Twenty-five years ago, no one really spoke about “food systems.” The twentieth century was a time when society preferred to be specialized. Doctors studied medicine. Lawyers studied law. Enzymologists learned how enzymes work, and bugologists (Excuse me, I mean entomologists) were experts on, well, bugs. This trend was well established as early as 1911, when the Oxford scholar, William Warde Fowler expressed concern that society was learning “more and more about less and less.” In the current century, specialization continues to be important, but it is accompanied by a growing awareness of the need to think more broadly–to look beyond our area of expertise and consider how our part of the universe impacts (or is impacted by) everything else. Hence we find experts in everything from computer science and astrophysics to education and economics discussing systems thinking. There is no area of our life in which systems thinking is more important than in the daily choices we make about the food we put on our table.
Why is systems thinking around food so important? Because no matter how hard we try to mechanize and automate the production and distribution of food, we cannot change the reality that food comes from, and provides fuel for living systems.
A food system encompasses all the sites, industries and individuals involved in production, harvest, storage, preservation, preparation and consumption of food.
A healthy food system is one that ensures that the nutritional and functional components of food remain in tact throughout the system, and ensures that people have access to healthy food when they need it. It is a food system that things beyond sustainability to focus regenerative practices that leave the land and the people who live on it healthier than they were before.
In the 2018 premier episode of the Microbes, Minerals, and Mindset’s podcast, Mary Lucero and Tony Prangner Jr. discuss elements of food security that are missing from modern food systems. Ideas for restoring food systems by remineralizing soils, restoring microbial biodiversity to our soils and our guts, and adopting attitudes that support healthy lifestyles are the central themes of this biweekly podcast.
Keeping food systems healthy is critical for ensuring food security, and experts across the ages have agreed that food security-access to enough safe, nutritious food to live a healthy lifestyle-sets the foundation for the health and prosperity of every society. If we want to see health care costs decline, if we want to increase the number of students who succeed in our schools, if we want to reduce the mental health issues that contribute to violence, and if we want to increase the productivity of up to 50% of our adult population that suffers from chronic disease, we need to promote food systems that make it easier for people to choose healthy food than it is to choose the heavily processed, biologically inactive convenience products currently identified and sold as foods.