healthier items (due to calories per cost analysis) lead to unhealthy habits.

Despite the grave health situation in the United States, where over two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, there are effective strategies and movements to try to increase access to healthier produce and fresher foods in urban food deserts. This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend the day with an incredible organization, City Harvest, which is a a grassroots idea to fight food insecurity in urban areas.

City Harvest “rescues” over 126,000 pounds of food daily to over 500 community programs. City Harvest has many restaurant partners but they also rescue food that is not “pretty.” This rescued food is 100% healthy and nutritious and can be a fantastic, nutritious supplement to food insecure individuals, who cannot afford produce with their food budgets.

Here is a picture of my volunteer efforts this summer at City Harvest:

City Harvest Intern Volunteers


Grassroots efforts and logical food recycling may not be a large scale solution to food insecurity in urban areas, but they can be an effective demonstration on innovative environmental and social justice.

For more information on City Harvest, please explore their website.