Sustainable Food Systems | 4 mins read

Why Sustainable Food Systems Matter

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Cynthia Vespia

By Cynthia Vespia

What Sustainable Food Systems Are

A sustainable food system refers to a measure of achievement put in place to establish food security, nutrition and health. The perceived goal is to have these food systems in place without impacting the environment and simultaneously improving socio-economic welfare.

Therefore, sustainable food systems protect the well-being of ecosystems and humanity concurrently. With these types of systems in place and monitored they can provide foods that aren't just safe but also nutritionally sound, culturally acceptable, healthy and affordable.

A sustainable food system is made up of an integrated network of components. It's built on the following principles-

  • Secure and resilient to outside disturbances like harsh climate or rising prices.
  • Affordable and accessible to each member of society regardless of social class.
  • Energy efficient
  • Stimulates the economic growth for farmers and communities.
  • Environmentally beneficial or does no harm.
  • Employs conservation strategies.
  • Food imports are balanced with local.
  • Agricultural practices are regionally-appropriate.
  • Organic or working towards becoming organic.
  • Makes equal contributions to ecological and community health.
  • Recycles waste to rebuild farmland soil.
  • Supports both rural and urban food production in multiple forms.
  • Opens food processing to local farmers.
  • Preserves the biodiversity of crops and ecosystems
  • Educates on agricultural issues
  • Provides a fair wage to local food producers and to those abroad.


A sustainable food system starts in a pre-production stage. It will include genetic resources and their ability to improve productivity. The quality of livestock and crops becomes markedly improved for the future.

Innovations in agricultural are also developed in these beginning stages like protection of soils and fertilizers. This helps farmers continue to thrive with income boosts even during difficult times.

Why Sustainable Food Systems Are So Important

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Food systems have a direct impact on economic activity. The food itself is an energy source in more ways than one. In the past, macroeconomists believed the agri-food industry took care of all global food matters. However, in 2020 the world food system took a hit due to COVID-19.

With closures affecting the majority of industries around the world, it created panic buying. This highlighted the unbalanced nature of the current food systems. Furthermore, it showed the fragility of the global food supply chain in the face of unrest.

Harvesting, producing, and packing food was halted either due to illness or mandated closures. Some supplies continued to build up and went unused, wasting food because restaurants, bars, and other businesses couldn't facilitate them. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program expect to see more troubling accounts unless matters are resolved.

How to Make Food Systems Strong Post COVID
Lessons from the 2020 crisis are being used to implement new ideas to an apparently shaky food network. Redesigns of the current food systems are being geared towards true sustainability and resiliency. With the complex nature of the food systems, there are multiple, ongoing challenges to address before true solutions are found. Some things to consider improving are-

  • Being Prepared- Disaster preparation needs to look closer at incorporating sustainable food systems. Moving away from being so reliant on global supply chains and towards more regional and local supplies is a good first step. Food systems that are more diverse will foster resilience through a combination of regional and global supply chains but first local systems.

  • Systems thinking- A systemic approach that focuses on sustainable food systems that are reliable should be at the heart of food policy. Current food systems use piece-meal thinking that doesn't have the growth to meet more than 820 million. Building local can approach many of the current problems. Agro-ecology and regenerative agriculture should be used whenever possible.

  • The centrality of knowledge sharing- Knowledge sharing across generations helps to maintain skills that are under the threat of being lost to automated sources. Valuing practices build solidarity throughout communities. This type of knowledge should be treated as a science.

  • Fact-based decision-making- System-based research will have data available that shows true evidence of what works and the reasons as to why.


  • Recognize the right to food- Government needs to fulfill its obligations to citizens by providing their right to food as international law. Before a disaster strikes, there need to be policies in place that address hunger and food insecurity.
Together, these considerations must be enacted through multi-actor coordination across governance scales, from global bodies to national, regional, and municipal governments, to local communities.

Conclusion to Sustainable Food Systems

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  • A sustainable food system is a collaborative network that integrates several components in order to enhance a community's environmental, economic and social well-being
  • Building on lessons and good practices that emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can take steps now to allow more resilient adaptation to future crises and perhaps even mitigate such crises, which are sure to include complex systems linking agriculture, food, health, and climate.
  • A sustainable food system starts in the pre-production stage. It will include genetic resources and their ability to improve productivity.
  • Food systems are needed not only for the restaurant industry but for the environment.

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