Sustainable Food Systems

Sustainable Food Systems

What They Are and How the Foodbank Contributes

By Amber Wright, Marketing Coordinator

 

When you sit down to enjoy a meal do you ever think about the steps it took for your food to reach your plate? Even before it is cooked in your kitchen, each of the ingredients undergoes a long journey of being grown, harvested, packaged, transported, stored, and sold. This process, known as a food system, is connected to many areas of life, affecting much more than just our waistlines.

sustainable food system is a process of providing food security and adequate nutrition for all people in a manner that allows the cycle to continue for future generations. To determine whether or not a food system is sustainable there must be analysis in three main areas: economic, social and environmental impacts.
Economic Factors

For a food system to be economically sustainable it must provide benefits to participants at every stage of production.

Farmers must be able to make a living by growing food and raising animals or they might stop producing these basic staples. They must provide their workers a livable wage to harvest, package, prepare and ship their goods. After that, retailers need to make money from distributing the products throughout the community at affordable prices for consumers.

Ensuring profitability at all stages not only provides employment, but it also provides incentive for food to be distributed farther than the immediate area where it originated. Taxes generate revenue for local governments, while the food supply can reach even isolated communities.

National and international trade has allowed for a wider range of food options for countless people, but the system is not perfect in the United States or globally. Supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war are a perfect example of how easily the current food system can be disrupted when there is an overreliance on imported goods and less utilization of locally sourced items.

Arguments surrounding the current minimum wage and tax systems vary in definition of what it means for workers to earn a sustainable living and how much companies are obligated to contribute to social welfare. Many researchers crunching the numbers have shown it is impossible for many minimum-wage workers to support themselves without government aid, while companies making record profits are accused of profiteering at the expense of consumers and employees alike.

 

 

Social Factors

For a food system to be socially sustainable it must have equitable distribution of all value produced in every stage of production. This covers many areas of human rights, such as regular access to healthy and nutritious food for consumers, labor rights for workers, and distribution of both food and employment to all demographics.

Enough food is produced globally to feed everyone in the world, but hunger persists because it is not distributed efficiently or equitably. An unreasonable amount of food goes to waste while people in all parts of the world struggle with food insecurity, malnutrition, or outright starvation.

Despite being among the wealthiest nations, countries like the US often contain numerous pockets of food deserts. These are areas with limited or no access to affordable and nutritious food. High crime rates, low-income averages and geographic isolation are a few of the factors that may deter grocery stores from setting up shop in certain neighborhoods because it is not seen as profitable. However, the effects on residents in these areas can be devastating.

Without a grocery store in the area people are often limited to the highly processed, low-nutritional foods commonly found at gas stations and dollar stores. Poor diets lacking essential vitamins and minerals are shown to lead to health problems. Sometimes a store might open in one of these areas, but inflated prices make it hard for people to get enough food for every meal. This further marginalizes a community in terms of poverty and health inequity, especially in low-income communities where barriers to transportation prevent travel to outside markets.

Food deserts are not the only element affecting public health. Streamlined, commercial production has greatly increased the presence of pesticides, antibiotics, and preservatives in food. All these things have negative health impacts when overconsumed. Mounting evidence also suggests that fruits and vegetables now contain fewer nutrients than they did in prior years.

Another aspect of social inequity within the food system is the distribution of employment and wages. The US, along with many countries across the globe, often displays systemic discrimination. Unemployment, low wages, and food deserts impact people of color more than white citizens. Jobs and resources are commonly denied because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or background. If these intolerances persist, they will prevent regular access to a nutritious diet for entire communities.

Labor conditions also vary by industry and country. In some areas of the world labor laws do not exist to protect the health and safety of the workers. Even in the US there are frequent reports of health and safety violations, such as those cited at meat packing plants in Upton Sinclair’s famous book The Jungle. These violations can not only affect the well-being of the employees, but the condition and quality food being handled. Tainted food can easily cause the outbreak of disease among consumers.

 

 

Environmental Factors

For a food system to be environmentally sustainable it must have a neutral or positive impact on the surrounding natural environment. This covers many aspects of environmental conditions, such as plant and animal health, biodiversity, water quality, soil quality, carbon footprint, water footprint, food waste and toxicity.

Climate change and ecological destruction are widely known issues relating to current food systems. Agriculture is currently the second largest contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. Many harmful toxins are released in a variety of ways, such as the use of fertilizer, land drainage, the natural digestion of livestock and manure management. In addition, many farming methods are dependent on the use of fossil fuels to run industrial equipment.

Ecological destruction is readily seen in agricultural practices like deforestation for farmland, which eliminates entire ecosystems and limits biodiversity to a handful of crops. Pollution ranges from the burning of fossil fuels to the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Industrial farming often leads to soil degradation and harmful additives to the groundwater.

Perhaps the most inexcusable problem of current systems is the amount of food that goes to waste. The UN estimates that 17 percent of total global food production is wasted each year. That equates to roughly 1.3 billion tons or $1 trillion. While some of this can be credited to poor harvesting techniques, more of it just goes bad from sitting unused for too long.

Food spoilage doesn’t just occur in the home of consumers. Food goes to waste on store shelves before it is sold, in the kitchens of restaurants or even during transit between places. The distance between the farm and the refrigerator of a consumer can be so great that a product may already nearing the end of its shelf-life when it arrives at a store. If it not sold, it oftentimes ends up being transported to a landfill.

The USDA identified 27 percent of the world population as food insecure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is this food loss devastating to the millions of people struggling with hunger, it is also a waste of the water and energy used to produce it. According to the UN, the food wasted each year accounts for 38 percent of total energy usage in the global food system.

 

 

What We Do at The Foodbank

We do our best at The Foodbank to align our work as a charitable food organization with the goals of a sustainable food system; we work to provide regular access to nutritious foods for everyone, not just for today, but for all the days that follow.

We have made intentional efforts to foster socio-economic well-being for our employees, as well as the communities they serve. The Foodbank chose to place company headquarters in the 45417 ZIP code, which was identified as the area in Dayton with the highest concentration of poverty. As of last year, we have contributed more than $3.5 million in economic investment to the West Dayton area.

Recognizing that the minimum wage is not sustainable, our organization set base pay much higher to provide a livable wage. We also follow the four-day work week model so that families can make doctor appointments, attend school functions and meet other obligations without always having to miss work.

Benefits are provided at little-to-no cost because we value the health and well-being of every person within our Foodbank family. So far, The Foodbank has contributed more than $2.7 million in payroll alone during the 2021 fiscal year. Additional perks such as a gym membership, weekly yoga classes, compost bucket program membership and Gem City Market membership are also given free of charge.

Our reentry program provides employment to individuals who have previously had interactions with the criminal justice system and who might otherwise face barriers to entering the workforce. Not only does this grant meaningful employment, but it also reduces recidivism rates, benefitting the community, the employee and subsequent generations connected to them.

We strive to maintain diversity among our team and welcome all voices to the table, regardless of race, age, religion, gender, sexual preference or political beliefs.  More than 690 hours were dedicated to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) training for our staff last fiscal year alone. We continue to focus on ways to incorporate this work in our operations.

Our community outreach might be the most recognizable work we do. Last fiscal year we distributed over 15 million pounds of food to more than 650,000 neighbors within our service area. We hold preference for locally sourced and nutritious foods, so 5.4 million pounds of our total was fresh produce harvested onsite or from local farms.

Some of our food sourcing is directly aimed at minimizing food loss. The “food rescue” program partners with retailers to acquire and distribute product that is nearing the end of its preferred shelf life. This prevents food from otherwise going to waste.

We have gone even further to reduce waste by incorporating our industrial composter. Food that spoils before distribution is turned into a rich compost to support plant growth in place of traditional fertilizers. We use this compost in our very own urban garden, which was created to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the people we serve.

Our Beverly K. Greenehouse was recently added to provide fresh greens year-round. This structure was designed to catch and utilize rainwater, effectively lowering the overall water footprint. Along with the urban garden, this was built on an old gravel lot. Their creation turned concrete into a productive green space.

Last, but not least, we work to educate and advocate. Using our urban garden and hydroponic greenhouse, we demonstrate ways to grow food right here in the community and even pass out plants to the people in our lines so they can do the same. Volunteers and interns are given hands-on experience during our operations that can potentially translate into personal efforts at home.

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Affairs, Current. “Many Of The Arguments Against Wealth Taxes Are Pathetic ❧ Current Affairs”. Current Affairs, 2019, https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/11/bad-wealth-tax-arguments/.

“Antibiotics In Our Food System”. Foodprint, 2020, https://foodprint.org/issues/antibiotics-in-our-food-system/.

“Are Pesticides In Foods Harming Your Health?”. Healthline, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pesticides-and-health.

Bojorquez, Manuel. “Inflation Or “Corporate Greed”? Meat Prices Increased By Double Digits During Pandemic”. CBS News, 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meat-prices-pandemic-inflation-corporate-greed/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Can We Feed The World And Ensure No One Goes Hungry?”. UN News, 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1048452.

“CDC And Food Safety”. CDC, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html.

“Chemical Cuisine Ratings”. Center For Science In The Public Interest, 2021, https://www.cspinet.org/page/chemical-cuisine-ratings.

Chinni, Dante, and Paul Freedman. “The Socio-Economic Significance Of Food Deserts”. PBS Newshour, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/the-socio-economic-significance-of-food-deserts.

“Climate Change Data | Climate Watch”. Climatewatchdata.Org, 2022, https://www.climatewatchdata.org/sectors/agriculture#drivers-of-emissions.

Egan, Matt. “Russia-Ukraine Crisis Replaces Covid As Top Risk To Global Supply Chains, Moody’S Says”. CNN Business, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/04/business/russia-ukraine-supply-chain-oil/index.html. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Fruits And Vegetables Are Less Nutritious Than They Used To Be.”. 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/fruits-and-vegetables-are-less-nutritious-than-they-used-to-be#:~:text=Mounting%20evidence%20from%20multiple%20scientific%20studies%20shows%20that,C%20than%20those%20that%20were%20grown%20decades%20ago. Accessed 22 July 2022.

Gallion, Emily and Caitlyn McIntosh. “The Social Determinants Of Health: Connecting The Dots Between Race, Health Equity, And The Food Landscape”. The Foodbank, Inc. Blog, 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/sdoh/. Accessed 1 Aug 2022.

“Industrial Agriculture Is Creating Serious Problems For Our Environment – Garden.Eco”. Garden.Eco, 2022, https://www.garden.eco/industrial-agriculture-creating-serious-problems#:~:text=While%20much%20of%20it%20is%20clean%20and%20pure%2C,mercury%2C%20lead%2C%20arsenic%2C%20and%20cadmium%20dissolved%20in%20it.

Livingston, Amy. “Living On The Minimum Wage – Is It Possible In 2022?”. Moneycrashers.Com, 2022, https://www.moneycrashers.com/living-on-minimum-wage-possible/.

Nations, United. “Food Loss And Waste Reduction | United Nations”. United Nations, 2022, https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-food-waste-day.

Nguyen, Hanh. “Sustainable Food Systems – Food and Agriculture Organization”. Food and Agriculture Organization , 10 Jan. 2018, https://www.fao.org/3/ca2079en/CA2079EN.pdf.

Project, The. “3 Ways Gainful Employment Reduces Recidivism – The Resource Project”. The Resource Project, 2021, https://theresourceproject.org/3-ways-gainful-employment-reduces-recidivism/.

ShelLin Erdman, CNN. “Global Food Waste Twice As High As Previously Estimated, Study Says”. CNN, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/20/health/global-food-waste-higher/index.html#:~:text=The%20UN%20estimates%20annual%20global%20food%20waste%20at,directly%20linked%20to%20%22poor%20transportation%20and%20harvesting%20practices.%22.

Smith, Kelly Anne. “What You Need To Know About The Minimum Wage Debate”. Forbes, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/minimum-wage-debate/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

Smith, Michael D., and Birgit Meade. “Who Are The World’s Food Insecure? Identifying The Risk Factors Of Food Insecurity Around The World”. USDA, 2019, https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2019/june/who-are-the-world-s-food-insecure-identifying-the-risk-factors-of-food-insecurity-around-the-world/.

“Sources Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions | US EPA”. US EPA, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

“Sustainable Food Systems”. CIAT, 2022, https://ciat.cgiar.org/about/strategy/sustainable-food-systems/.\

United States Department of Agriculture. Characteristics And Influential Factors Of Food Deserts. 2012

 


Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Ex-Offenders Face Systemic Barriers to Reentering Society, Most are Food Insecure

By Amber Wright, Marketing

The incarceration rate in the United States is at its lowest since 1995, yet nearly 7 million  US citizens are incarcerated or under community control at any given time.

Roughly 600,000 people are released from prison every year and these barriers and inequities carry over not only for them and their families, but also the communities to which they return.

For this blog, we will look at the nutritional well-being among formerly incarcerated individuals. 91% of people beginning their transition out of imprisonment report not having regular access to nutritious food. Long after release, they still remain twice as likely to be food insecure. Reentering society presents several barriers to gaining meaningful employment, leading to high rates of food insecurity and ultimately higher rates of recidivism and healthcare expenditures.


Importance of Proper Nutrition

Inadequate nutrition has been linked to several consequences such as:

  • Obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and deficits in brain function (CDC)
  • Worsening mood disorders like depression and anxiety (Harvard)
  • Hypertension and osteoporosis (USDA)
  • Hyperactivity, disciplinary problems, psychological problems, and criminal behavior (DOJ)
  • Increase of premature deaths

 

Stable access to healthy foods is crucial for both physical and mental well-being. Just as school children affected by hunger display poor performance and difficulty learning in school, adults suffer the same outcomes in the workplace.

If proper nutrition remains out of reach, it can be difficult to retain employability. Coupled with new or preexisting health conditions, this can generate avoidable healthcare expenses footed by the state.

Research reveals poor diets account for 20% of healthcare costs from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. That equates to about $50 billion that could have been avoided.

There are several factors unique to previously incarcerated individuals that hinder access to a sufficient diet.


Collateral Consequences

Sentences might end, but the consequences of incarceration do not. For those who are released each year, most find significant barriers to getting back on their feet. They struggle to find adequate housing, employment, and living wages. These necessities are crucial for individuals to successfully reenter society instead of returning to the system.

Legally sanctioned restrictions and disabilities resulting from a conviction are known as “collateral consequences.” More than 47,000 collateral consequences have been identified in state and federal law, barring formerly incarcerated people from rights normally granted to American citizens. These may negatively affect access to housing, employment, professional licensure, property rights, mobility and even access to public benefits.


Barriers to Housing

Federal law currently bars access to public housing for people with certain types of convictions and grants private landlords the ability to deny anyone with a criminal background. It is not surprising that a third of people released from prison wind up in homeless shelters. Even those who have been incarcerated only once are 7 times more likely to be homeless than the general populations. It is 13 times more likely for anyone incarcerated more than once, and even higher in both categories for people of color and women.

Legislation punishes homelessness even more by criminalizing things like sleeping in public spaces, panhandling and public urination, which entraps hordes of people in the cycle of poverty while increasing recidivism rates. Even if former inmates are lucky enough to secure housing, they often find themselves limited to low-income, redlined neighborhoods. This increases the likelihood of living in a food desert and raises the chance of food insecurity.


Barriers Employment

Several social and legal barriers make it just as difficult for returning citizens to find employment. The first time data was released on the subject in 2018 by the Prison Policy Initiative, it revealed that unemployment for those leaving incarceration was an astounding 27%. Not only is that 5 times higher than the general population, but it exceeds the rate of any economic crisis, including the Great Depression. More than half of people released from prison remain out of work for at least a year.

One study found that state and federal law restricted ex-offenders from obtaining licensing required for various forms of employment. It discovered more than 12,000 restrictions for individuals with any type of felony and more than 6,000 restrictions based on misdemeanors. Surveys suggest most private employers are unwilling to hire someone who has served a prison sentence and 87% of employers conduct background checks.

Social stigma may suggest that people reentering society are not looking for work, but recent analysis indicates otherwise. For people between the ages of 25-44, data listed 93.3% of ex-offenders were either employed or actively looking for work, while only 83.8% of the general population fell into the same category. Low employment rates are more related to the systemic barriers they face rather than a lack of desire to work. Like housing barriers, people of color and women are affected the most.


Barriers to Benefits

Barriers have also been put in place hindering access to public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

In 1996 federal law banned anyone with a felony drug conviction from receiving SNAP benefits. Since then, most states have either dropped the ban entirely or allowed assistance on the condition of regular drug testing and treatment. However, South Carolina still has the full ban in place.

The additional requirements put in place by states who have modified the ban not only accrue additional costs for the state, but they add strain to the individuals in fulfilling them. Already having a harder time finding employment, they must now limit their availability to make regular appointments.

When accessible, public benefits improve the health of recipients as well as cut costs in other areas. For example, SNAP has shown to reduce healthcare costs while improving the overall health of recipients and reducing food insecurity by 30%. At the same time, studies for even the modified ban on access to these benefits proved to increase recidivism instead.


Why This Matters

It’s not difficult to see how all these factors lead to food insecurity. If someone is unable to find housing or employment, it’s unlikely they will have regular access to healthy foods. Poor nutrition escalates physical and mental health conditions, decreasing employability and overall quality of life. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that both recidivism and poverty rates remain high.

It has been estimated that between 1980 and 2004 overall poverty in America would have dropped 20% if not for mass incarceration.

Poor nutrition exacerbates behavioral issues and aggression. When people have served their sentence, they continue to be punished with collateral consequences and social stigma, resulting in barriers to housing and employment. This increases recidivism and decreases social productivity for everyone.

Instead of funding being spent on public assistance and programs to help people reenter society (or avoid arrest completely,) it is often used to house those who are unable to overcome these challenges.

Reducing recidivism helps everyone. It is essential that ex-offenders be granted the same accessibility to these basic needs to make it happen. More programs should be put in place not only for their benefit, but for that of their families and the overall well-being of society.