We Must Help Farmers Prepare for a Transformed Climate. This Scientist is Showing Us How.
A Q&A on food justice and security with Sonali McDermid, PhD
Before she started thinking about the future of food, climate scientist Sonali McDermid, PhD, studied the ancient past. Specifically, the Pleistocene era, a period 3 million years ago when warming global temperatures changed the Earth’s climate. For McDermid, it was impossible not to draw comparisons to the present — and think about the billions of people who would be affected by such a shift today.
Meanwhile, she was also thinking about food: where it comes from, who gets to eat it, and what will happen to it as the climate changes. She fused these interests over time, and now she’s an assistant professor of environmental studies at New York University, where she studies the role of agriculture in climate change. Much of her work is aimed at helping small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa prepare for a much warmer future.
Food justice, for McDermid, is a critical aspect of this research, an aspect that stemmed from her work in India, where her family is from. “When you look at how much we’re producing and, in some ways, how food-rich India is, and the fact that there are so many people who don’t have access all the time, the injustice behind that is just staggering,” she tells Future Human. “And you trace it back and it’s very structural.”
As the climate continues to change, global food insecurity is expected to increase. McDermid talked with Future Human about how she’s helping small farmers adapt to the changes they’re experiencing, the importance of empowering people at the local level, the challenges farmers everywhere face from governments and multinational corporations, and how everyone can do their part in dismantling food injustice amid the climate crisis, one plate at a time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Yasmin Tayag: Why are so many people unable to eat, and how does your work address it?
Sonali McDermid, PhD: [People] are having a hard time meeting food needs throughout the year just because of structural conditions. So, it’s the economics, political divisions, racial…