What is the food system and how does it work?

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. The food system is a complex network of activities involving production, processing, transportation and consumption. Issues related to the food system include the governance and economics of food production, its sustainability, the degree to which we waste food, how food production affects the natural environment, and the impact of food on individual and population health.

Food takes a complex journey from farms, ranches and waterways to our plates. The journey begins with natural capital, such as soil, fresh water and the countless organisms that contribute to our food supply. Along the way, it can get through the hands of food safety inspectors, warehouse managers, grocery store owners, and many other people involved in food supply chains. The path to our plates is further influenced by the decisions of companies, scientists, policy makers and consumers.

The people, activities, inputs, products and results involved in bringing Ashley's meals to her plate are part of the food system. This is a critical time to hear the voices of children and young people. Not only does their future depend on a radical reform of our food systems, but they also have some of the best and brightest ideas about how these systems can better serve people and our planet. In addition, it is estimated that 35% of adults worldwide suffer from overnutrition that causes health problems, and the disparity in the global accessibility of food is evident.

Conventional agriculture is also responsible for injecting abundant meat supplies into the food system. And there is a tendency to think of food systems only as terrestrial systems, but it will be vital to expand the understanding of food systems to include their links to water cycles, oceans and fisheries. Therefore, the search for pathways of action must take into account a global concept of food systems. Knowing these connections can help people become “food citizens” who choose informed food (“vote with the fork”), advocate for policies, and even grow and process some of their own food.

The food service sector includes food served in restaurants, schools, coffee shops and the airline industry. 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. Too often, decisions about what foods are produced and how those foods are processed, packaged and promoted undermine the quality of what children eat. Food products can be shipped hundreds, or even thousands, of miles before finally reaching the consumer.

Because organic production is about practices rather than size, organic food systems can have a local or even international reach. The idea of a food system encompasses all the possible questions, challenges and consequences of food production and consumption. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that further impairs children's access to safe, healthy and nutritious food. These scenarios illustrate the problems of food insecurity, the impact of industrial livestock operations on communities and occupational hazards, some of the many public health challenges in the food system.

However, the production system that makes these food choices possible is often invisible to the final consumer. .

Ismael Slagter
Ismael Slagter

Unapologetic zombie ninja. Award-winning internet expert. Avid tv expert. Certified web scholar. Avid coffee expert. Infuriatingly humble pizza scholar.