Contributed by Richard Plunz and Michael Conard
On September 10th, Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” highlighted the work of designers at the Earth Institute’s Urban Design Lab (UDL) in his Op-Ed Contribution to the New York Times, titled “Big Food vs. Big Insurance.” Since 2007, researchers at the UDL, together with a team from the Collaborative Initiatives at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have been working to address the complex issues related to the obesity epidemic.
Supported by a generous grant from the United Health Foundation, the UDL research has proceeded in two phases: phase one sought to understand the nature of the problem, and phase two subsequently identified models which can contribute to successfully addressing aspects of the nation’s obesity epidemic. Among the most significant findings from the research is the refinement of the concept – with broad stakeholder consensus – for a comprehensive food system infrastructure that promotes access and affordability to healthy food by integrating local, regional, and national efforts.
“It has been immensely rewarding to have the opportunity to learn from so many experienced voices and to apply the design methodology to such a complex problem,” remarked Project Director Michael Conard.
An important aspect of this effort has been evaluating the effectiveness of the Regional Integrated Foodshed Concept wherein most of the food for a region is provided from a defined geographic area, with particular emphasis on understanding the environmental, economic, health, and infrastructure impacts.
Mr. Pollan’s enthusiasm for the project echoes responses from leaders in the field to presentations of our research. As the nation’s attention remains riveted to the debate on health care, perhaps no better time exists to rethink – and re-design – our nation’s food system.