Food Metrics 3.0: Unearthing Hidden Data

hi everybody my name is Allison Blake Palmer and I'm the director for the Laurier Center for sustainable food systems and I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you all here we're really glad to have such a big interest in this topic and we're really looking forward to this evening and sharing all of the wonderful information that dr. Nevin Cohen has to share with us tonight what I'd like to do also is to take this opportunity to acknowledge that we're gathered on the traditional territory of the neutral Anishinabe and hood nurse ohn a people's and also to give you a bit of background about the Laurier Center for sustainable food systems we were founded in 2013 and we're here with our vision to conduct research on sustainable food systems and part of that is really research that's grounded in practice and in communities and you're going to hear a lot about that tonight with the work that Nevin has done it's very much reflective of the communities that he works with in New York we see that food systems are levers really important levers for change and transformation we're facing a lot of issues in terms of social injustice and inequity we're also obviously facing huge climate change pressures and food is a great way of addressing those ways in those challenges in a systems kind of way and the center is a place where we bring together researchers from across Canada we have seven research nodes across Canada but we also bring together international researchers around different topics one of which is sustainable food systems indicators and we've been relying on nevins work to help inform what we're doing here in Canada so what I'd like to do now is just take a couple of minutes to introduce Nevin he's an associate professor at City University New York in the Graduate School of Public Health and he's also the research director of CUNY's urban food Policy Institute his scholarship explores the policies governance systems practices and infrastructure to support socially just healthy ecologically resilient and economically viable urban and regional food systems so all of the work that he does is very much in keeping with the principles that we have at the centre his current projects include and there's a very long list a five country analysis of urban agriculture research on food retail access sorry other research on food retail access a study on the intersections of zoning planning and food gentrification the effects of social equity policy on food systems and an evaluation of the effects of urban farms in New York City Housing Authority developments dr. Cohen is the co-author of a recently published book beyond the kale which I just love that title it's awesome urban agriculture and social justice activism in New York that was published by the University of Georgia press that examines the potential of urban farms and gardens so how you can grow food in the cities to address racial gender and class oppression he has a PhD in urban planning and policy development from Rutgers and a master's in city and regional planning from Berkeley and a BA from Cornell so we're really delighted to be able to bring him here and we look forward to hearing from him so please help me welcome dr. Cohen thank you so much Allison and thank you for inviting me here it's wonderful to be here and to see everybody come out for an evening to talk about metrics it's almost like people coming out to talk about home budgeting or rebalancing your retirement plan or something like that no I'm actually very excited about food metrics and I'm thrilled to be able to share some thoughts with you tonight what I would like to talk about are a few things one why metrics are important and why I get excited about them and why they're if food is the lever for social change and environmental change metrics are a key part of enabling food to make those changes and then I'll talk about what I've described as the thus of three generational phases of food metrics 1.0 2.0 3.0 using the sort of internet metaphor and then how activists and government officials can actually unearth metrics that exist and are available but aren't being used to help us understand the food system those are the hidden data that is in the subtitle so let me get started and if you have if I say something that's unclear or use an acronym that's crazy you can stop me but then we're going to try to save questions for the end to have a really lively discussion with you so what are the effects of metrics how do they influence policy I think they're important things to think about as we try to think about how to use metrics strategically metrics are socially constructed they're not god-given they're really designed to explain things and they're designed by humans and they present particular worldviews that can be limited or distorted we we know that the GDP for example doesn't measure the well-being of a country all right it's a distortion it's a limited way to measure a concept people construct metrics based on what they feel is important to measure what they have the resources to measure sometimes it's whatever is available in front of them to actually use as a metric methodological conventions so someone who's trained in GIS will see things spatially someone who's trained as an economist will look at the economics interests of those choosing the metrics and so if it's a an organization that's really focused on a particular issue racial imbalances and in Justices might be the focus of the metrics that they're concerned about if it's a development community it might be something like real estate prices the desire to include or exclude certain groups from decision-making plays a part in the metrics that are chosen whether it's metrics that are considered easily accessible or actually quite complex and only accessible to people who are trained in the particular expertise to use metrics can actually shape and even for clothes options for us in the future all right they they shape the vision of the future and in doing so they can actually foreclose some options so for example if we think about food access as access to the physical access to food that may shape our perception of the issue and foreclose options that might include a higher minimum wage because if we think that food access is a really a poverty issue that might be a better solution so the choice of metrics can actually open up options or foreclose options and often people think that because something is is is a is a datum a quantitative piece of information that it's actually value neutral but in fact it's it's its value Laden and the perception that metrics are value neutral often gives power to people who can create and convey those metrics and can do the analyses that are sometimes required to calculate metrics metrics in the food system are not new we've been measuring aspects of the food system forever the the image on the left is a diagram from a book that I love that was published in 1929 called how great cities are fed by a guy named Walter Hedden who was at the Port Authority of New York and in 1921 there was a national there was a threat of a national railway strike in the US and hadn't realized that because we had basically begun to use food production globally and our were sourcing food from around the world a rail strike would would really be devastating for New York City and he began to calculate where our food came from and was the first person to come up with a number 1,500 miles from farm to plate on average for food to get to New York City and on the right is a draft version of the Milan urban food policy pack monitoring framework which is a new set of metrics and indicators that have been proposed to help track a variety of food related issues in cities that have signed on to the Milan food policy pact how do metrics of influence food systems they measure the condition of a system they represent the food systems characteristics they focus attention on certain aspects of the system whether it's equity resilience efficiency they can help with evaluations and assessments of food system interventions policies and programs they can facilitate communication among stakeholders but they can also obfuscate issues and they can race aliens influence perception and shape solutions so when the Surgeon General in the 1990s in the u.s. said that there was an obesity epidemic and gave statistics to show that obesity was rising that focused attention on things like BMI another metric that can be easily measured but not necessarily representative of the health effects of overweight and obesity and not necessarily the best measure of obesity and so metrics can raise an issues salience or excitement in the public what roles they play in policymaking they can play an instrumental role by giving data to decision makers to problem-solve they can motivate stakeholders to take action by helping them to understand problems and see potential policies and outcomes they can be used tactically by convincing people that either things are improving on their own and don't need to be intervened with or can accelerate action by making the point that things are getting much worse sugary sweet and beverage consumption is rising and we need to deal with that obesity is on the rise we need to deal with that metrics can be symbols of conditions and can signify consequences that may only partly reflect reality and in that way they can actually help advocates build political support for their positions or help to undermine political action by advocates so let me get more specific and give you concrete examples I've given you a sort of theoretical framework but I want to look at three generations of metrics that exist in different cities they coexist in ten cities but I think it's a helpful way to understand the evolution of metrics I call from PDFs to Street View the food metrics 1.0 the the sort of metrics that have been developed over the past couple of decades by cities around the world are often curated by city agencies city planners food policy coordinators food policy councils sometimes look around and see what metrics are available with what's already being collected or what can be easily collected if we wanted to know some information and they curate them this is an example from New York City on the left is the website for the food policy coordinator of New York and it's simply a list of links to different PDFs of annual food metrics reports these metrics were required to be reported by the food policy coordinator by the City Council which passed legislation specifying which data would be reported and the report comes out in a 1.0 version it's a PDF that you can download often 1.0 metrics are you in a dimensional and so for example in the food metrics report it says that since nineteen of 2009 there have been 36 fresh project fresh is an acronym food retail enhancements to support health these are food these are subsidies given to supermarkets either expand or open in neighborhoods deemed to be to have inadequate food retail and so these fresh projects have been approved for either zoning or financial incentives so 36 have been approved since 2009 what does that mean what questions does that raise your mind so this is simply a unit dimensional measure an outcomes measure but if you look and and begin to map the fresh stores that have opened compared to existing retailers you get a slightly different picture and questions can be raised so this map shows supermarket which was a fresh store right in the center and then I drew I had ArcGIS draw five minute and ten minute walking paths surrounding that food bazaar and what you can see from this is that the the fresh store is actually surrounded by two grocers less than a five-minute walk away and another seven grocers between five and ten minutes walk away and so it raises questions are the fresh store is being located in the right places is the designation of the areas that deserve support by this program the right areas are we missing the boat entirely are we misunderstanding what food access means and this slide is interesting because these are Street view images of a fresh project that was approved on the slide on the photograph on the top on the right side is a new building that got a zoning density an extra floor because they put a fresh supermarket on the ground floor but by the time the building was ready to be built it's not a the fresh store isn't there yet a store opened across the supermarket opened across the street and then if you look around the corner there's a fine fare another supermarket just right around the course so it begins to raise the question how do we move from unit dimensional metrics that explain specific outcomes to more complex metrics that can really tell what tell us what's going on and help us to answer bigger policy questions like how do we measure food access 1.0 measures tend to be output focused as I just mentioned another example is that the food metrics report of New York reports that five hundred and fifteen thousand health books worth more than one one million dollars in fruits and vegetables were distributed so these are coupons that let people on low of low-income get additional value you two dollars or five dollars additional value when they spend money at a farmers market and but the metric is reporting the the the the the health books that were distributed there's no indication of how they were spent whether they were spent and there's certainly anecdotal information that they're not enough of a subsidy to make it worth it for people to shift their shopping habits from a supermarket to a farmers market and if there a lot of them are unspent and so while they're really nice bonuses for City Council members and the health department to give out they may not be effective at changing people's diet and there's certainly not evidence about whether using health books really gets people to eat more fruits and vegetables so and what were one more example we have data that the number of snap recipients is 1.6 million in New York that's a large number 20 percent of the population that depends on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps and that's an important metric but it doesn't tell us what percentage of elavil people eligible people this represents there's no denominator it doesn't say how the rates have changed over the past decade and if they've changed why whether certain boroughs have higher rates of participation because there are more eligible people or because there's something happening in that borough or the demographics are different and it doesn't say what's happening at the sub borough level and whether the borough is the right scale to analyze fresh a snap participation and finally their food food metrics 1.00 tend to be siloed and one example is a listing of green thumb gardens that are in New York that the city publishes annually and it's useful information to know where the green thumb gardens are and there's some data on whether they produce food or not the green thumb is only one part of the urban agriculture system in New York and so there are probably about 600 green thumb gardens but about 900 to maybe a thousand urban agriculture projects throughout the city and so choosing siloed information from one particular agency limits the value of these metrics 2.0 food metrics are more advanced and this is a an image of the food by Ward project in Toronto a wonderful project and it shows that this form of metrics are city curated but with external updates and the possibility of people feeding information back to the city and clarifying and updating the information it's also it's mostly dimensional in that using this website you can overlay information on sociodemographics over the assets that are mapped on the map another example of multidimensionality is a project that we worked on for the City Council the City Council in New York City was concerned that supermarkets were closing conventional supermarkets were being run out of business or closing so we looked at not just the number of supermarkets in the city because that's only a particular outcome it's unit dimensional but we looked at what data can we use to explain why supermarkets might be vulnerable for leaving the city one reason they're vulnerable is because the sites that they're located on get developed and which sites get developed these are called soft sites in the in planning jargon these are sites where the supermarket it takes up a certain amount of bulk on the on the land and the zoning allows a much denser bigger building on that site and so what soft is the fact that there's value to be gained by developing the site for something bigger and so this is a map showing the concentration in numbers of supermarkets that are on soft sites by council district just one example of using different data to develop a multi-dimensional picture of a food policy issue 2.0 metrics are outcomes focused this is an example on the left of a metric from the food policy report from metrics 1.0 that shows that there were 7.3 million meals served in city schools at 1,300 locations it's a really impressive number it's second only to the US military in terms of institutional food served but it doesn't tell us very much and if you look at the mayor's management report which in New York City is the report that measures operational efficiency of different agencies and most City most large cities have something equivalent you see that the school lunch participation rate has actually been falling and that begs the question what's happening and so food metrics 2.0 can help us contextualize information and help to have helped out advocates ask questions of city officials that could help to challenge the status quo and raise questions about whether policy has to change this example is showing that and this is data from the mayor's management report again showing that the three main federal food benefits in the u.s. snap school meals and WIC which is a benefit for women who are pregnant or have infants actually changed the poverty rate significantly in New York snap alone by over three percent three percentage points and so that begins to tell us that it's not so important it's not just important that they're 1.6 million people using snap but that snap is above the poverty alleviation policy and that if we care about reducing poverty we need to as a city support maintaining the integrity of the SNAP program and actually help people who qualify for snap but aren't participating participate 2.0 metrics are often interactive and this is an example from New York but this is also replicated in most cities around the world now this is an open data portal that provides access to a whole range of data in affecting city government there's a New York State equivalent and the user can download this to an Excel spreadsheet and manipulate it but also use this website to visualize the data and it's an opportunity to make this data more useful and interactive and and and have it available to a wide range of the population so let's move on to 3.0 and I'll be moving more quickly here to to cover more material but food metrics 3.0 is as you can imagine more complex and more advanced and is actually potentially self curated compared to 1.0 which is typically curated by an agency so what is it self curated set of food metrics it means that people can actually create apps and websites and use other tools to manipulate available public data to represent the food system in unique ways so this is just one app that I pulled off the the website the cities had competitions to encourage web developers to create interesting visualizations of public data and this is just the counts of different cuisine types and it comes from the cities inspection data of restaurants which also records the type of food served so if you want to know what the you know not surprising that Chinese and Pizza are and coffee shops are common in New York but you can see how this kind of reason Tatian of public data can be used to tell lots of different stories about the food system and one thing you can begin to do for example is look at the restaurant reading data to see if there are disparities in where restaurants that are graded a versus C are located in the city or whether there's disparate enforcement of the sanitation code because you can see the restaurants that have an incomplete grade or are pending are those that the inspector caught something is going back to to re-inspect and you can begin to ask questions about whether the food retail system is an equitable system 3.0 metrics are multi-dimensional and contextualized so one example is a a new project from the City Planning Department to create new types of interactive websites the a dress planning issues so there's a team of planners who have been released from their desk duty at the City Planning Department to do the creative things and one of the projects they came up with were these enhanced community district profiles so these are providing basic information about land use in the community districts around New York City but they also have flood maps flood zone maps and I just picked community district 2 which is the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx does anyone know what Hunts Point is famous for it's one of the world's largest retail hotel food markets and it is the central produce market for much of deliveries to small and medium sized supermarkets in New York City and what else do you notice about that site it's in the flood zone and by is it 20 I can't read this on 2050 much of the flood plain will cover the market which is located at the point of the peninsula and that raises questions about the resilience of the food system in New York City and do we need to build flood walls do we need to ensure the companies against the flood loss do we need to relocate the Hunts Point Market how will bodegas get their food if there's a another superstorm sandy 3.0 metrics are up screen and downstream in public health we talk about the upstream determinants of health as the social determinants of health these are things like poverty and racism that make your health outcomes likely to be either positive or negative and so when we look upstream in terms of food metrics what do we look for one example is a project from MIT called the living wage project that tries to estimate the actual cost of living in cities around the u.s. including for food and so what we see from the data on New York is that the living wage to pay for food for your family is about seventeen and a half dollars and of course the minimum wage is going up but it's still around $11 and that data can arm labor activists to fight for not not just a $15 minimum wage but something higher and it can raise questions about whether the social wage in other words federal benefits like snap and WIC need to be protected to make sure that they add into the actual wages that people get paid a salary to enable people to live and it also raises questions about whether food activists need to also be housing activists and fight for affordable housing so it begins to help us really come together around a lot of social justice issues once we're armed with information that shows us that food access is really about making enough money to pay for food and your rent in New York City 3.0 metrics are also interactive and immersive and the example I've been working with on a project with actually a colleague from the University of Toronto he's a PhD student we've been looking at food data in the Bronx from 2007 to 2010 18 what we're interested in is whether food gentrification has occurred in the Bronx if some of you may have heard that term it's gaining salience now but it's simply the change in the food environment that results from development increased property values greater affluence and potentially displacement of commercial establishments and residential dwellers in neighborhoods as they gentrified and it also means things like changes in the type of food sold in a neighborhood so a supermarket could be there but they can suddenly start to change what they're selling to appeal to more affluent younger newer residents and suddenly people who've lived there a long time don't feel like they're welcome in the supermarket or there there's food for them here so this is using Google as a way to Google truth the data and it's so tongue-in-cheek term but there's a lot of research on the messiness of public data and if you've used any kind of large public datasets you know how messy you can be and ground-truthing is the way to really test whether that data is accurate and many people have ground truth ground truth food retail data to really understand the distribution of supermarkets for example in a community you can't do that for longitudinal historical data but Google has a really neat feature where you can slide the date back to a previous year and they now have 10 years of street photographs that you can look at and so this example shows the change from a fruit and vegetable store in 2007 and the neighborhood in the Bronx to a wine and liquor shop and what Google also allows you to do is scan around the neighborhood and see what else is there so just down the street used to be a small supermarket that is maybe maybe a large bodega but you can see but by 2018 they invested in expansion and a new banner and some upgrading and so something is going on in this neighborhood that is encouraging the the food retailers to invest in their in their properties and this also suggests that measuring only physical access to supermarkets is a really limited and distorted view of food access when in fact you need to look at the the range of food retail options in a neighborhood that include a fruit and vegetable market that might be next to a really tiny supermarket that if you only looked at the supermarket data would seem deficient in the neighborhood but in fact the neighborhood might have ample opportunities to shop for healthy food 3.0 metrics are crowd-sourced they often are built from the ground up rather than from an agency collecting data at the top down so this is a project that I'm just beginning in cooperation with a company called safe graph safe graph aggregates and D identifies all of the location information that cell phones capture as you move about your daily life and most people don't realize it but you know you often have to turn off the location capture information and affirmatively say that you don't want to report it to Facebook Twitter etc for those who don't this is captured and safe graph aggregates it and what they have is data showing for every census block group in the US the point of origin of trips during the daytime which are termed office or work trips and between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. or home trips and the retailer that those trips wind up going to and so this is a map of first all of the food retailers in the Bronx and then all the way the top left is a stop and shop that I happen to be interested in looking at and from the safe graph data these are the unique visits in the month of September 2018 from these census block groups to that stop and shop from home because they're in the evening or on the weekend right so you can begin to see actually how people are shopping for food and in this case what are the supermarkets there's they're passing by on their way to to this stop and shop and this can begin to paint a much richer picture of how people access food and what kinds of policy interventions would be more appropriate for individual neighborhoods than simply saying well the square footage per capita is what we consider deficient and therefore we need a new supermarket here we need to know what type of supermarket where it should be located and whether there's land available commercial land available for the supermarket to be located there and also how people are getting from place to place and another question that I'm particularly interested in is our public housing population 500,000 people living in New York City public housing who are the poorest and and and people in the city and have the greatest proportion of non communicable diseases largely caused by my diet and so understanding where people in public housing shop is particularly important and finally there globally linked and this is an example of a project that Alison mentioned that I'm just getting underway it's called the few meter food energy water meter and it's an effort by researchers in five cities in Poland UK Germany France and the u.s. to engage farmers and gardeners to collect data and upload it to a global platform this is a a relational database that lives in the cloud and is going to be populated over the next two growing seasons with all sorts of operational data material flow data and we're going to be able to use this to not only share back with the farmers information about whether they're growing enough kale and being productive in Poland as they are in Germany but also questions about how if urban agriculture were scaled up in these cities it would affect the food energy water resources of the city and whether we can somehow optimize urban agriculture so that those resources are optimized so this is food metrics 3.0 and I want to quickly go back and explain what I think we can do to advance food metrics no matter what gestational stage or level of sophistication a city's food metrics happen to be in so for food metrics 1.0 we can begin to add denominators and for example in addition to knowing the number of people receiving snap the city also publishes something called the program access index which looks at levels of poverty to estimate how many people would actually qualify for snap so we can look at whether the ratio of qualified to recipients is as close or whether there's a big gap in the city needs to invest in outreach and other mechanisms to get people to sign up we can provide operational data and so if we know that the levels of snap participation are different in different places around the city could this be the result of different performance at the snap centers where people have to sign up and re register so this is operational data to make sure that agencies are performing efficiently and it's about snap and almost nobody nobody that I know of that actually ever looked at this data in comparison to and it's much more detailed than the bar chart I showed you in comparison to actual participation rates by neighborhood but that can raise questions even in the food metrics 1.0 landscape and help advocates argue for more resources include causal data so sticking with snap one of the issues that we uncovered in a study of immigrant facing organizations that help immigrants navigate various systems in the city is that the human resources administration which runs the SNAP program in New York City translates the information into nine languages but according to the census there are 17 percent of the population who speak languages primarily at home that aren't being translated by HRA so it's 17 percent of people have some trouble probably navigating the snap system if they're being reached at all and so this just this is a simple policy solution where I get more translators and translate the material or let's understand you know who who those community what what communities there are and where they're located and and do some other kinds of outreach enable access to raw data this is a great example that really makes me irritated so the City Council required the Board of Ed the Department of Education to give access to cafeteria inspection data from the Department of Health all right so what the department head did was it created a website that requires you to type in the school name that you're one you want information on one by one and there are like is 1,800 schools in New York City and so providing data in an easy format that doesn't require you to code the website and scrape the data or hire a young coder to do that is really important and so it's about providing really really good access to important data and actually the CUNY School of Journalism has a data science program now in data journalism and they scrape this website and found that not surprisingly the schools with the dirtiest cafeterias are in the poorest neighborhoods and that can arm parents that that can help parents understand why their kids don't want to eat in the cafeteria or that can tell parents don't have your kid eat in the cafeteria you need school lunch it can get the parents to call the principal and find out why the janitors aren't keeping their caption you can you get the picture and you can see how metrics can really arm people at the grassroots to make change 2.0 metrics can help combine data from different agencies and this is one that was in the the B side metrics report we looked at from agency performance data how many meals are served to the elderly by city agencies both congregate meals in senior centers and meals on wheels and their their flat but the City Planning Department put out a report showing that the number of seniors is growing or is expected to grow B in 2010 in 2020 by seventeen point five percent so there's a disconnect and people can begin to contextualize this data and realize that either there aren't enough meals for seniors or the demographics of seniors is changing and they don't need congregate meals or they're getting meals somewhere else or something is amiss and so this is a really powerful tool by combining data from different agencies and focusing on upstream determinants of health as I mentioned this is data from the Department of Consumer Affairs which is charged with receiving labor complaints under a variety of really great progressive new laws that were passed under the previous administration to require paid sick leave to require you know higher minimum wage to ensure that workers are given proper notice of their schedules and you know the question is is this being enforced and this is an important upstream determinant of health and the food system because as we know since the Great Recession some of the biggest job growth in cities around the global North in North America in particular are in the food service industry and they were among the most low-paying jobs around and they often employ immigrants who are the most vulnerable and so to the extent that that these jobs are vulnerable and people are being cheated out of sick leave it has two impacts it has an impact on whether those families can afford to feed their kids properly and whether people are working in the food industry and going to work sick because they are not being allowed to take sick days without fear of losing their job using platforms that enable live updates so we we've seen that the food by Ward website has a feature that allows people to contribute data this is a project from that planning group that I mentioned before to help people find all of the zoning and land use applications around the city and because Zoning effects where food retail can locate because zoning affects gentrification in a neighborhood this is a critical piece of data for food systems advocates even though these are not directly food system data we can begin to integrate big and small data in food metrics 3.0 and this is another example of the city putting online all of the active major construction projects going on in the city both the cost but also more importantly for food systems advocates square footage being built and proposed dwelling units being built because if we think of food access and I think it's the wrong way to think of food access as the proportion of food retail space per capita then if we have more we have more people in a neighborhood we need more supermarkets and if the market is not going to provide additional food retail then policymakers have to help make that happen or we at least need to be asked the asking those questions as proposals go through the land use approvals process are we asking in environmental impact assessments we're not there's the answer are we mmm it's a rhetorical question are we asking whether food access is being diminished by a new development project or is it being enhanced those questions are certainly on the table could be added to environmental assessments and but communities need to be empowered and aware of the data to even begin to ask those questions food metrics statement 3.0 can really contextualize the food system and this is another example from the article of looking at not just the fact that the city two years ago made lunch for all students free instead of having a two-tier system where some students had to pay and some ate for free which created all sorts of issues of stigma and may make kids not want to eat in in the cafeteria – one that's universally free but that is has a different impact from community to community and because of the fact that the kids who were paying were a little more affluent than the kids who are getting lunch for free the neighborhoods that are benefiting from this policy or actually the middle class and a little bit more affluent neighborhoods that's not a problem but it's important to understand this information because what this you can do is help parents become interested in for example tracking the extent to which the number of kids eating school lunch in the cafeteria has increased as a result of this policy which is something that was predicted by the policy change but we saw those numbers before that they're actually declining so is this going to reverse that trend and can we think of ways to get the principals and the teachers to make food part of the curriculum now that it's literally free for everyone and there's no question about kids being excluded from this part of the day and so now there are opportunities to actually think of lunch as part of social studies and science and and other parts of the curriculum it also raises questions about another metric which I didn't show you which is the number of the the hours in which lunch is served in every school in New York City and in some of the overcrowded districts lunch is being served at 10:00 in the morning so that kids don't want to eat at 10:00 don't want to eat lunch at 10:00 because they just had breakfast and they get hungry at 2:00 and so are forced to snack on unhealthy food super tokens facilitate interactive exploration of lots of different questions this is a wonderful project it's now defunct but the the data is still up and available 596 acres on earth anew have you heard of it it was a project to help communities get control of vacant land in their neighborhood whether it was privately or publicly owned so this is a map of all of the vacant public and private parcels and when you click through you get advice on not just who the owner is but then instructions on how you would go about contacting the Department of Transportation or the housing department to ask for control of this lot to turn it into either a community garden or a non-food public use and finally we can begin to include crowd-sourced data and this is a picture of the Google camera that is used to take the Google Streetview and it's not on a car but it's on a backpack and if you have a research project that could benefit from Street View you can actually apply to Google and they'll lend you this camera for a period of time to do your research so this could allow us to begin to capture really detailed food environment data that wouldn't be able to be captured simply through information about licenses and store ownership but actually be able to visualize what the food landscape looks like the people who are walking down the streets and experiencing competition from vending machines and bodegas and supermarkets and we have a project that's just getting underway on predatory marketing and so you know Marc advertisements in storefronts and on Billboard's for unhealthy food and it wasn't the last one I lied we can use 3.0 metrics to help create global data platforms and this is the exciting part of the project that the Milan food project is really opening up the the idea of cities around the world collaborating on sharing data and learning from each other and creating a community of practice that's global mediated through data that lives on platforms that are accessible to all and that's really grandiose but I just want to show a modest example of my own work and this is partly my obsessive-compulsive disorder but I've been creating a food environment database for New York City that includes all the growers all the retailers all the farmers markets all the host salaries etc and this lives on a piece of an application and a piece of software that is cloud-based and can allow cities from around the world to begin to add information about their own food environments and we as researchers we can begin to do analyses like you know is the food retail sector changing in different cities we certainly know from research in South Africa for example and other cities in the global south that global food retailers are moving in and capitalizing on the market in some cases displacing can traditional or conventional food sellers and who are those global actors and what is their position and stake in a city like New York or Toronto and are their distribution chains and are their marketing chains affecting eating habits cities around the world and so I'll end there and we can begin to maybe have a dialogue about this thank you very much [Applause] I thought Nevin didn't sleep before I saw this presentation now I'm convinced I don't know there must be like three of you or something yeah well thank you so much never know it's just amazing and I mean it really makes the case for how data riches our perspective about what's happening within the food system how it can be a lever for social activism and for eco activism and help us deal with lots of in Justices but what I'm going to do now is introduce Barbara Immanuel who is very kindly agreed to be here and have a bit of a chitchat with Nevin for a couple of minutes and ask him some questions and just by way of introduction Barbara emanuelle is the manager of the Toronto food strategy this is led by Toronto Public Health and proposes a new vision for Toronto Toronto's food one that integrates both health and city building so all of your your approaches are incredibly useful in that context the intent is to build food connections across and within city divisions between city government and community in between multiple food systems stakeholders so obviously your guys are going to have a lot to talk about and that this food strategy builds on a strong foundation of the Toronto food policy council which is operated for more than 20 years so Barbara thank you so much for being with us and to engage in this conversation and and once Barbara and never never had a chance to talk for a couple of minutes laine has asked me to let everybody know that if you do ask a question we're recording this event and we'll be broadcasting it on our YouTube channels so we just need you to be aware of that if you're asking a question okay thanks over to you guys it's a bit it's a bit odd that I'm a moderator for a panel on metrics for those that know me I'm a metric sceptic I'm also a metrics pragmatist because I work in city government and I'm constantly asked to deliver metrics sometimes I think it's stupid and not necessarily that valuable and sometimes it's very strategic in furthering our work so that makes me also qualified metrics admira I am metrics an admirer of Nevin and so I do have some pointed questions and we'll open it up because I think everybody here will have some of those questions so clearly Nevin you have demonstrated that metrics have considerable power they enable change they can influence or help to influence policy and if accessible to people impacted they can support action on the ground at the same time I believe that metrics can reduce complexity by reducing complex elements to numbers and forgetting the stories forgetting the lived experience on the ground and sometimes and this is very much in my experience the focus on generating these numbers these indicators these metrics can actually replace action on the ground so obviously one of the solutions that's kind of or what I interpreted was woven through what you presented here is that the people impacted must have agency over metrics okay how how do you do that well in a few ways but I want to first say that I also don't like the term metrics because it implies only quantitative information and what we can replace it with is insight and measures and those measures could be qualitative as well and I think one of the things that new advances in distributed information and new technologies allows us to do is capture different types of data effectively and at scale so that we can begin to see patterns that we wouldn't be able to see through simply census data or economic information and I think it's also important to realize that whether we care about metrics or not they exist and they are defining our world and our food system in particular and so as advocates if we choose not to play the metrics game then we risk having the system defined around us and so to answer your question more pointedly I think activists ordinary citizens need to be as fluent as possible with the metrics that are being used to define the food system they need to partner with experts who know the technology that can be used to help understand and manipulate those metrics and generate new metrics so they could be academics they could be other advocacy organizations they could be the 16 year old kid near nearby who happens to be coding and have gone to coding camp who can scrape a website but I think it requires a network of partners to really disentangle the metrics and maybe reform them in ways that tell the stories that groups really want told and so it means maybe refocusing spatial data to show racial disparities or looking at nutrition data and trying to identify interventions that might be more helpful in reducing sodium consumption absolutely agreed so those of us on the ground need partners like you academic wise and so just take the next step in terms of translating metrics into actionable strategies and steps and policy one strategy is to use metrics to ask the right questions and I gave some examples and so if you see that there's a declining participation in a program it's not enough to just report that metric but begin to raise questions about why and what information do we need to know to understand why this is happening and what our policy solutions and so I see metrics as a tool to help communities actually ask the right questions rather than allowing you know people in government to pose the wrong questions and answer them because the data that they have happens to answer those questions other examples are in food access I think that's a really complex phenomenon whether people have sufficient access whether their physical access to food affects their diets how access is measured in different in different contexts and so I think we need to have a very big open debate about what we mean by food access when we talk about food access and move beyond the notion that proximity is the most important thing to understand you know how people move about their lives and they make choices about what what to buy and one final thing is that it can I think help us strategically to move upstream and raised questions about poverty and fairness when we look at data on how much it cost to live in a big city we realized that at the end of the day food access is about not having enough money and that means labor policy and it means organizing with labor and so what but what it can also do and I think is really exciting is to help food activists find themselves becoming environmental activists and labor activists and activists around community open space and planning and so once we realized that the data are all around us and they all actually affect the food system we realized that we have to work together well foods the way into everything most of us probably believe and just probing one step further with that and then I want to open it up to two folks in the audience here you mentioned the upstream and it seems to me that effective metrics have to support both upstream and downstream impacts so the whether the upstream is a policy change or and the downstream can be impacting action on the ground and making information and data accessible at the community level but how do you ensure that researchers collect and interpret the deed so that it's meaningful for the community impacted I mean I think you've kind of addressed that but I'd like a little more in the book as I mentioned before beyond the kale we interviewed farmers and gardeners all of whom realized that they're not going to grow enough vegetables to feed their neighborhood and they're not going to change the nutritional outcomes of their community but they realize that they have space and they have an activity that can mobilise people and that's what they choose to so the answer is that they understand the complexity in the need to consider the upstream or social determinants of their condition and also make sure that they're registered as farmers and they are getting acknowledgment for producing food in their community and working with the Department of Health on different kinds of interventions at the at the ground level I think what academics and and and trained activists can do is is help to connect the dots which aren't always easy to see if you're not familiar with the data and the sort of analytical methods and tools that can be used to make that data more easily understandable so I'm going to open it up yeah a little bit tongue-in-cheek but do you have any metrics to show which metrics have changed policy and a related question is is a part of the idea of metrics to make the intangible tangible or will this always be a challenge that's not tongue-in-cheek that's a legitimate question I and I appreciate that one example that I talked about earlier is the definition of qualification for snap for example it's based on the federal policy poverty level which New York City has done separate research to show is not consistent with the reality of poverty in New York City and they've created their own poverty measure in New York City and so what does that do the the use of metrics to qualify people affects everybody who applies for snap right it's a and and and it's a measure that you know has changed over time and the reason people have stopped participating in snap is in part because they are moving out of poverty and knowing whether that move out of poverty because they have a job now is actually earning them enough money to feed their family that healthy food is an important part of understanding these metrics and coming up with alternative metrics that could show that we actually need to provide income support to people after they leave Snap is really a valuable piece of information that activists can use and we're fighting in the u.s. to prevent the USDA from requiring able-bodied adults without children to basically be thrown off of snap and having the data to show that these able-bodied adults without children actually use SNAP benefits in between jobs they actually have jobs but they don't have consistent jobs and they're not slackers they're not sitting at home watching TV they're out looking for work there's you know getting seasonal work whatever and so that's the data that activists can collect that can persuade their congressperson to change the law so USDA doesn't by regulation take this ability away thank you for a very interesting presentation I was just wondering if you kind of had a sense of whether or not or how these metrics were changing as it relates to or what were they're changing with people with the changes in people's in the way that people access food so my mind went to the example you gave about the future in traffic ation and the thinking that a lot of the that yuppie generation is consuming food in a difference accessing food in a different way they're accessing it through cyberspace essentially and physical distance is becoming less and less important so you know being within a five kilometer radius or whatever might not be as important are the food metrics you know there have you noticed an evolution in the food metrics in accord to account for these changes academics are always trying to fight the last war and so we're still sort of focusing on rearranging the spatial configuration of supermarkets and what's on those shelves when in fact actually in a month in the US there's going to be a national pilot rolled out to allow people with snap to spend their SNAP money through online grocers so Amazon in New York City is rolling out Amazon fresh to people in in poverty and who are depending on snap that will change completely the patterns of food access for poor people as well as the more affluent people who are just gravitating to web-based systems and so my short answer is no we're not actually keeping up with the metrics but we need to and that's part of the 3.0 schema that we need to actually look at how to measure these phenomena in nimble ways so that as the the industry changes as the more Changez we can actually have the data in hand to know or to be able to predict what the effects will be sorry how do you determine what metrics your particular organization is going to collect like are you working hand in hand with a city government so that you know and you'll actually know then what happens to those metrics afterwards is there is there some kind of long connection there at cuny we tend to work with activist organizations and community-based groups and so there are still as a disconnect between what the city chooses to collect and and and communicate and what activists or questions they're interested in answering and therefore what metrics they need to have to answer those questions my approach is to actually figure out what the right question to ask is and then try to find the data that will answer that question whether it's budget data or land use data so for example you know I've been interested in this question of food access and why we're spending so much money to subsidize supermarkets when you know if you do the math it doesn't seem to make sense and if you look at the research that other public health scholars have done on what the effect of a new supermarket in the neighborhood is on dietary patterns shows that there's not very much of an effect and so you know it poses the question well what are other ways that we can begin to measure this question of access and then I have to look and see what data is available to figure that out and do we have the income data do we know even you know what people are different levels of income are spending their food dollars on in New York City we have national data but it's not really appropriate at the local scale so does that answer your question it's it's a process of finding out what people are concerned about finding out what questions they want answered as an academic thinking about how to sort of frame that question in a way that could be useful in shaping policy and then seeking the data too so just as a follow-up is that system working do you think or not in terms of actually getting data for what we need for making society better well I can give me some time I think III think that it doesn't in certain in certain examples so we're seeing now that community organizations are more focused on rezoning and they the food activists in those communities are beginning just beginning to realize that they need to say something about the food environment as their neighborhoods are is owned and so having data on this off sites that supermarkets are on or the potential impact on other commercial spaces of redevelopment you know is I think had a an impact I have a quick question if I were to go back home tonight and try to extract some data from a website or let's say a medium sized community like you would you expect to find a more like tabular data that you can right away try to do some analytics or we're at a stage that you can't really expect to get that stuff relatively no lower low-hanging fruit it varies even in big cities it's always messy data so there's no real specific answer I can give you but for sure you would need to have the skills to clean large data sets which is a really technical skill all of these require technical skills of one sort of the other mapping skills data manipulation skills some statistical and analytical skills but they're partners out there and people in nonprofits and in in academic institutions I'll do thank you hi so I'm curious is any of the data you collect reported manually and if so is there a margin of error there where like someone might make a mistake or misinterpret the question that they're posed and if so I assume you use like statistical software to sort of gauge that and incorporate that but is that a challenge for you and using metrics just before this presentation I looked at the snap by community district data and so oh gee the numbers in the Bronx looked like the numbers that used to be in Manhattan that must be mistake right and I contacted the Health Department and they this was reported incorrectly this happens all the time and so part of the process of I think developing consistent and usable food metrics would suggest a project that maybe we can we can begin here and begin with colleagues around the world to help food advocates use the tools that other analytical experts use to actually manipulate and clean large public data sets and that's what they teach in data journalism courses and that's what they teach when you go to Python coding account and other places so now I know that I am told that students who graduate from public health schools no longer put SAS or SPSS on their CV they put Python because that distinguishes them as no encoding and note or R and knowing how to manipulate big big data and that's really an important skill for all of these students – thank you Thanks my question is really about the data that exists and can't be accessed now the general context for the question is increasing power as you noted actually in your in your in your presentation of the private sector over food systems clearly very dominant in cities in the global north and increasingly present in cities in the global south and these private sector companies or chains whatever ock are themselves creating huge amounts of data to which the researcher actually has great deal of difficulty getting access so it's two-part question one is I mean is this a problem that's just gonna be always with us and secondly which is a sort of broader question is does the fact that we cannot seem to get access to that kind of data actually mean that we don't really understand fundamental aspects of the open food system it's a great question so and thank you for raising it because I didn't cover it in the talk but there two things I want to want to answer I'll answer the last point first and that is it's absolutely true that the crucial data are you know Revenue data profit data market research data that is hard to get as a as a researcher it's very expensive to buy there might be ways to aggregate our resources to get that data and there might be opportunities to require that data to be reported to government so that's a policy question you know and that's not unprecedented to require the disclosure of you know certain types of economic information for example in the u.s. there is a lawsuit that's going to the Supreme Court to require expenditure data to be available publicly by store and that would tell us what people are buying around the country in great detail now their chains know what their what people are buying obviously but having that data nationwide would be enormous and it's actually the lawsuit is is is partly hinging on the rollout of this online snap purchasing pilot because the argument is that Amazon will gain a lot more by having data on brick-and-mortar retail sales than the brick-and-mortar stores will have on Amazon sales which are place lists and so there's a disparity in in value and that's a potentially unconstitutional disparity so that's one answer the other answer is that as these 3.0 systems are used by advocates we have to realize that we often don't own the data we don't often don't control the data we don't control the Google Street view images there are restrictions maybe I violated some restrictions by showing those images today and we have to be involved in information access advocacy as well as food advocacy if we want to have the tools down the road to be able to change the food system and that's a scary proposition because that's a huge area of advocacy that I'm not versed in but intellectual property access to these online systems issues of privacy do we have privacy if we if our data on where we're moving around the city is captured and being used not to help locate stores in in low-income neighborhoods but to locate you know new Walmart's in neighborhoods so I I guess I don't have an answer for you specifically but I think I think we need to work together to overcome those those challenges in sort of a direct follow up on the question and this is actually a really unsexy funding based question and knowing the power dynamics in the system and knowing sort of your question of like who are asking these questions and who are these questions asked for and I'm curious if you see a trend or an appetite amongst funders whether they be in academic circles or elsewhere towards a more equitable sort of like lens when it comes to metrics and accountability in this research as well as you like have any good examples of almost strange bedfellows of partner it's like you mentioned before working together to move this forward there's a huge effort in the public health world to use data more effectively so Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just issued an RFP for projects that would use big data to help produce health enact inequities there's a data advocacy to support health – is the acronym organization a network of public health practitioners we're using using data so I think there's a lot of interest in a lot of capacity being built at the grassroots in planning departments as you saw from those experimental websites – the Buildings Department which is putting up new data to entrepreneurs who are being given incentives by cities to build apps that use public data for the public good New York has something called the big apps competition but cities around the country and probably in Canada I don't know for sure have competitions to award money and prizes to people who develop interesting apps that use public data for solving important problems it means geographers and public health people and planners need to actually ally themselves with the data scientists who can actually do the manipulations and scrape the date the websites and get that data so this is kind of a follow-up question to the interim the introductory conversation I heard the question but I don't think I heard the answer so it's expensive to generate this data it does take away time you know if you're a social service agency or something to generate this data instead of helping somebody and it costs money as well how do you prevent that from interfering with the work on the ground all the examples I gave were data sources that are available because agencies are already collecting that data for different purposes to make sure that their staff are reporting to work on time and our serving customers efficiently for example that's the operational data and so I think that there's a large tranche of data that is simply not being used that could be used effectively before we even get to the point of actually having to go out and and and and collect data in a costly way that's the hidden part of the hidden hidden data that I've been presenting and my response about advocacy organizations is I think that it's essential that they use data to be more effective at their at their job at their mission and so for example if you are a frontline social service provider in an immigrant community and you're finding that people aren't showing up at your door anymore because they're scared or getting deported you need to be able to have data to show that this is happening and that there needs to be policy change to prevent people from the fear of deportation a different identification card assurances by the city that it's a sanctuary city you know all of those kinds of policy changes that can happen so I would push back on your question by saying you can't really be efficient and effective and be helping people to the extent you could if you're not using data effectively even if you're a non-profit probably time for one more hi there my background is in I'm a professional chef with some academic background as well and I have tons of questions for you but one specifically related to the school food and school program you mentioned and I'm curious whether you have any specific data on the actual facilities in which the the food is produced for the you know across the city whether it's on location or off location in some cases being distributed to schools and consequently the time differences you mentioned about lunch lunch times and also whether you have any per student budget per day that that is allotted to the students who is it equitable across the city or does it vary you know 71 cents for meal served and that covers operational costs as well as the food and that's the budget that USDA provides to schools private schools may supplement that but public schools that's what they get there isn't data available I mean there is data from the Department of Ed you'd have to file a Freedom of Information Law request to get it and I didn't mention that that's another tool to get to get free data but so there's no data on exactly where every item is purchased from and how it's delivered and which schools have scratch cooking facilities or just reheat food but there is data that was required by the New York City Council on whether the school has a separate cafeteria or not whether they're using a gymnasium or other rooms to serve the meals in and that is i opening because a lot of schools actually don't have the space to serve and the City Council required data on the hours that kids eat lunch so that's now publicly available and they did that deliberately because their constituents were telling them that their kids were eating lunch at 10:00 a.m. and city councilors feel that they can easily legislate for more data because it doesn't technically cost the agency anymore and they don't actually have a budget allocation for that legislation but they can show their constituents that they're actually making progress in in creating change by arming their constituents with the data that then they can go to the principal and complain about so that answer a couple of your questions yeah really important important questions and we do have the the cafeteria inspection data which shows whether there are you know mechanical or other kinds of violations in the cafeteria that are yeah absolutely so this has been fantastic Nevin do you have any very very quickly sorry just we're ending on school eating environments which is of interest to me so you've mentioned the 10:00 a.m. thing a couple times and also settings where they've eaten is the 10:00 a.m. an effort to do a staggered lunch so that the students are eating in better settings know if you have 3000 kids in one small cafeteria that's the only way you can fit them in so it is a staggered yeah yeah yeah and and and and and schools don't get reimbursed unless kids are served lunch and so even if the kids aren't hungry enough to eat the food the schools would rather serve them and get reimbursed than fiscal issue things you want to say I think the questions of cost and complexity are really important and you raised that earlier today and I'm not making light of how difficult it is to actually access and use and use data my only response is that we need to actually figure out ways to work together and find the skills that are needed to use this data and they're all around just like the data are hidden in plain sight there are data nerds in every campus around the country and in lots of places you wouldn't expect and we need multiple Neven codes to make it thank you so much we have about another half an hour and there's some refreshments outside so we invite you to join in that if you have time and perhaps have a chat with Barbara and/or Nevin and anybody else in the room obviously and I just like to say thanks again for making the trek at Nevin it was incredibly enriching to find out about your work and to see how we can really use data in really creative ways to move the needle on social and eco activism so I'm really thank you [Applause] you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *