Taste of Philadelphia: Local foods and sustainability.

From left to right: Kae Lani Palmisano, Tonya Hopkins, and Jamila Medley

Recap: Locally Grown: The Food Landscape of Philadelphia. 1/25/20

On January 25th a panel of food experts discussed the food landscape of Philadelphia, focusing on making local produce accessible for all and the story that food can tell.

These panelists included:

1) Jamila Medley: Executive director of Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

2) Tonya Hopkins: Culinary history consultant

3) Kae Lani Palmisano: host of the upcoming television show “Check, Please!”

In addition to explaining the culinary history of the region and food’s relation to social norms, the talk highlighted two points that connect food and the environments: Food co-ops and the extinction of produce varieties.

Food co-ops are, in simple terms, a group of people and small businesses that come together to distribute food. This makes this system unique as it is owned and democratically governed by its members. The purpose of the enterprise it to not to accumulate profit for investors, but to meet the goals and aspirations of its members. Goods sold through this model come from local sources rather than industrial farms, which has both environmental and health benefits. Local foods decrease food mileage, use less chemicals, conserve produce diversity, and preserve small farmland.

“Our existing food co-ops... are all sourcing from local farms… a lot of that food is coming from Lancaster,” explained Jamila Medley, highlighting the close proximity of food sources that Philadelphia these co-ops make use of.

Another key benefit of this type of distribution is the entrepreneurial spirit it incentivizes. Due to the cooperative nature of this type of distribution model, food co-ops act as a great first place of entry for local food artisans. Speaker Medley referenced the energy bar small business started by local middle schoolers which found a place on the market due to the rise of the Philadelphia food co-op.

The panelists also briefly touched upon the topic of the extinction of certain produces due to overconsumption and lack of diversity. Overconsumption of certain meats, such as the case of the passenger pigeon, has lead to species extinction. Similarly, panelist Jamila Medley mentioned the incredible diversity of food and how there are more varieties of produce than people realize. Even within a specific fruit or vegetable, there might be hundreds of varieties.

“We’re breeding so much of this one type of [produce]... that we risk losing other types of variety,” said Kae Lani Palmisano, citing how we need more diversity in our food diet which co-ops can help provide.

Apples, for example, have 7,500 varieties but only a handful (about five) are sold in

supermarkets. The industrialization of farming is the reason for this. Industry has chosen these few apples to mass produce and market, with the rest going commercially extinct. This lack of diversity poses a problem for growers in the case that a pathogen arises. A problem of this nature arose in the 20th century when a fungal infection, known as the Panama Disease, wiped out all banana plantations and almost led to the fruit’s extinction.

Many common delicacies also face extinction due to climate change. A common theme among these produces are that they require specific conditions (temperature, humidity, soil composition) or have a high water requirement in order to thrive and grow well. Since climate change will inevitably, and has already begun, to change these conditions in the region that these produces are grown in, many challenges lie ahead.

All in all, the talk made great points discussing how different distribution models can shift the focus from industrial agriculture to localities. Similarly, the extinction of food groups due to changing climates and overconsumption is an issue that does not garnish as much attention as it probably should. Solutions to this problem might lie in innovation in farming technology and even simply expanding our culinary palettes to eat a greater variety of food.











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