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  • Julia Kekkonen

Introduction to Food Systems and Food Insecurity

When walking into a grocery store you don’t necessarily think about how the food gets there. You just walk in and buy what you need instead of thinking about the “food system” the products need to go through before they end up on the shelves of the store. The food system encompasses all the activities and resources that go into producing, distributing, and consuming food; the drivers and outcomes of those processes; and, the extensive and complex relationships between system participants and components. The food system’s functional parts include land-based parts(e.g. agriculture and farmland preservation); environment(e.g. water, soil, and energy); economy(e.g. distribution, processing, and retail); education; policy; social justice; health; and food cultures (Peemoeller, nd). Although a system’s components themselves are important, it is the relationships among components that make a system a system. To give a simplified example, what we eat affects what is produced, which in turn affects what we will eat (Introduction to the US Food System).

Along with our individual actions and decisions, there are also uncontrollable factors involved that affect the food system. These could be things that people have virtually no or very little control. For example the weather/temperature, and possible product shortages in longer production chains. Unfortunately we cannot either control how good of a growing season it will be, and which plants/or products will be available in higher quantities. If a product is available only in small quantities, the price is more likely to be higher, limiting the number of people who can afford it. This may lead to food insecurity, which may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.

Like previously said, despite the fact that we live in a modern and developed society, not everyone has the privilege to walk into the grocery store and buy food for themselves or their families. In 2019 more than 35,207,000 people in the U.S. lived in food insecurity (Feeding America). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level (Feeding America). Extensive research shows food insecurity being a complex problem, since many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, challenges which increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity (Feeding America).


Introduction to the US Food System : Public Health, Environment, and Equity, edited by Roni Neff, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Accessed 16 November 2021.

Feeding America. “What is Food Insecurity?” Hunger+Health, 2020, Accessed 16 November 2021.



Health Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this writing are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Food Council of Union County. We are grateful for these articles and research done by the Wingate University GPS 220 students. Although these students researched their topics, they are not medical providers. Any health information presented is for educational purposes only and does not substitute professional health or medical advice.

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