Skip to content

This module is about the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on the food system. It discusses the food system before the pandemic, assesses the impacts of the pandemic on the food system, and then explores the “path ahead” for the food system post pandemic.

Lecture: Introduction Video

Before March 2020, most of us did not worry much about having enough food at home, where it came from, or even if we could physically obtain it. Our nonchalance ended abruptly. We rushed to stores to stock up on staple goods, only to find empty shelves. We tried to order online, only to encounter waiting times stretching weeks. We searched for “alternative” sources, from local farms to now-shuttered restaurants. And we counted ourselves lucky. An astounding number of us suddenly were out of work, with little savings, and finding ourselves in long lines at a local food pantry whose existence we knew nothing about two weeks earlier. We have since settled into a “new normal,” and our attitudes about food have changed, perhaps permanently. What lessons have we learned? What lessons should we learn?


This module is comprised of three sessions. In Session 1, you will explore the food system before the pandemic. In Session 2 you will assess the impacts of the pandemic on the food system. In Session 3 you will think about the “path ahead” for the food system post-pandemic. Each session is built around a few readings, a set of short videos that run about one hour per session, and a few questions for discussion.

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Better understand both the “regular” and the “emergency” food systems.
  • Assess the impacts of the pandemic on both food systems.
  • Analyze the inequities in food security,, both pre-pandemic and during it
  • Explore alternatives to the dominant food system.


  • The dominant food system and its critiques
  • Food insecurity and the “emergency” food system
  1. Reading: Marion Nestle, “The Capitalism in Our Food,” Food First Backgrounder Institute for Food and Development Policy 
  2. Reading: Tracie MacMillan, “The New Face of Hunger,” National Geographic
  3. Video: “What’s on Your Plate?”
  4. Video: “The Underlying Racism of America’s Food System”
  5. Video: “Food Politics: Who Makes Our Food Choices?”
  6. Video: “The Food Deserts of Memphis”
  7. Video: “Why Food Drives Contribute to Hunger in America”
  8. Optional Video: “The Food System – An Overview”
  9. Optional Video: “Fixing Food”
  10. Optional Video: “What’s Wrong With What We Eat”
  11. Optional Video: “Big Hunger A Critique of the “emergency” Food System”
  12. Questions to Consider:
  • How did you shop for food and eat before COVID?
  • Did you know — or care about — where your food came from?
  • What factors account for the prevalence of ‘food deserts’ in low-income areas?
  • Why does Gary Oppenheimer oppose food drives as a means for hunger relief?


  • Food insecurity and the “emergency” food system
  • “Essential” workers and embedded injustices in food production
  • Local and regional foods
  1. Reading: Olivia Chan and Jamila Taylor, “COVID-19 Lays Bare Vulnerabilities in U.S. Food Security,” The Century Foundation
  2. Reading: “The Global Food Supply Chain is Passing a Severe Test,” The Economist
  3. Reading: Conor Friedersdorf, Food Banks Can’t Go On Like This,” The Atlantic
  4. Reading: Dominic Moran et al., “UK food system resilience tested by COVID-19,” Nature Food
  5. Reading: “Food in a time of COVID-19,” Nature Plants
  6. Reading: Michael Pollan, The Sickness in Our Food Supply,” New York Review of Books
  7. Video: “Amid Economic Crisis, Food Banks are Struggling to Keep All the Newly Hungry Fed”
  8. Video: “Inside 2 Massive Food Banks Feeding Families Affected by COVID-19”
  9. Video: “‘This is a Tsunami’: Queens Food Pantry Overwhelmed in Face of Covid-19”
  10. Video: “Farm to Your Table: How Farmers are Adapting as the Food Landscape Shifts”
  11. Video: “As Coronavirus Impacts Meat Supply, Can Local Producers Fill the Void?”
  12. Video: “How a Break in the Nation’s Food Supply caused Regional Food Companies to Soar”
  13. Video: “Coronavirus Pandemic is Making America’s Food Deserts Worse”
  14. Video: “How the pandemic is making a global food crisis worse”
  15. Questions to Consider:
  • How did COVID affect your food purchasing and consumption habits?
  • What broader “lessons” about the food system did COVID reveal?


  • Rethinking policies on structural food insecurity
  • Addressing embedded injustices in the food systems
  • (Re)building local and regional food systems
  1. Reading: Rhonda Ferguson, “Coronavirus: Another Chance to Transform the Global Food Trade,” The Conversation
  2. Reading: Stan Cox, “It’s Not Just Meat: Covid-19 Puts All Food-system Workers in Peril,” Literary Hub
  3. Reading: Nicholas Freudenberg and Marion Nestle, “A Call for a National Agenda for a Healthy, Equitable, and Sustainable Food System,” American Journal of Public Health
  4. Optional Reading: Penn Loh and Julian Agyeman, Urban Food Sharing and the Emerging Boston Food Solidarity Economy,” Geoforum
  5. Video: “A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA”
  6. Video: “Food + Justice = Democracy”
  7. Video: “What is Local Food? How Urban Agriculture Re-defines ‘Local'”
  8. Video: “Cultivating Equality in the Food System”
  9. Video: “How we do it – Successful healthy Food Strategies”
  10. Video: “Ending Racism and Injustice in the Food System”
  11. Optional Video: “How Cooking Can Change Your Life”
  12. Optional Video: “How to Change the Food System”
  13. Optional Video: “Food and Politics”
  14. Questions to Consider:
  • To what extent does changing how you eat affect the food system?
  • What changes to the food system need to happen?
  • Are urban agriculture and other “alternative” approaches to food production sufficient to address deeper inequities in the food system?
  • What other policy changes are needed to create a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system?

Using videos and readings from the class module, plus any others you think relevant, discuss the following three questions:

  1. What broad “lessons” about the food system did the pandemic reveal to you?
  2. What changes in consumer behavior must occur to reshape our relationship with the food system?
  3. What one policy change can you recommend to lessen the structural inequities in food security and nutrition?


  • 5 pages double-spaced, 1-inch margins
  • Font: Times New Roman, 12 point.
  • Cite all sources