Chinatowns as Alternative Food Networks
Seminar presented by Dr. Theresa Ong, Dartmouth College
Abstract: Urban food systems like the Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII emerge and react to socio-economic distress but often disappear post disaster. Distress from the COVID-19 pandemic places cities dependent on long-distance supply chains at risk of both disease and food insecurity. One alternative urban food system that has maintained a consistent and growing identity since the 1800s in the United States are Chinatowns. Yet the same reasons for its success, namely, the great diversity of agricultural products and people from many backgrounds that serve and are served by its short and redundant supply chains, put Chinatowns at risk. Rising xenophobia, continued small-business closures, and the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. collide in Chinatown’s New York distributional hub. Here we address how connections between food producers, distributors, merchants, and consumers in New York’s Chinatown are maintained or adapt to the disruption. We construct a competition model to assess how market pressures and external stressors drive product diversity and food network structure. We seek to use Chinatown as a model for understanding what alternative urban food system structures can best maintain food, nutritional (via diet diversity), and economic security while facing socio-environmental shocks.
Bio: Dr. Theresa Ong is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. She is an agroecologist who combines theory with empirical work in agricultural systems to understand how complex interactions between the environment, organisms, and people ultimately influence food production and ecosystem stability. She received her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan and was an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her work focuses on how biocomplexity in terms of space, time, and species diversity influences the resilience of agricultural systems to both ecological and political perturbations. Dr. Ong’s research on complex hysteretic patterns arising from correlations between life history parameters in simple predator-prey models received a F1000 Prime recommendation.