About Food


10 • Reflections

Volume 10, Issue 02
April 8, 2024

When I first got to New Haven, I went to a small downtown grocery store hoping to grab some ingredients. To my surprise, all I found were bags of chips, no vegetables in sight. The next day, as a carless international student, I called an Uber to take me to Costco, only to find out I needed a membership card to get into the store. Undeterred, I ordered another Uber to Walmart, spending about $25 for the round trip. I did the math and realized that the $400 I would spend on Uber rides in a year could buy me a lot more food.

Trying a different tack, I went for Whole Foods delivery through Amazon. Sure, I love feeling the stiffness of a tomato with my own hands, but a $10 shipping fee seemed a fair trade-off. Indeed, the tomatoes were too soft, and the potatoes consistently rotten. Once, they even claimed they could not find my house for delivery, making me chase them all day for a refund. Frustrated, I gave up on that idea. With Edge of the Woods too far for cold-weather bag hauling and the New Haven farmers’ market open only three months a year, I realized that accessibility of food is not something to be taken for granted.

Exploring different food narratives around my personal research has made me realize we need to change the way we think about it. According to journalist, author, and professor Michael Pollan, our current relationship with food relies too heavily on expert opinions, leaving us uncertain about how to make good culinary choices. However, the way I see it, we cannot even start making good food choices without first having access to it.

The narrative of our food, as depicted on labels detailing nutritional content, fails to account for the complex web of hands, animals, resources, and energy invested in its creation. Through my mapping adventures I try to portray the social and ecological landscapes tied to our global food system. The Spatial Footprint of the US meat Industry map, presented here, explores the relationship between meat production in the US and the associated land and resources. It reveals the huge effort and impact of the luxury of eating meat. The second map, Urban-Rural Food Dynamics, explores the social consumption-production relationship between cities and the countryside, using the case study of Rhode Island, a small state divided into one urban area surrounded by productive hinterland.

More than half the world’s population now lives in cities. This urban existence separates us from food’s origins. We rarely witness fruits ripening on trees, farmers nurturing crops, or fishermen bringing in their catch. Supermarkets, tidy market stalls, comfortable restaurant tables, and our own kitchens are the typical settings for our food interactions. Equally unseen are the environmental consequences: the vast carbon footprint of global food distribution, the immense greenhouse gases emitted by cows, and the destructive water usage required to cultivate corn for their feed.

As professionals who design the built environment, we can leverage our skills to reveal the hidden spatial, social and environmental realities of food systems. Information representation does not simply mirror reality, it actively shapes our knowledge, thoughts, and actions. I firmly believe that the starting point for transforming our food systems lies in a shift in how we represent them.

The Spatial Footprint of the US Meat Industry

Urban-Rural Food Dynamics: Consumption versus Production