New York University
Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE)
Security and safety in food supply chains is critical to preventing the transmission of COVID-19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that the US food-supply system is vulnerable. As the pandemic forced restaurants to close, or dramatically curtail operations, the news reported that farmers were discarding products because the buyers (restaurants) were no longer buying. At the same time consumers are struggling to find products in the supermarkets. Restaurant-supply networks may play a larger role in the resilience and sustainability of the US supply network than people had thought. It is clear now that these food distribution networks likely have evolved independently to maximize efficiency, not resiliency to risks such as pandemics. Recognizing this problem, and the potential impact on the economy, jobs, and national security, the US government has invested billions of dollars to buy and redistribute food that farmers were discarding. This research will pinpoint weak links in the food-supply network during the COVID-19 pandemic by rapidly assessing disruptions in restaurant-supply network, which include restaurateurs, distributors, and producers. The team’s novel spatial, ethnographic, networks (SENs) approach will also advance supply chain management theory by quantifying difficult-to-reach components within supply chains. The goal is to provide actionable strategies that can identify how people can adapt and help create a more resilient and sustainable US Food System amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and avoid these disruptions in future unanticipated events. Finally, the project’s novel SENs approach will train students in research methods that can be rapidly applied to tackle unexpected changes in our global food system. Supply-chain scholars are calling for new theoretical developments that account for the complexities and dynamics, and provides visibility to hidden components in supply networks. This project will bridge the gap in knowledge through spatial, ethnographically-derived, networks (SENs). A multi-phase comparative research design is employed that allows the ability to maximize the comparison potential of the analysis along key dimensions: the onset and intensity of COVID-19 and the influence of regional supply distribution over time. The overall goal is to understand what are the structural and spatial characteristics of actors’ (restaurateurs’, distributors’, and farmers’) supply networks that lead to various outcomes (e.g., new business opportunities, more sustainable practices, staying in business, or closing shop). Key informant interviews will be used to design structured interviews that will be conducted at two points in time. A number of measures will be derived from these survey spatially-explicit food supply networks for key informants, including a Sourcing Diversity Index that characterizes distributor typologies, geography, and ego network measures. By capturing these disruptions at the onset, and throughout the pandemic, this project will be able to identify key areas of the food-supply network that are vulnerable, not only for this pandemic, but other global disruptions.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.