Consumption is the whole point of food systems! Who gets to eat what food, and how often, is very much determined by the dynamics of production, distribution, and processing. Health outcomes in humans are tied to the kinds of foods produced (for example, are they high-calorie fats and carbohydrate crops, nutrient-rich vegetables, or nutrient-dense animal products?). These outcomes are also tied to the ways foods are produced (for example, are they pesticide-drenched or not?), processed (for example, are they kept whole, fermented, or otherwise chemically reconfigured?), and distributed (most especially, their accessibility and affordability to the consumer).
The previously mentioned exchange value of food influences where foods end up, and who ends up able to eat them, in direct and indirect ways. Most directly, if someone lacks the money to buy sufficient foods, they are likely to end up hungry. A full assessment of food distribution and consumption, then, should include unpacking how the commodification of food affects where food ends up. The process of commodification is also more hidden and complex to the average person than simple market prices indicate. This is evidenced by commodities stock markets, where traders speculate on the prices of foods: these stock markets have been cited as having helped create the 2007/2008 “food price crisis”—where hundreds of millions of people lost affordable access to staple foods suddenly.
While human physical health and issues of hunger and malnutrition are clearly important, there is also the longstanding cultural importance of food. Cooking traditions and specific ingredients have been passed down generation to generation. Those ingredients might be rare or difficult to find as food cultures become homogenized and standardized around the globe. Cooking itself is in some ways become a “lost art”—at least for those in the developed world—as people have less and less time to cook, less interest to cook, less skills in cooking, and more access to processed and pre-made foods, like restaurant-made and microwave meals.
The question of whether we should accept the modernization of food culture—such that food cultures and ingredients are evermore globalized and no longer as geographically static, and food is consumed more quickly and more often outside of the home—is an important one for food systems. Are these part of the problem of food systems? The “Slow Food” movement argues this way: “fast food” culture and the replacement of local food cultures with international ones are bad omens for a future of food that is “good, clean, and fair”.