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SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS

Sustainable cuisine is a pattern of eating that derives from a sustainable food system and supports the goals of such a system. Sustainable cuisine is a way of eating that ensures rather than compromises the ability of future generations to enjoy an abundant, nourishing, wholesome, flavorful and safe food supply.

There are several potential goals of a sustainable food system:

Nourishment and food security. First, the primary goal of any food system is nourishment. In a sustainable food system, food will be available and accessible to all persons through local non-emergency sources.

Self-reliance. Sustainable food systems require that communities or regions achieve a degree of self-reliance in food, and explore the extent to which they can and should meet their own food needs.

Direct product/consumer links. In a sustainable food system, opportunities for consumers and producers to interact directly during transactions around food would be commonplace.

Maximal participation and business generation. Within a particular region, more food businesses would be established thus allowing more people to find employment in various segments of the food system.

Abundant natural and social capital. Sustainable community food systems can also protect and regenerate natural resources and build social capital.

Optimal amount of farmland, farms, and farmers. Clearly, no food system will be sustainable if land is not preserved for farming, if smaller farms aren't viable, and if farming isn't perceived as an economically attractive vocation for men and women.

Diversity, variability and decentralization. Diversity, variability and decentralization would be the pervasive tendencies, as opposed to the specialization, standardization and centralization that typifies much of the current global food system.

Socially just. The manner in which our food is produced and moves from field to table would be socially just.

Cause-based not symptom-based solutions. The search for solutions to the inevitable problems in the food system (such as pests in the farmersí fields and food insecurity in our communities) would focus on the causes of these problems (mono-cropping in the case of pests; lack of jobs and competitively priced food, and absence of competitively priced food stores in the case of food insecurity).

Rational public policies. Food and agriculture policies would ensure the sustainability of the food system by encouraging ecological farming practices and processing methods, decreasing barriers to local marketing, and embedding links to local agriculture in federal food assistance programs.

Based on these goals, a sustainable cuisine would feature foods that were grown in environmentally responsible ways. Foods would be processed, marketed, and consumed as close as possible to the farms on which it was grown. This cuisine would emphasize whole foods, minimally processed and packaged, and would be seasonally varied in accordance with the nearby agricultural production. Sustainable cuisine would not eliminate but treat as special items out-of-season imports and imports of food items that cannot be grown in the region. A sustainable cuisine would be a celebration of the agricultural potential of the place in which it is promoted. It would be in keeping with the US Dietary Guidelines and existing data on natural resource requirements for production of different commodities. Therefore, a sustainable cuisine would not necessarily eliminate animal products but be predominantly plant-based, incorporating animal products in a prudent manner and reflecting the essential role animals play in integrated farming systems.

There is tremendous need for and an absolute inevitability regarding a sustainable cuisine. Indications of unsustainability in the agriculture and food system are numerous. Many believe that human population growth and resource use have exceeded natural carrying capacity. By considering the natural resources (both local and global) used to feed a population, the ecological impact of keeping different groups of humans fed would be more evident. This is critical in order to determine long-term sustainability in our agriculture and food systems.

In daily life, individuals would consider where their food comes from and endeavor year around to choose foods (fresh, stored and processed) that are or could be grown on farms in their local region. Individuals would also de-emphasize highly processed and packed foods and emphasize whole foods in their plant-based diets.

Written by:
Jennifer L. Wilkins, PhD, RD,
Senior Extension Associate

Division of Nutritional Sciences
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14850-4401


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