What is a food system? | Education
As the holiday season approaches, my mind turns to all the delicious dishes that I will be preparing and enjoying with my loved ones. I also think about all the people and all the processes that contribute to the food that I can enjoy through all parts of the food system. So what exactly is a food system?
Our food system is global and interconnected, which means we trade with states across the country and countries around the world to have all of the food items we’re used to seeing throughout the year. When we think of the food system, most of us think of a limited number of sectors, or components, of the system, primarily food producers and food distributors, therefore primarily the beginning and end of the food cycle. All sectors play a role, however, and they include food production, distribution, processing, marketing and purchasing, preparation and consumption, and finally, waste recovery. When we talk about a food system, we are talking about how all of these aspects interact fully, for multiple foods and food products. With distribution, it is important to consider and use the factors that affect the distance up to which a product can be transported and kept food safe through proper temperature controls. Processing refers to any kind of alteration the food undergoes before it is placed on the market. It adds value to food products. Here, we can think of pre-cut and washed frozen jams and vegetables. Marketing is a key part of the successful sharing of food products with consumers because it helps communicate to consumers how and why they should choose to purchase specific food products. Resource and waste recovery refers to the ways in which food is used after its peak or if it is slightly out of date from a retail business, such as a grocery store.
All of these sectors of the food system work together and have an impact on the food products sold and consumed in a given place. In addition, there are external factors that impact the food system. These include social, economic, political and environmental influencers. Social influencers can also be referred to as cultural influencers, and they are often seen to impact consumers’ food choices, depending on what individuals, families, and communities know about and how we prepare the foods we eat. All of these influencers can include benefits or barriers and costs that are not included in the market price of goods and services. An example of barriers are the costs of natural resource depletion, pollution and other environmental and social factors that are often not factored into market prices for food. People have asked why grocery store products are often thrown away (neither composted nor donated) when they are past their prime, and this can be directly linked to policies focused on food security, by donating food that has past their peak, against regulation, which is a political or regulatory influence on our waste and recovery sector. We also only see products deemed flawless for grocery stores, contributing to food waste in the fields, products that are not flawless as our consumers tend to want flawless products which is a social influencer.
We are all affected by these relationships and events, whether or not we work in the food system, since we are all food consumers. There are specific regional, global and local contexts in which all of these sectors and influencers interact. The specific interactions in our local context play a direct role in how we can access food, where the food has been produced, and the impacts of this processing and distribution and waste recovery.
This winter I will be doing a series of articles on food systems, so look for the next article next month, where I will dig into local food systems and how they fit into the larger food system, along with their differences. In the meantime, I hope you will join me in reflecting on the impact of these sectors of the food system on your own life and food choices, our local food economy and our meals, this holiday season and beyond. .