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The Case for a Nationwide Food System Renewal

Have you ever wondered how those pre-packaged baby carrots made it to your local grocery store? How a large, ugly orange root picked from the ground over a hundred miles away turned into the fresh, bite-sized, digestible snack neatly stacked in the refrigerated aisle? For the majority of urbanites, food production feels distant. It’s easy to forget that our favorite foods start on the farm and move up a complex supply chain before reaching our local stores and restaurants. But after COVID-19 shut down schools, restaurants, and other institutions, American’s witnessed first hand the drawbacks of a monopolized and secularized food system hellbent on efficiency.

In April of 2020, grocery stores around the country were struggling to fill their shelves while farmers were dumping their milk and euthanizing their animals. How on earth was food being wasted on such a massive scale at a time when 54 million Americans were facing food insecurity? The answer lies in our fragile food system that’s been in desperate need of a revamp since 1950.

During the Second World War, the main goal of food production was sustenance: to produce as many inexpensive calories that were safe from bacterial contamination as possible. To fulfill this goal, our government subsidized farms that produced only one or two crops at scale instead of farms that grew a diverse harvest. After the war, the priorities of the US food system never changed; government subsidies continued to favor mono crop farms that produce inexpensive staples like corn and wheat. Conglomerates thrived in this secularized method of farming, creating hyper efficient distribution networks to get their bulk monocrops to market by separating commercial orders from consumer orders.

While this method cuts cost, it also renders the system vulnerable to crises. When restaurants and schools closed in March, the large scale orders intended for commercial institutions had nowhere to go. The distribution network was too rigid to redirect the food meant for one supply chain to another. It was cheaper to let the food rot.

In order to cushion against future crises we need to re-establish the local food systems that undergirded rural communities in the past. COVID has shown us that farmers who nurture a diverse harvest fare better during crises. Not only does diversification leave famers less vulnerable to price swings, it also crowds out weeds, encourages beneficial insects, and increases soil moisture retention. By giving agency back to the rural communities who grow our food, our nation can create a more resilient food system that grows stronger communities and healthier foods.

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Acronym Guide

Food Insecurity readings and research use a variety of confusing acronyms. To make these readings more inclusive, I have complied a guide of commonly used acronyms I have come across: FI: Food Insecur


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