Published online 30 November 2011
If the purpose of a food system is to build health, wealth, connection, and capacity in our communities, then the process of assessing food systems should also contribute to those aims. Moreover, each food system assessment should be explicit about its approach to systemic analysis. Here are some detailed suggestions for why food system assessments should be compiled, and how they can better reflect core system dynamics.
Why do we compile food system assessments? There are several solid answers to this question, of course: (1) Compiling a thorough set of measures of prevailing conditions helps establish an understanding of the baseline situation, which is useful for evaluating progress over time. (2) Without creating an explicit vision for a local or regional food system, it is very difficult to make (or measure) progress toward that vision. Compiling an assessment can help define such a vision. Further, (3) having one vision clearly articulated can help bring stakeholders together to work for a common purpose. Moreover, (4) it is deeply useful to consider the totality of the system, if possible. This helps (5) assure stakeholders that all of the major dynamics are in view, which may lead to more effective action. In addition, (6) by identifying central forces, pressure points, and contradictions within the system, local foods initiatives can more effectively set strategic priorities, (6) better understand how the system may resist efforts to change, and (7) better estimate how actions in one arena might impact stakeholders and issues in another. Many food leaders also point out that food system planning has so far been accomplished, by default, by private business interests who configured the system, and related public incentives, to maximize the profits of some key players in the system at the expense of others — leading to immense imbalances of power and access. We need to plan, this argument goes, (9) to foster private/public collaboration to build food systems that achieve better outcomes and that broaden participation in planning so our food systems actually contribute to democracy.
Meter, K. (2011, November). Seventeen reasons to do food system assessments. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(1), 7–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2011.021.014