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

 


Inflation Escalates Hunger

Inflation escalates hunger

As the cost of groceries increases, so does food insecurity

By Amber Wright, Marketing

Most of us have already experienced the shock of inflation. Whether it was after ringing up the usual staples at the grocery store or at the gas pump, prices have increased all around.

Inflated prices means inflated need. Many Americans are finding their normal wages cannot stretch as far as they used to. To mitigate these financial challenges, many individuals and families turn to nonprofit organizations, like food banks, to provide the services needed to supplement their income. Yet the nonprofits comprising the social safety net are subject to the same economic circumstances as individuals. For this blog, we will look at the impacts of inflation and what it means for our organization.

Several causes have been credited as contributing factors to the current economic conditions. Much discussion has centered around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and even instances of corporate profiteering. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most obvious factor. Global shutdowns and labor shortages disrupted supply chains across the world. The Federal Stimulus package, while crucial to economic survival, caused demand to remain high while production was down. When demand outweighs supply, prices go up.

22 million jobs were cut from the U.S. economy during the pandemic. While most of those numbers have since been restored, inflation had already taken hold. Online commerce data shows consumers spent roughly $32 billion more for the same goods over the past two years.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has made its own impact on the global market. The two countries are major contributors of goods such as oil, gasoline, metals, fertilizers, wheat, corn, and soy. This disrupts countless goods and services that require any of those items for production. In addition to problems fueled by conflict, sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and other countries have further complicated matters.

Some speculate corporate greed is also playing a role. Manuel Bojorquez, a writer for CBS News, exemplified this with data gathered from Tyson, one of the four “meat giants” controlling 85% of the market. He demonstrated how the company was able to increase profits by 48% since 2021. Even after compensating for rising costs and increased wages, they are still making more money while average families struggle with inflation. Other businesses in the industry show similar results.

It is worth noting that Tyson, like many other corporations, have raised pay for workers by 20%. This is a common trend culminating in the fastest average wage increase in 15 years. The problem is that inflation still overshadows these gains, resulting in paychecks being worth nearly 2% less in terms of purchasing power.

 The White House has expressed that inflation is typical following a pandemic and that this has been seen before in American history. The unfortunate timing of the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated issues, but measures are being taken to control the long-term outcome. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in order to quell economic growth, and therefore demand, until the supply is regulated. Unfortunately, it takes time for this to take effect. In the meantime, consumers can expect higher costs in the form of credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans and other forms of borrowing money.

 

Key Points of Inflation

The current Consumer Price Index shows that inflation has risen 8.5% over the last year, which is the fastest rate seen in more than four decades. In April, it was estimated to cost the average American household an extra $327 a month to maintain their standard of living. The main areas dramatically affected include necessities such as food, fuel, and materials like metal and plastic that are found in packaging of nearly all retail items.

Food costs have repeatedly risen since 2020 and it is anticipated that this trend will continue. CNBC compared the current price for household grocery staples to costs last year. These essential items have jumped in price at the following rates over the last year:

Flour and prepared flour mixes: 14.2%
Butter and margarine: 14%
Meat, poultry and fish: 13.8%
Milk: 13.3%
Eggs: 11.2%
Fresh fruits: 10.1%
Bread: 7.1%
Fresh vegetables: 5.9%

Similarly, fuel has seen an extreme increase with crude oil at a staggering 70.1% annual increase and gasoline seeing a 48% price hike. Similar trends can be found among other forms of energy with electricity costs spiking 11.1%. Raw materials are another area suffering steep upticks. While prices are continuing to fluctuate, steel has seen a 74.4% increase and lumber an increase of 79.5% in cost over the previous year.

 

What This Means for Us and the Neighbors We Serve

As we all adjust our spending to compensate for various spikes in prices, we know the people most greatly affected are those already walking a financial tightrope. Low wages, redlining, discrimination, and other root causes of poverty have prevented many individuals from surviving without some way to supplement their income, even prior to the pandemic. Inflation is intensifying the problem.

The cessation of pandemic-related assistance programs has further reduced support for many. It is reasonable to assume that inflation is knocking more families into a financial crisis without these supplemental benefits. Like most food banks, we are seeing an increase in families served at our distribution sites, and we anticipate numbers will grow when the Public Health Emergency SNAP allotments end in the months ahead.

Need for food assistance is on the rise, and so are purchasing costs.  About 65% of Feeding America food banks reported seeing a greater demand in March from the month before. While these organizations are buying the same amount of food this year compared to 2021, it is costing roughly 40% more.

Our non-profit is enduring similar trends. For example, an 8.45 oz. white milk used for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program cost us 50 cents apiece in September 2021. We were able to order 32,400 (totaling $16,200.) Just five months later in February 2022 the price increased to almost 63 cents apiece. At that price, securing the same amount increased more than $4,000.

Another example is the Honey Pepper Beef Sticks we also purchase for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program. This shelf stable, ready-to-eat source of protein is an important piece of our kid-friendly food packs. In August of 2021 we purchased 30,240 at 48 cents apiece (totaling about $14,515.) In February 2022 the price went up to 52 cents apiece, and so did our purchase for 68,544 (totaling about $35,643.) If the same amount had been purchased, it still would have cost over a thousand dollars more.

Another trend we are seeing among food banks is a decrease in donated product. Retailers are forced to tighten their spending as they are confronted with the same economic conditions. Labor shortages and supply chain issues disrupt their product flow as well. As a result, food donations are not as robust as they once were. Feeding America reported a 20% decrease in donations from food manufacturers and 45% less provision from the federal government for fiscal year 2022.

 Accommodating a greater need can require additional time and space. Anyone who has waited in our Drive Thru distribution already knows that the wait times are getting longer, but we have remained to serve every car in line. We will continue to do so, rain or shine, as long as the need exists. Supply chain issues may not afford us the ability to purchase the items we want, but we will always provide the best within our means to create a well-rounded offering of food to our partners and customers.

Our warehouse is currently in the process of expanding to store and distribute more food. The current building had already reached max capacity with a yearly distribution of nearly 18 million pounds of food each year. While this process was underway before inflation got out of hand, we will continue to invest the time and money it requires to address increased food insecurity. The more food we can store, the more we can distribute.

 We are committed to meeting the need in our community no matter what challenges we face. We have done so through a pandemic, tornados, and a county-wide water crisis, and we will do it again. We have honed the ability to pivot and adjust to the circumstances at hand. Our staff is rich with talent, compassion, and dedication, which will allow us to overcome obstacles in the path to fulfilling our mission. As we navigate the changing economic climate, we will remain firm in our efforts toward equity so that we can end hunger and its root causes. With the continued support of businesses and community members, we can weather whatever storm may lay ahead.