Food Systems

Kevin Woo 4x5Kevin Woo, Metropolitan Center, SUNY Empire State College explains in this video and writes:

“Whether you like to cook or simply like to eat, food is vitally important. However, the notion that we merely need to consume food is a very small facet to our understanding of food systems as a whole. Indeed, we need to consider food across three important themes: the science, the culture, and the industry.”

“Where does our food come from?: From the farm to the market, most people see their food already packaged and processed. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, and only a generation earlier, people can recall growing their own produce, and raising their own livestock. The scientists who study agroecology, which is the examination of ecological principles as they apply to agriculture, investigate the interactions and processes to grow food. An understanding of the basic biological science behind plant and animal life history characteristics, and their relationship to environmental conditions help shape the quality and types of foods that farmers produce. Moreover, an important consideration to quality is the likely nutritional content found in our food. Over time, the conditions in which food is grown influences the bioaccumulation of both necessary and essential components, but may also carry harmful particles that are absorbed from the environment. Thus, it is important to understand the science behind growing our food.”

“Why do we eat the foods that we do?: It is easy to satiate our perceive hunger, but we selectively choose what to eat. We may be influenced socially through our peers, the media, and through mere observation. In particular, this modifies our behaviors and we may not always choose the best foods for us, but those that may satisfy other criteria, such as convenience, satiation, and affordability. However, people may also choose to eat select foods because of more informed reasons. For example, we may elect to subscribe to a particular diet because of what both scientific and anecdotal evidence have identified as the key benefits. Ultimately, we may all choose what to eat for very different reasons.”

“How does our choices of foods affect others?: When we consume food on a daily basis, we may have limited knowledge about the impact that our choices have on the food industry, both local and global. What we choose to purchase and consume has shaped the agricultural industry in the United States, and around the world. As a result, we are able to obtain all food products consistently around the year. However, our choices then tend to favor commercial production, over smaller and more sustainable farmers. Consequently, this approach has made it difficult for individuals to acquire affordable, sustainable, and healthier foods. This inequality in food distribution has sparked a movement for people to become more informed about their food: where does it come from?, how is it grown?, who grows my food?, can I grow my own food?, and how can I get involved?”

“Every individual may play a role in the food system, to how it is produced, distributed, and consumed. Hence, it is an important reminder that we are a significant part of how we eat.”

Below is a list of resources on this topic. Find a more complete list of resources with links for learning and teaching about this topic on our Pinterest site:
Follow Sustainability’s board Food Systems on Pinterest.


Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, (California Studies in Food and Culture), Marion Nestle

Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, James E. McWilliams

State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet (State of the World), The Worldwatch Institute

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan

Websites– Slow Food USA – Cornell Cooperative Extension: Agriculture and Food Systems