CIAS Senior Researcher Michelle Miller contributed greatly to an article recently published in The Badger Herald discussing the challenges and flaws in the current food system, examining the impact of climate change, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the dynamics between large and small farms.
Miller points out that climate change is affecting crop growth and harvest seasons, making the food supply chain more unpredictable. The pandemic further exposed vulnerabilities in the system, with disruptions in production and labor due to illness and the need for social distancing measures.
The article delves into the historical context of the current food system, tracing its origins back to World War periods when food shortages led to rationing. Despite past concerns about feeding a growing population, the system has adapted, retaining some cost efficiencies but facing limitations due to resource constraints.
The “leaky” food system, as described by Miller, is criticized for its overreliance on a few large meat processors, causing inefficiencies and lack of diversity. Engineered and human systems are noted to be linear, creating path dependencies that limit adaptability. Miller emphasizes the importance of a more resilient and diverse food system.
Climate change’s impact on agriculture is discussed, with warmer growing seasons leading to longer cultivation periods but also presenting challenges like flooding and unpredictable weather patterns. The article stresses the need for better understanding and preparation for the complexities of climate change.
Food waste is identified as a significant contributor to climate change, particularly when it ends up in landfills and produces methane gas. The article emphasizes the importance of recognizing the connection between wasted food and its environmental impact.
The intersection of economic growth and food insecurity is explored, with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) highlighted as a crucial resource for vulnerable households. The article suggests that addressing economic challenges is essential for reducing food insecurity.
The dynamics between big and small farms are discussed, emphasizing the power imbalance and lack of recourse for small farmers in the current system. The absence of a middle-sized market is identified as a challenge in supporting small farmers effectively.
The article concludes by discussing potential improvements in the food system, including the importance of adapting to climate change, expanding SNAP benefits, and fostering a more resilient and interconnected supply chain. Individual behavioral changes, such as understanding composting practices, are also highlighted as ways to contribute to a more sustainable food system.
Read the full article here.