For the InstructorThese student materials complement the Future of Food Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.
Food Systems: Environments, Production, Distribution, and Household Utilization of Food
The introductory section below is adapted from "Chapter 3: The food system and household food security" at the document website of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
This section attempts to describe the parts of a food system in basic terms, starting from the standpoint of the systems approach. It begins, "the perception underlying the systems approach is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any situation is viewed in terms of relationships and integration. A food system may thus include all activities related to the production, distribution, and consumption of food that affect human nutrition and health (see Figure 10.1.1, which is reproduced from module 1).
Food production comprises such factors as the use of land for productive purposes (land use), the distribution of land ownership within communities and regions (land tenure), soil management, crop breeding and selection, crop management, livestock breeding and management and harvesting, which have been touched on 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 child feeding practices), food exchanges and gift giving and public food distribution. Activities related to food utilization and consumption include those involved in the preparation, processing, and cooking of food at both the home 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, e.g. food processing, communication and education, there is substantial overlap and interlinkage. For example, household decision-making behavior with regard to food is influenced by nutrition knowledge and by cultural practices with regard to food allocation within the household as well as by purchasing power and market prices."
Credit: Steven Vanek, adapted from Combs et al. 1996. Sustainable Food System Approaches to Improving Nutrition and Health. available at: http://www.css.cornell.edu/FoodSystems/Tuftspap.html
Food systems are further embedded in environments and societies (thus, both natural and social/political contexts) which differ according to a variety of factors such as agroecology (the composition of the local agroecosystem, see previous modules), climate, social aspects, economics, health, and policy. The model presented in Figure 10.1.1 above is useful in conceptualizing the various activities that determine food security and nutritional well-being and the interactions within the food system."
Two important features that we want to emphasize in the passage above from the FAO are first, the fact that food systems involve processes at multiple scales (e.g. local agroecosystems, government policy at a national scale, international research and technology development), which eventually have many impacts at a household scale, either in the livelihoods of food producers (who gain income from the food system and also consume food); and also for consumers around the world. Second, criteria with which we should evaluate food systems are their ability to deliver nutrition and health outcomes (see e.g. module 3), and also the sustainability of natural resources and environments, which we will consider in module 10.2. We note that these criteria of environmental sustainability and health are at opposite ends of this "conveyer belt" model of food systems, where the food system "conveyer belt" can be said to deliver nutrition and health outcomes by transforming the inputs from natural resources and environments. These health and nutrition outcomes are associated with the concept of food security (sufficient access to appropriate and healthy food) which was introduced in module 3 and will be further explored in module 11. Human health and environmental sustainability correspond roughly to the positive objectives that we conceive of for the human system and natural systems, respectively: health and equitable nutrition (or food security) in the human system, and environmental sustainability of natural systems. A final observation from Fig. 10.1.1 is that food systems are ubiquitous and touch on all aspects of human societies. We are all participants in food systems, either as producers, consumers, in distribution, or in other myriad ways.