Introduction to the food system

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Take a minute to consider all the things you have eaten today. What were some of the ingredients and where were they sourced? How was it made? What companies were involved?

Some of these questions may be difficult to answer, even after checking the label and various websites. Food and nutrients are intrinsic to our culture, daily life, and wellbeing. Yet, many of us accept our food sources at face value. It can be overwhelming to consider all the implications and sources of every pre-packaged meal and snack.

A “food system” is a term used to describe the processes to produce, package, transport, distribute, consume, and dispose of our food. The system also includes a variety of inputs from consumers, policies, businesses, and communities. National policies heavily influence the amount of support and subsidies that certain parts of the process receive.  Investment has a significant impact on federal agencies that develop the policies, such as the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The imbalance of power in the system is rapidly increasing the gap between food and people, both physically and cognitively. Large corporations are gaining far too much momentum without the consideration of the environment, communities, and health.

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The Food System – Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Social Issues Team and Elliott Kuhn (graphic artist), 2004.

The absurdly high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and food insecurity are a direct result of their policies. In 2012, 14.5% of households were food insecure, which means 49 million Americans are going hungry (Colman-Jensen, Nord, & Singh, 2013). In addition, the annual medical cost of obesity in the US is about $147 billion (Finklestein, Trogdon, Cohen, & Dietz, 2009). The issue is not with production, but with the distribution, access, and marketing of the wrong types of food. The “Value Menu” causes detrimental, hidden costs on all levels of the system.

Positive change must begin through the empowerment of farmers, consumers, and community initiatives to change the food culture of our nation. Local and regional markets of healthy produce help farmers diversify their supply. Building infrastructure that connects farmers to consumers will expand access to affordable, fresh food. Then, with real evidence and demand from around the country, we can change destructive food policies.

References:

Finkelstein, E. A., Trogdon, J. G., Cohen, J.W., & William Dietz. (2009). Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer-And Service-Specific Estimates. Health Affairs, 28(5). Retrieved from: Health Affairs.

Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., & Singh, A.. (2013). Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. USDA ERS. Retrieved from: USDA ERS.

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