Identifying attributes of food system sustainability: emerging themes and consensus

Hallie Eakin, John Patrick Connors, Christopher Wharton, Farryl Bertmann, Angela Xiong, Jared Stoltzfus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

Achieving food system sustainability is one of the more pressing challenges of this century. Over the last decades, experts from diverse disciplines and intellectual traditions have worked to document the critical threats to food system sustainability and to define an appropriate agenda for action. Nevertheless, these efforts have tended to focus selectively on only a few components of the food system or have tended to be framed in particular discourses. Depending on the point of departure, what aspects of the food system are considered threatened, and what must be sustained, can differ greatly between perspectives. In this article, we draw from systems-thinking and social-ecological systems concepts to focus on the underlying process-related attributes that could support a more sustainable food system. We then examine the support for specific system attributes in six different knowledge domains addressing sustainable agriculture and food. From this review, we identify five system attributes—diversity, modularity, transparency, innovation and congruence—that are repeatedly featured in the different knowledge domains as critical aspects of food system sustainability. We argue that in the face of considerable complexity and high uncertainty, these attributes can serve as a guide to conceptualizing food system choices adaptively and iteratively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-773
Number of pages17
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

Keywords

  • Food security
  • Food systems
  • Socio-ecological systems
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science

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