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Executive Summary

The East End of Long Island is a place of remarkable contrasts. It is home to strikingly beautiful beaches, thriving and productive farms, and a bustling tourism industry. But the region’s high-income levels mask economic inequalities, its mansions overshadow the lack of affordable housing, and rising seasonal tourism and local food production conceal high rates of unemployment and food insecurity, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this report, we examine these contrasts through the lens of food to understand how they shape the lives of people who live, work within, or visit the East End. Our goal is to spark a community-wide conversation about how the East End currently grows, distributes, prepares, sells, and consumes food. We will use these conversations to identify strengths and weaknesses of the food system, and then work together to design solutions for relevant shortcomings or inefficiencies. Thus, this report is intended for all those who make decisions that affect the East End food system, with a particular focus on public policy makers, people who grow and sell food, and those seeking to promote social justice, sustainability and better health on the East End.

Throughout the report, we provide a portrait of the food system on the East End of Long Island, highlighting its accomplishments and deficiencies, as a whole and within its smaller components. This report further describes the current roles and obstacles of government, civil society, business, farmers, food workers, and residents in creating a healthier, more sustainable food system. It also sets the stage for a deeper discussion about how the East End food system connects more broadly with those in Suffolk County, New York City, and New York State. The desired outcome of this report is to contribute to the development of a comprehensive East End Food Plan that proposes shared goals leading to measurable improvements in diet, food security, sustainability, good food jobs, and a thriving East End economy. In this report, we highlight seven takeaways:

  1. The East End is home to a diverse population, but high levels of inequality in food access, food insecurity, and diet-related diseases pose a threat to our future. These differences reflect disparities in income, wealth, access to affordable housing and other basic needs by class, race, and ethnicity.
  2. The East End has the potential to grow more food but achieving this potential will require resisting pressures for non-food related economic development.
  3. Tourism and second-home residents constitute an essential part of the East End community and influence all aspects of the food system. This promotes economic development and prosperity, but it also worsens economic inequality.
  4. Food plays a vital role in the economy and culture of the East End, but shared interest in food can serve both to bring people together and to divide them. Finding unifying values around the role of food in health, sustainability, equity, and economic development is a key to ensuring the future viability of the East End food system.
  5. The food workforce is essential to the East End economy, yet many of these workers earn relatively low wages and few benefits.
  6. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact across all sectors of the East End food system. In 2021, addressing the rise in food insecurity; high levels of unemployment in the food, hospitality and other sectors; and the continuing economic damage from the pandemic are urgent priorities.
  7. Across the East End, multiple initiatives are being implemented to strengthen the food system. These efforts must be coordinated with organizations working together to make progress towards common goal.
Written by

Jessica Walsh, Samantha Goulding, and Nicholas Freudenberg of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and Kate Fullam and Heather Meehan of the East End Food Institute.

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