Seeking a Just and Sustainable Food System for West Michigan
Food Systems Council

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The Importance of Understanding the Food System

Food is among the most basic of human needs, yet what is most basic often gets overlooked.

Research shows that no region or locality nor our nation as a whole has in place a comprehensive vision or plan for food security or sustainability. As a result, the activities of our food system are often harmful to life and living systems, unjust in its allocation of food, wealth and concern for farmers and farm labor and appears to be unsustainable.

Over last century there have been dramatic changes in the processes that ultimately puts food on our tables. While overall productivity has increased dramatically, it has come at a cost, with negative, far-reaching implications.

What is the Food System?

The industrial food system can be thought of generally as that vast interconnection of farmers, food brokers and wholesalers, food processing companies, distribution, marketing and retail businesses, that deliver domestic, imported and exported food (Kneen, et al., 1997). The IFS also includes chemical and seed companies, agricultural machine companies, federal and state governments and university research institutions. It also includes land, water, the natural and genetic stock of plants, pollinators, the wind, nitrogen cycles and many other irreplaceable ecosystem services.

In the United States, our food has become almost exclusively supplied through a vast system of large-scale producers, processors, distributors and marketers, what Brewster Kneen, et al., have termed, "the industrial food system" (IFS). This system is not local, but national and global in scale. Corporations rather than communities, hold political and financial power over the agriculture that provides a regionŐs sustenance. As a result there occurs a disconnect in the communityŐs participation and understanding of the processes of the food system and their consequences.

Food Councils - A First Step

As a response, concerned communities throughout the United States, Canada and other places have established what are called food policy councils (FPCs). The membership of these councils is comprised of representatives from farming, hunger prevention, retail food, nutrition education, food processing, sustainable agriculture, religious, health, government and environmental communities among others. FPCs monitor and assess their city or regionŐs food system and work toward one that is more just, effective, local and sustainable one.

Information on food policy councils:

Here are some examples of food policy councils and food system organizations:

Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council

c/o West Michigan Environmental Action Council
1514 Wealthy Street SE - Suite 280
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 451-3051 -3054 (fax) or