What Is a Food System?


What are some of the elements around us that make up a food system? And what are some additional elements that make that food system work fairly for everyone? Here’s a little exploration.



Uncovering Opportunities for Innovation, Integration, & Engagement

When we talk about food systems, we’re talking about how food gets from farms to forks. We tend to describe these systems as a blend of five core elements: productionprocessingdistributionconsumption, & waste management. Simple enough, right? So, what opportunities for positive food system improvement spring to mind? They leave a little to the imagination, no? I mean, as far as descriptions go, the five elements are about as helpful as explaining music as simply a mixture of notes and silences.

Inspiring, isn’t it?

Painting with such broad strokes around complex concepts just isn’t terribly helpful; a fine start to be able to distinguish food systems from, say, polaroid cameras or combustible engines, but five elements alone do little in terms of stoking the imagination for better ways to move food from farms to forks.

If there’s more to good food systems than simply those five elements, what’s missing?

Here’s an idea. Let’s reverse our approach and start with a new question: What do you want a food system — yourfood system — to do? As the standard five elements apply categorically to any and every food system, a question like this invites us to think more intentionally about what a more ambitious food system (a good food system) might look like.