Food systems include the basics of what it takes to move food from point A to point B along a supply chain. From work and transportation to politics and climate, many factors influence how food gets from farm to table. Food production includes factors such as land use for productive purposes (land use), the distribution of land ownership within communities and regions (land tenure), soil management, crop improvement and selection, crop management, livestock breeding and management, and harvest, which have been covered in previous modules. Food distribution involves a series of post-harvest activities, including the processing, transportation, storage, packaging and marketing of food, as well as activities related to household purchasing power, traditions of food use (including practices of infant feeding), food exchange and gift giving, and public feeding (distribution).
Activities related to the use and consumption of food include those involved in the preparation, processing and cooking of food at both the household and community levels, as well as household decision-making regarding food, household food distribution practices, cultural and individual food choices, and access to health care, sanitation and knowledge. Among the components of the food system, for example,. Food processing, communication and education, there is substantial overlap and interconnection. For example, household decision-making behavior with respect to food is influenced by knowledge about nutrition and cultural practices with respect to food allocation within the household, as well as by purchasing power and market prices.
Food systems comprise the interactive parts of human society and nature that deliver food to homes and communities (see previous page), and can be used to understand food as it relates to the Earth system. To better understand food systems, the following exercise will ask you to consider a family food of your choice and the route that this food takes from where it is produced to the meals we eat every day. Within the food supply chain for this food, you will be asked to distinguish between the social aspects (human system) and the environmental aspects (natural system) of the food production and supply chain of that product. These may be much more comprehensive than their examples, but they give an idea of the range of possible answers).
This teaching material module is part of the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences OER initiative. Unless otherwise stated, the content of this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. People who live in food deserts may live far from grocery stores, have individual barriers to accessing food, or lack reliable personal or public transportation. Approaches that are now being touted as novel alternatives, such as local and organic food production, direct sales from farmers to consumers, and farmers' cooperatives, established traditional ways of producing food in many parts of the world long before European colonist colonialism.
When people work within a local food system, they automatically reduce the amount of packaging, waste and transportation required to produce, store and bring food to where it is sold. Conventional food systems are able to consistently provide safe and reliable food products from year to year, during all seasons, through a combination of technology, skill and organization. While much of the food produced in the United States depends on the conventional food system, the organic food system also covers the entire country, including farms, processors, distribution networks and retailers. Sales to local retailers or direct sales to end consumers also suppress some of the intermediate steps in the supply chain, where large food companies tend to capture profits, leaving more wealth in the hands of farmers.
The wholesale food industry buys processed value-added products from domestic and international producers and stores them in warehouses until they are ready to be delivered to food companies and supermarket shelves. In addition, some people who live with caregivers can't make decisions about what food to buy and eat. Alternative food systems are hailed today as a way to address the many negative consequences that perpetuate conventional food systems. Food products can be shipped hundreds, or even thousands, of miles before finally reaching the consumer.
The conventional food system in the United States is aimed at large industrial players, putting smaller producers at a significant disadvantage. Local food systems can be attractive to consumers who want to support farmers who prioritize high animal welfare standards and preserve local landscapes and resources. Environmentally sound food systems are those that aim to work in harmony with the earth to cause as little harm as possible. .