What if the Trucks Stop Coming? – PhD thesis by Cheron Constance

On Wednesday 21 June 2017 at 13.30 hrs Cheron Constance will defend her PhD thesis entitled ‘What if the trucks stop coming? Exploring the framing of local food by cooperative food retailers in New Mexico’ in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. The ceremony will be live streamed by WURTV but can be viewed later as well.

The full thesis will be available online after the defence ceremony.


Summary of the thesis

Proponents of local food cite a variety of economic and environmental advantages of short food supply chains. Consumer interest in local food has also offered a point of differentiation for many players in the food industry, including restaurants and grocery stores. Engaging with local food has significant challenges, however, and many production and distribution systems engender and support more diffuse food provisioning, not less. Though food can travel thousands of miles from its point of origin to consumption, many cooperative (co-op) grocery stores have long sold locally-produced food and have deep ties to their supplier communities. This thesis offers case studies of two co-ops in the natural and organic food sector and examines how they think about and work with local food. The theories of embeddedness (after Polanyi) and diverse economies (from Gibson-Graham) undergird the analyses of these co-ops’ involvement with local food and how the cooperative business model relates to it.

FoodWorks – New York City’s innovative and ambitious food strategy

On November 22nd, the New York City Council presented a comprehensive plan that sets a bold vision for a more sustainable food system. The plan, ‘FoodWorks’, addresses sustainability and health issues at every phase of the food system – from agricultural production, processing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption. The objectives of FoodWorks range from combating hunger and obesity to preserving regional farming and local food manufacturing to decreasing waste and energy usage.

FoodWorks contains 59 policy proposals spanning five phases of the food system. The proposals include new legislation, funding initiatives and far-reaching goals that present a long-term vision for a better food system.

  • Agricultural Production – Support regional farmers, strengthen regional linkages, and increase urban food production 
  • Processing – Generate growth and employment in the food sector
  • Distribution – Improve food distribution channels into and within the city
  • Consumption – Fresh food must be available to New Yorkers regardless of where they live
  • Post-Consumption – Seize opportunities to reduce and recapture waste

The New York Council worked with experts including farmers, gardeners, chefs, partners in government and labor, as well as hunger and environmental advocates throughout the process of developing the Food Works report.  Both content-wise and process-wise New York City’s food policy FoodWorks is innovative and ambitious and can serve as an inspiration for many city councils across the world.

Sustainable Food Systems Education and Engagement in Detroit

Recently, in the process of writing an international research proposal, I had an email exchange with Dr. Kami Pothukuchi, Associate Professor in Urban Planning at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of Wayne State University. Dr. Pothukuchi is, together with Prof. Jerry Kaufman, one of the founders of food planning in the USA. She was the first to write about food as a stranger to the planning field in 2000 and is one of the authors of “Community and Regional Food Planning: A Policy Guide of the American Planning Association“. This policy guide was a major source of inspiration for organizing the first European Sustainable Food Conference under auspices of the AESOP.

In our email exchange Dr. Pothukuchi informed me that she has recently become director of SEED Wayne. SEED is the acronym for Sustainable food systems Education and Engagement in Detroit. 

SEED Wayne is dedicated to building sustainable food systems on the campus of Wayne State University and in Detroit communities. SEED Wayne works in partnership with community-based organizations promoting food security, urban agriculture, farm-to-institution, and food and fitness planning and policy development. SEED Wayne embraces core university functions in teaching, research, engagement and operations. 

I think SEED Wayne is a perfect example of the role a university can and should play in enhancing sustainable food systems as well as in creating a learning-by-doing environment for students in which close collaboration with local communities is an intrinsic part of university teaching and research. For those interested in SEED Wayne download the brochure or simply browse SEED Wayne’s website.

Good food nation: reversing obesity via local food systems

Recently the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Columbia University published the results of a study on reversing America’s obesity epidemic by reorganising the system of food production, processing and distribution. According to the researchers obesity is widespread due to the national-scale system of food production and distribution, which surrounds children — especially lower-income children — with high-calorie products. Up to 90% of American food is processed, which contains ingredients, often acting as preservatives, that can make food fattening. The MIT and Columbia researchers propose a solution:

 America should increase its regional food consumption. Each metropolitan area, the researchers say, should obtain most of its nutrition from its own “foodshed,” a term akin to “watershed” meaning the area that naturally supplies its kitchens. Moreover, in a novel suggestion, the MIT and Columbia team says these local efforts should form a larger “Integrated Regional Foodshed” system, intended to lower the price and caloric content of food by lowering distances food must travel, from the farm to the dinner table.

For more information, you can read the complete press release by MIT or go the online project results.

The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System

More and more scientists are pointing to the fact that the end of the cheap oil era will require us to fundamentally change the prevailing current food and agricultural system; a system that has become addicted to and dependent on fossil fuels. This week I came across a report entitled “The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System” published by the Post Carbon Institute earlier this year.  Although the report focuses on the United States, its contents applies to many other parts of the world as well. In this well accessible and readable report the authors not only point to the key vulnerabilities of a food system resting on an unstable foundation of massive fossil fuel inputs but also to the seeds of transition toward a post carbon food system:

The seeds of the new food system have already been planted. America’s farmers have been reducing their energy use for decades. They are using less fertilizer and pesticide. The number of organic farms, farmers’ markets, and CSA operations is growing rapidly. More people are thinking about where their food comes from.

These are important building blocks, but much remains to be done. Our new food system will require more farmers, smaller and more diversified farms, less processed and packaged food, and less long-distance hauling of food. Governments, communities, businesses, and families each have important parts to play in reinventing a food system that functions with limited renewable energy resources to feed our population for the long term.