What is a food system?

A food system consists of all the land, soil, water and air that supports important plant, fungi and animal species that provide us with our food. All parts of the food system are inseparable and ideally function in healthy interdependent relationships to transfer energy through the food system and economy. Food dependency holds political as well as economic dangers: any community that cannot feed itself is at the mercy of whoever does. We encourage initiatives to re-establish local community food systems where food is harvested, taken care of, prepared, preserved, and shared among individuals and families within community, based on principles of interdependency, respect, reciprocity, diversity and ecological sustainability. Community food systems are rooted in the sharing of information, skills, and resources among the local inhabitants. A food system is the deliberate organization of the production, processing, distribution, selection and consumption of food. The dominant food system in North America is industrial: that is, it emphasizes mechanical over organic and a capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive production, processing and distribution methods. It is oriented toward global trade rather than the satisfaction of local needs, and is controlled by a handful of large transnational corporations.

A rainbow of tomatoes. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris (http://brianharrisphotography.net).

What is wrong with our food system?

We are outraged at the level of hunger and malnutrition in a society where food is plentiful. In a wealthy society, social welfare payments which do not assure personal food security are unacceptable. We cannot rely on overburdened and understocked food banks; nor can we continue to implement support programs which leave out critical constituencies (eg. babies between 6 months and 5 years old). The contamination of breast milk is an appalling symbol of one of the major problems in a system which can be described as “abuse of the planet”. Genetic engineering of food and seeds must be stopped. The high level of corporate and external control of our food system, coupled with “free trade” agreements, is undermining local agriculture and food production. It also leaves us highly vulnerable to an emergency since we do not have control of our own food resources. We are losing the essential arts of farming, gardening, foraging, identifying edible and medicinal plants, cooking, preserving and storing foods, and the cultures and community sharing that have accompanied them. The connection of food and food security to every sector and level of society is ignored as governments and ministries contradict or undermine one another’s actions, and community groups are given no voice in policy-making. This must change! We need an agri-food policy which crosses jurisdictions to provide the framework within which it is easier for individuals to make good choices. The motto should be partnership among Ministries, various levels of government, and the civil society organizations which are taking leadership in food security work.

What can we do about our food system?

To create a sustainable food system, we need:

  • individual access to affordable, appropriate, and nutritious food;
  • the capacity of the region to produce food in a manner which does not threaten the health of the environment nor the workers.

To have genuine choice about what we eat, we need:

  • access to adequate amounts of high quality food that have been grown or harvested in the local region;
  • accurate information about food through nutrition education and labeling (including such environmental and food issues as irradiation and genetic engineering);
  • access to locally-grown, organic and whole foods;
  • traditional foods available in quantity and quality necessary for Indigenous peoples.

To create a democratic food system, we need:

  • public participation in policy making;
  • support for the grassroots movements and organizations that combat the negative effects of current food policy and create alternatives.

The good news is that thousands of people around BC and elsewhere are taking an active role in changing their food system. This takes many shapes: backyard gardening, community kitchens, traditional methods of gathering and harvesting foods, pre-natal nutrition programs, policy and advocacy, and more. There is room for everyone in this movement.