State and local governments are enacting policies designed to fight against climate change, including New York City.
A May 16 article claiming America’s largest city is tracking residents’ food purchases and “imposing caps on red meat” went viral on social media. Some people have referred to this as “food fascism” and have suggested the city’s government is tracking individual credit and debit card purchases to create a “social credit system” in which it can decide what individual people can eat.
Brenda emailed VERIFY wondering if these claims are true.
Is New York City tracking household food purchases or limiting individual consumption of red meat?
No, New York City is neither tracking household food purchases nor limiting individual consumption of red meat.
WHAT WE FOUND
New York City is not tracking household food purchases or capping the amount of red meat individuals can consume.
The claims originated from an article that references an April 17 news release from the New York City Office of the Mayor. But the release doesn’t support the claim that the city is tracking food purchases, nor does it say the city is “imposing caps” on how much red meat New Yorkers can eat.
The release actually unveiled the city’s annual citywide greenhouse gas emissions data, which measures where New York City’s emissions are coming from and tracks the city’s progress in reducing them. The mayor’s office also announced a new initiative to reduce food-related emissions from city agencies.
The claim: Tracking household food purchases
The first part of the claim — that New York City is tracking household food purchases — comes from a part of the release announcing that, for the first time, New York City is including emissions from “household consumption” in its latest annual greenhouse gas emissions report. But this data comes from anonymized surveys done by the federal government, not from tracking every New Yorker’s individual eating habits.
In February, EcoDataLab, a company which produces climate research and data for governments and organizations, released the 2023 New York City emissions report. This report is the source of this “household consumption” data, which it says measures emissions caused by consumer spending.
And while that includes emissions caused by food spending, EcoDataLab isn’t snooping through people’s grocery lists.
“We do not track or collect any individual's food (or other) purchases,” Ben Gould, president of EcoDataLab, told VERIFY in an email. “Our data is based on the US Consumer Expenditures Survey, which is a nationwide (voluntary) survey of households that self-report their expenditures on goods and services over the course of one week. These data are aggregated and anonymized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
The report’s methodology further explains that EcoDataLab estimates household consumption emissions by using this survey, demographic information, local energy data and economics, plus household size and income, vehicle ownership, home size, educational attainment and home ownership to estimate household consumption and emissions.
EcoDataLab then puts that data together to create emissions data for neighborhoods and census tracts. It does not publish emissions estimates for individual households.
“In other words, we start with national averages and then adjust based upon differences between the average New York City household (or average household for a given census tract) and the average U.S. household,” Gould said.
The claim: “Caps on red meat”
The second part of the claim — which suggests New York City is imposing caps on red meat based on this data — is based on an effort announced in the press release to cut food-based carbon emissions across New York City’s agencies and institutions by 33% by 2030. But the release says nothing about capping red meat to accomplish this goal.
The news release does not use the words “red meat” or “beef.” “Meat” is mentioned twice, but in both instances it’s to explain that meat has an outsized impact on carbon emissions produced from food. The release frequently touts plant-based meals as a way to reduce emissions, particularly noting the city’s success with such meals in hospitals and schools.
The city’s existing food standards do limit the beef in meals served at city government facilities and programs to two servings a week. These standards were last updated in 2022 and do not reflect a change made in response to the city’s recently announced initiative. The standards apply to schools, senior centers, homeless shelters, child care centers, after school programs, correctional facilities and public hospitals.
New York City does not have any existing limits on how much red meat an individual person or household can eat. It also doesn’t limit the amount of red meat served by private companies and organizations like restaurants.