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"Conceptualizing US Food Systems with Simplifying Models" and the LFEG Project

This paper, entitled "Conceptualizing US Food Systems with Simplifying Models," by Axel Aubrun Ph.D, Andrew Brown Ph.D, and Joseph Grady Ph.D, focuses on the creation of "simplifying models" to allow Americans understand the "big picture" of food systems. Three points, in particular, stick out to me in terms of their relevance to our LFEG project:

[The simplifying model] provides a concrete image of the system as a whole, and helps people move beyond their default focus on the individual experience of food. [p. 4]

A goal of our project is to help both consumers and producers understand that their buying and selling decisions have an extended impact on and entire food system network. When a customer makes a decision to buy food from Wal-mart, his decision effects more parties than simply himself and his family--who eat the food, and Wal-mart, who profits from his decision. Also affected are local producers of food, who do not receive his money, other customers who want to buy local food, but may find the supply of such foods going down when demand is low, etc. Our models will show the interconnectivity of all players in a food network, allowing these people to see how their decisions effect others, moving away from individual experience of foods to a broader view.

Many, if not most, of the components of food systems are not visible to the average person. A systems view allows those components to stay in mind, because they make sense and are part of a coherent picture. [p. 8]

Similar to the first quote; consumers must understand that their decisions affect many parties, not simply those that are involved in the immediate transaction. The producers of the food one buys are often forgotten in the buying process, as they are not visible when food is bought and sold in a supermarket. Yet, these people are a crucial part of the food system. As much as possible, the production of food should be visible to all consumers, who will be able to make a more informed decision when seeing the big picture of food production.

The natural tendency of the public (maybe the American public in particular) is to look for individual solutions to problems, with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility. Problems of sustainability occasionally lend themselves to individual solutions, but in most instances require collection solutions – an approach this is very compatible with a systems perspective. [p. 9]

The need for increased use of local foods in a collective problem that requires a collective solution. In order for local foods to become more prevalent in our society, their must be a collective movement to demand these foods. From a "big picture" perspective such as the Local Food Economy Game, buyers can see how they can use their individual actions to become part of a collective that can inspire change. They will be able to see how the landscape of food production might change if many consumers demanded local foods. Hopefully, collective action will no longer seem like an unattainable goal, but rather a feasible movement that can be brought about by the conscious decision-making of like-minded individuals.

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