‘The crisis revealed the crisis,’ 2021 Rhode Island Food System Summit focuses on food insecurity during COVID-19 pandemic

Combatting food insecurity: URI students and staff distribute USDA Farmers to Families food boxes this fall. (URI photo/Nora Lewis)

During the past year, food insecurity in the United States has reached record levels. According to a report issued by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank last fall, one in four Rhode Island households lacks adequate food, up from one in ten just a few years ago. The steep incline, which is being felt across the nation has been driven, in part, by the COVID-19 global pandemic and its accompanying economic depression. Understanding the role that each of us plays in addressing this growing crisis, the University of Rhode Island convened government, academic, business, and community partners on Jan. 20 as part of its fifth annual Rhode Island Food System Summit.

The virtual summit, “Taking the Lead: Improving Food Access in a Global Pandemic,” featured speakers from across the regional food and health ecosystem. Panels focused on the role of higher education and URI in addressing food security as well as state government response to the growing crisis in Rhode Island.

“This year’s summit comes at a crucial time as Rhode Islanders and people around the country are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just last week the new administration announced it would be taking additional steps to combat food insecurity and help families put food on the table,” said Katharine Flynn, executive director of URI’s Business Engagement Center. “In our role as the state’s flagship land and sea grant research university, we felt it was important to bring people together to discuss the challenges we face as well as how we can work together to develop solutions to food access issues in our state.”

Keynote speaker Viraj Puri, chief executive officer of Gotham Greens, spoke about how his company promotes economic growth and opportunity in urban low-income communities as well as partnerships to help combat food waste and food insecurity. He discussed the complexity of food insecurity, some of the systemic issues involved such as economic development, education and poverty alleviation, as well as the importance of learning about these issues as a first step in making a positive impact.

Noting that Gotham Greens has created almost 400 jobs for working-class people in historically diverse communities in the Providence area Puri stated, “One of the biggest, most positive impacts we can make in our communities is to create jobs. Paying our employees a good, living wage with benefits can help to revitalize urban communities.”…[Read more]