Food chains or food webs?

The choice is becoming starker as we learn more about the impacts of industrial food delivered through long food chains. Do we want to support industrial food delivered through long food chains or sustainable food systems closer to home? This is the first of a series of extracts from Our Food Story. But first, here is Pete Russell personalising the shift from a long food chain to a food web advocate.

Food chains are the food system manifestation of supply chains. Globalised food chains are long food chains (LFC), while localised food chains are short food chains (SFC).

Short food chains

SFCs generate closer relationships between producers and consumers enabling the re-socialising of food. SFC offer consumers food with known provenance and enhanced quality. Critically, SFCs open opportunities for revitalising rural communities (Marsden, Banks, & Bristow, 2000). Face to face interactions between producers and consumers collapse the power-differences inherent in complex, globalising LFCs. (Feagan, 2007). Continue reading

Our food story

Our Food Story

Today Our Food Story, an investigation into Northland’s food system is being published. It surfaces a compelling vision of the benefits accruing from a more connected and local food system. The executive summary from the document is reproduced below.

Thank you to my co-researcher Eloise Neeley for her superb work over summer to enable this report to happen.

Executive summary

We all eat it, and food has been fundamental to our economies for millennia. This report reveals opportunities to reshape our local food system with strong economic and social benefits. It is difficult to think of another industry as pervasive as the food industry. On the production side, it provides an economic base across our region, rather than being concentrated in Whangarei and Northland’s towns. On the consumption side it feeds whanau, but also patients in health facilities and customers in cafes, restaurants and hotels.

We are currently far from optimising the potential of the food system. Food distribution is dominated by corporations who primarily operate here to extract dividends for their shareholders, rather than support a “sticky economy”. Fast Food chains (also here to extract dividends) and supermarkets sell food that is often nutritionally deficient generating a plethora of diet based disease. The average weekly spend of New Zealand households is $61.90 on alcoholic beverages, tobacco and ready to eat foods, but only $22.60 on fruit and vegetables. Shifting this equation even minimally will have positive impacts.

This report focuses on food produced for local consumption. It integrates data from desktop research and interviews of 32 people involved in food production, consumption and outlets. It reveals opportunities to improve returns to growers while creating a stronger value proposition for food outlets. There are also exciting opportunities for added value processing. Data from two U.S. locations identify actual and potential new jobs generated by a re-invigorated local food system equating to between 233 and 477 jobs for Northland. The economic benefit of substituting 20% of produce imported into the region with local food sold through local food distributors and outlets, this would equate to additional economic benefits of $27.7 to $55.4 million annually for Northland.

The synergies between employment and enterprise generation, social cohesion and the potential to revolutionise positive health outcomes remain largely unexplored in Northland centres. We offer this report as a platform to generate momentum towards a more robust food system.

Our recommendations are:

  1. Investigate the feasibility of food hubs in Whangarei and other Northland Centres.
  2. Convene a regional discussion on the local food economy.
  3. Promote local food.

You can access a copy of the report here. Our Food Story: Understanding the market dynamics of fruit and vegetable production, distribution and produce outlets in Northland