our food system
Soil to soil. Farm to fork. A food system is many things, but ultimately, it's the path food travels to get to you and me. It's the web of activities, resources, and most importantly, people involved along the way. Our food system includes how we produce, supply, consume, and dispose of food in Tompkins County.
Social, cultural, political, economic, health, and environmental conditions influence our local food system. A thriving local food system provides healthy food for all people, economic opportunities for businesses and individuals, and supports ecological and climate resilience through healthy soil, air, and water.
The people who grow and raise the food we eat are at the heart of our local food system. Farmers and farmworkers, ranchers, and growers work in relationship with the land and natural environment to provide the foundation of food for our community.
Most food goes through several steps before reaching the store shelf or our table. Transportation, processing, aggregation, distribution, storage and packaging are considered ‘infrastructure.’ Taken together, these activities can also be thought of as ‘food manufacturing’ - taking a raw commodity and converting it into a new food product.
Anywhere you buy or access food. Retailers include grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, specialty markets, institutional food service, farmers' markets, restaurants, schools, and hunger relief centers such as food pantries.
food access & security
Food is accessible when it is affordable and community members can readily grow or raise it, find it, obtain it, transport it, prepare it, and eat it. (From Healthy Food Policy Project). Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (World Food Summit, 1996)
Despite the abundance of food available in Tompkins County, many families struggle to regularly access and afford enough healthy, culturally appropriate food. A number of low-income residents benefit from programs like food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women Infants and Children), though these programs aren’t always enough. Furthermore, many residents fall in a gap - earning too much to qualify for public food assistance programs, but struggling to stretch a limited food budget. Private food assistance programs like area food pantries, Mutual Aid food cabinets, Loaves and Fishes, and many others help residents in need to access and afford food.
Food sovereignty, an idea developed by Via Campesina and brought to the public in 1996, takes these ideas and actions further. Many in our community share a vision and are working towards food sovereignty for all citizens.
“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” – Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007
Everyone eats, and is therefore central to the food system. People eat to sustain themselves, but eating is an act far more complex than mere survival. Food choices play an important role in our health, well-being, social connections, cultural heritage, and celebrations. Consumers make important daily decisions about the food they feed themselves and their families, which affect the community’s overall physical, economic, environmental, and social health. As more people learn about the challenges of the global food system, many are becoming empowered “food citizens,” learning more about where their food comes from, “voting” with their forks, and taking control of their health.
National studies show that 40% of all food produced is never eaten. Food waste occurs throughout the food system for various reasons:
Crops are lost due to pests, droughts or bad weather, a shortage of farmworkers to harvest, or a surplus that doesn’t meet demand
Produce is discarded because it doesn’t meet consumer expectations (size, color, shape, etc)
Edible parts like skins, peels, fat are discarded
Food is wasted at home when consumers buy more than is needed, forget food in the fridge, or discard food that is past expiration but otherwise edible.
Serve large portions that often can’t be finished in one sitting.
Grocery stores often keep shelves fully stocked for appearances, even if that means food spoils before it can be sold. Stores also discard food that is past “sell by” date even when food is edible
Wasting food is a misuse of valuable human and natural resources. Wasted food is a missed opportunity to feed the millions of Americans who struggle with food insecurity. Food is the single largest component of solid waste in landfill and incinerators - and a major source of the greenhouse gas methane. Farmers, retailers, and restaurants miss opportunities to profit when food is wasted.