Food and the Future Environment

Guided Introductory Reading: Why Environment and Food?


Guided Introductory Reading: Why Environment and Food?

Introductory Reading Assignment:

  1. Read the brief section (pp 1-7) of Colin Sage's book "Environment and Food", entitled "Why Environment and Food?" (see the assignments page). The author explains why we are interested in considering food's relationship to the environment (the latter is what we are also calling "natural systems"). He presents a provocative and critical account of our relation to food in modern societies (human systems) and the need to think about food production and consumption patterns in relation to the environment.
  2. As you read, try to identify three to five main points of the reading, which is always a good practice when you read in this course and other courses.
  3. After reading the assignment, continue reading below and see whether your perceptions of this author's analysis agree with the main arguments we have noted below. You may have noted similar points, or additional ones not noted here.

Consult AFTER Reading:

First, consider the list below of some of the main ideas in the reading. Do these roughly agree with your list of main points? You may have identified additional points in the reading.

  1. The essential need of humans to eat has defined the relation of all societies to food production and the environment through history.
  2. Transformation of food production systems in the last 100 years has dramatically changed diets and societies' impact on the environment:
    • Yields have increased with industrial methods and food for many in the world has become more available.
    • However, diets have worsened in many cases so that human nutrition has suffered.
    • Inequality in access to food based on wealth and poverty of consumers has continued.
  3. Negative impacts on the environment have multiplied, which is expressed in the large amounts of water needed to produce food, the strong dependence of food production on fossil fuels, and the contribution of food production to CO2 methane, and other greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
  4. A sustainable food system, which is increasingly the vision promoted by some food producers and consumers, involves reducing fossil fuel use in food production, cutting waste of food in transport and consumption, and increasing the just distribution of food to consumers at all levels of wealth.

We can also think of the way that these main points fit into a diagram, sometimes called a concept map, like the one that is drawn here. As part of the final assignment or summative assessment for module 1, and in the capstone assignment for the entire course, you will be drawing concept maps of a food system example. This diagram may get you started on visualizing human and natural components of food systems and their interaction. You'll note that a concept map can start from a very preliminary drawing or rough draft (like this one), and gradually be reorganized as you learn more about a topic use an organizational principle like the coupled human-natural systems concept we present in this course.

Sketch of a concept map using lines and color to divide different topics. See caption for additional information
Figure 1.1.3. An example of a concept map applied to the concepts and relationships presented by Colin Sage in the guided introductory reading for this module. Note the attempt to understand whether components of the food system are part of human vs. natural systems.
Credit: Sketch by Steven Vanek