Understanding the Five Parts of the Food System

Food systems are the processes and activities that are involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of food. They include the basics of what is needed to move food from point A to point B along a supply chain. Food production involves factors such as land use, land tenure, soil management, crop reproduction and selection, livestock raising and management, and harvest. Food distribution includes post-harvest activities such as processing, transportation, storage, packaging, and marketing of food.

It also includes activities related to household purchasing power, traditions of using food, exchanging and gift-giving, and public distribution of food. The use and consumption of food involve activities related to the preparation, processing, and cooking of food at both the household and community levels. It also includes household decision-making with respect to food, household food distribution practices, cultural and individual food choices, and access to health care, sanitation, and knowledge. The five parts of the food system are production, distribution, use and consumption, processing, communication and education.

These components are interconnected and have an impact on each other. For example, household decision-making behavior with respect to food is influenced by nutritional knowledge and cultural practices with respect to the allocation of food within the household as well as by purchasing power and market prices. Food systems are ubiquitous; they exist in all parts of the world. They are also complex; they involve social (human system) and environmental (natural system) aspects of food production and supply chain.

Changes in food systems can have major economic effects on farmers, retail owners, and consumers. Tax policies can be used to discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods such as soft drinks and packaged highly processed foods. In large urban environments, food supply chains can be longer due to a greater need for processing, packaging, refrigeration, and more food loss. There is growth in the retail sale of luxury foods as well as in “fast and casual” restaurants which sell higher-quality fast food.

To better understand the five parts of the food system it is important to consider a family food of your choice and the journey that this food takes from where it is produced to the foods we consume every day. This will help you distinguish between the social (human system) and environmental (natural system) aspects of food production and supply chain.

Estella Gentges
Estella Gentges

Award-winning bacon trailblazer. Total internet nerd. Certified internet advocate. Devoted social mediaholic. Lifelong baconaholic.