The University of Michigan Sustainable Food Systems Initiative engages an interdisciplinary mix of students, faculty, and communities at local and global levels to learn from and build food systems that are health-promoting, economically viable, equitable, and ecologically sound.
Today’s global food system produces unprecedented quantities of food. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people lack adequate food to satisfy minimum standards of nutrition, despite more than adequate global supplies, a perplexing pattern that has been evident for many years. Even more perplexing is the irony that obesity has become a major health problem for some, even as hunger continues to plague others. Moreover, the industrial agricultural systems that developed during the past century are increasingly recognized as environmentally unsustainable, in many cases causing environmental degradation and substantial losses of biological diversity. For consumers, food safety has emerged as a critical issue and for producers — farmers and farm workers — workplace safety and unfair compensation threaten the sustainability of their livelihoods. A global food system that simultaneously produces hunger and obesity, generates significant collateral environmental degradation, and compromises the well-being of farmers and eaters alike, indicates the need for serious analysis and action.
This challenge has been partially met with the emergence of a new paradigm that emphasizes sustainability and social equity rather than profit and production at its core. Contributions to this new paradigm are already emerging from many sectors of society, especially at the grassroots level (e.g., growing interest in local and regional food systems, increased demand for organic and fair-trade products, reinvigoration of inner cities through urban agriculture, new business models such as community supported agriculture and farmers markets, etc.). Yet we still lack a coherent intellectual foundation to inform and guide the construction of a clear path toward a sustainable and equitable food system that:
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