The Political and Economic Realities of Food System Sustainability

Authored by: Christina Ciambriello , Carolyn Dimitri

The Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Food and Gastronomy

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415702553
eBook ISBN: 9780203795699
Adobe ISBN: 9781134457335


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Food is necessary for sustaining human life. Yet the system that produces and distributes our food has many elements that contribute to food system unsustainability. These factors, known as externalities, are associated with the various stages of food production, distribution, and consumption, and impose social costs on the ecosystem and human health. Starting from the farm, social costs incurred depend on the farming system adopted: the act of producing food necessarily disrupts the ecosystem, but a link between specific farming practices and ecosystem health is well documented (Jackson, 2002; Tilman et al., 2002; Reganold et al., 2011). Humans are similarly vulnerable, as human health depends on the quality and quantity of food consumed. Obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases are increasing around the world, even as disparities in access to food vary by socioeconomic status (WHO and FAO, 1990; Walker et al., 2010). In the US, food system workers are particularly prone to food insecurity, partially due to low incomes. Farm laborers receive low wages and work in poor conditions, lacking the power to negotiate a better circumstance because they are often undocumented (Martin, 2012). A large share of food system workers, or those who work in restaurants and supermarkets, earn incomes below the poverty level and rely on federal nutrition benefits (Allen and Sachs, 2013; Food Chain Workers Alliance, 2013).

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