How did food systems develop?
Food systems first emerged with the beginning of civilization, when agriculture enabled permanent settlements. Now humans could grow more crops and raise more animals than they needed to feed they own families. The ability to produce a surplus changed human culture; instead of constantly moving to find new sources of food, like earlier hunter-gatherers, cultivating grain enabled storage and later consumption or sales. This was the beginning of food systems.
Throughout history, food systems have constantly evolved and become more complex. The emergence of cities with large populations requiring big quantities of food, and advances in food storage, preservation and transportation, have changed the system for producers, consumers and policy makers. The Industrial Age brought a shift from manual work to machines and increased agricultural productivity substantially. Colonialism, wars and globalization had further impacts on the food system. It changed from “supply-driven” to “demand-driven” and global food trade provided an opportunity to import foods for which there was a demand and export certain foods for which there was little to no domestic demand.
What’s wrong with the Conventional (Global) Food System?
Conventional food systems aim to maximize efficiency in order to lower consumer costs and increase overall production. Mechanized agriculture, chemical fertilizers, the processing of foods and the packaging require fossil fuels. Furthermore, since industrialized agriculture relies on producing huge amounts in order to reduce production costs, local, regional or even global ecosystems are compromised through fertilizers, pollution and greenhouse gas emission. Also, in order to reduce costs, companies outsource production (steps) to countries where economic costs (labor, taxes) are lower or that have less environmental regulations, which again increases CO2 emissions for transportation. The globalization of food production can further result in the loss of traditional food systems, ecosystems and cultures in those countries.
What’s different about the Alternative (Local) Food System? Read more about that here!
Halweil, B. (2002). Home Grown: The case for local food. Worldwatch Paper 163. Retrieved Sept. 20, 2012