Food Systems & the Environment

This project, created by students in Judy Layzer's "Food Systems and the Environment," stems from the observation that the current system of food production in the United States is environmentally unsustainable and socially inequitable. The site provides a basic understanding of the flaws that plague the current food system and provokes thinking about how we might transform that system into one that is more resilient and fair.

The project is divided into four major sections:

Food Production Today
The contemporary food system in the United States is fully industrialized—from the production of crops and animals to transportation, processing, and retailing. Parts of the system are also heavily subsidized, either through price supports for commodities or as a result of failures to charge for the health and environmental costs of food production. We focus on the problems associated with the main elements of industrial food production: raising crops and domestic animals and harvesting wild fisheries.

Stopgap Solutions
Mainstream scholars and commentators have offered a variety of “solutions” that promise to salvage the industrial food-production system, including more effective pesticide regulation, precision irrigation, genetically modified organisms, industrial organic, improved regulation of CAFOs, and aquaculture. With some exceptions, these solutions will provide life support to the industrial system, slowing its demise but failing to remedy either its main environmental impacts or the social and economic inequities it generates.

Systemic Solutions
Food production that capitalizes on energy from the sun and is integrated with regional ecological processes is likely to be more sustainable and resilient than the current system of industrial-scale food production. Done properly, urban agriculture and indoor farming may also supplement a regionally based agricultural system.
Mechanisms For Change
Here, we consider mechanisms that hold the promise (although not the guarantee) of transforming the food system—from an industrial system reliant on fossil fuels to one rooted in regional ecological processes and dependent on solar energy. Some of these mechanisms involve voluntary behavior change; others depend on government policies—like farm bill reform or carbon pricing—to induce changes in the behavior of food consumers, producers, and suppliers.