Planner’s Portfolio: Food Systems

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The 14th issue in the Planner’s Portfolio outlines ways to support a healthy and equitable food system.

Food is among the most basic of daily human needs, yet it often gets taken for granted. Planners have long focused on other aspects of daily life – where we live, where we work, how we get around – but a focus on issues related to food has emerged relatively recently. Food is indeed a significant part of the urban system; how our food is produced, where and how we purchase and consume it, and how we dispose of it can have significant economic, environmental, and health impacts on our communities.

A food system is an interdependent network that integrates food production, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal. It operates within and is influenced by the social, political, economic, and, environmental conditions of a community or region. Therefore, the food system has strong connections with many other planning topics including economic development, community health, social equity, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.

Due to its interconnected nature, it is difficult to separate the food system from other areas. Food system planning involves the integration of food system issues into policies, plans, and programming at all levels of government, but also involves buy-in from private businesses and the general public. More and more planners have engaged in encouraging a comprehensive food system planning process at the community, regional, and national levels. Concerns about food production, insecurity in food access, and food waste have led to the demand for a more sustainable food system. Effective planning can help to create a local food system that is sustainable, healthful, and equitable as well as efficient and profitable.

For example, food access encompasses all the issues related to connecting people to a variety of fresh, healthy, and quality food options. Access to healthy food may be hindered by a number of factors ranging from economic issues such as income to physical issues such as distance to food markets. In some areas, distribution of both healthier and less-healthy food options may be unequally concentrated in different neighborhoods, but planners can help address these disparities through the use of planning tools such as zoning and special studies.

For more information, check out the Food Systems issue or the entire Planner’s Portfolio series.

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