Researcher to present work on urban landscape, sustainable food

Samina Raja to speak in St. Paul about urban design and its effects on the way we eat.

Samina Raja, an urban planning researcher, will present her research on food system sustainability and its effects on the urban landscape, Friday at Borlaug Hall. Utilizing U.S. Census data and geographic information systems, Raja conducted research over three on food availability in racially disparate neighborhoods in Erie County, New York. âÄúFood as a system as fallen through the cracks because food really involves many disciplines. Each discipline is focused on its own little piece,âÄù said Raja, a professor from the University of Buffalo, New York. Robert King, a University researcher and professor of applied economics, said the food sectorâÄôs large role in the economy concerns employment, health and productivity in the U.S. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2008, food accounted for almost a tenth of the nationâÄôs gross national product. âÄúMany people âÄî from a number of points of view âÄî have been raising questions about whether our food system is doing what we want it to do,âÄù King said. Raja found that predominantly black neighborhoods âÄì areas where 60% or more of the population was black âÄì had half the supermarkets of predominantly white neighborhoods, but had more small, grocery and convenience stores. While convenience stores can provide food and economic opportunities for their low-income, highly unemployed neighborhoods, Raja said the stores often do not have the financial means to provide fresh fruit and vegetables. Alison Bunge , officer in University student group WhatâÄôs Up in Sustainable Agriculture, said the shift from homegrown crops to microwave meals has created disconnect in communities. âÄúWhen people were more in a local setting, and growing more of their own food, and cooking more of their meals from scratch, we had a more intimate connection with our food,âÄù Bunge, a fourth year environmental horticulture major, said. A lack of healthy foods can lead to diseases like obesity and diabetes , which are both pressing public health concerns, Raja said. âÄúFor the first time in 200 years, children are expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents in this country,âÄù Raja said. Helene Murray, executive director of the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture , said when a convenience store is a short walk away, healthy food consumption becomes less of a reality. âÄúAffordability and sustainability of fresh, healthy foods are important to think about to remedy some of those situations,âÄù Murray said. According to the USDA, the cost of food in the United States increased 5.5 percent in 2008, and is projected to increase another 3 percent to 4 percent this year . âÄúFarmers are not doing well, consumers are not doing well,âÄù Raja said. âÄúBy paying attention to the food systems, planners can help both ends of the food system: the farmer and the consumer,âÄù she said. King said no solution is simple, but individual choice could help a progression toward an economically feasible health-minded food system. âÄúIf we want to change the food system, we as consumers need to look at what it is we want, and see what it is weâÄôre buying,âÄù King said. âÄúI think the system is very good at responding to what people say they want.âÄù Bunge said because RajaâÄôs work involves a variety of professions, it will enable discussion. âÄúItâÄôs going to help to facilitate that dialogue with the public health department, the horticulture department, public planning, the Humphrey institute,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs really bringing multi-disciplines together because weâÄôre all working for something related to food.âÄù The presentation is part of WhatâÄôs Up in Sustainable AgricultureâÄôs weekly seminar series.