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Office of Sustainability and the Environment
Food Sustainable Food
What Is Sustainable Food?

When we talk about sustainable food, we are really talking about food that comes from a sustainable food system. There are no legal definitions for sustainable food, like there are for USDA organic or fair trade, for example, but among people working to make our food system more sustainable, there is a vision that food should be produced, processed and traded in ways that “contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods; protect the diversity and welfare of both plants and animals (farmed and wild); avoid damaging natural resources and contributing to climate change; and provide social benefits, such as good quality food, safe and healthy products, and educational opportunities.” (from Sustain).

What is the Food System?

The complex network of activities that result in the production and exchange of food to feed a community is referred to as the food system. It includes the production, storage, transportation, packaging, processing, distribution, and consumption of food, and the management of the waste from all these activities. It impacts nearly all sectors of society, including: public health and nutrition, the environment, energy, the economy, and employment. A food system can be characterized as being local, regional, national, or global, depending on the geographic range it aims to serve. Farmers markets are a key part of a Southern California’s local food system because the food is grown and eaten within our state. Most grocery stores are connected to the global food system because they offer food from around the world year round (think peaches from Chili in January).

Because the food system reaches across so many sectors, our food choices and actions to support a more local and sustainable food system can generate significant positive impacts far beyond the farm - for individuals, communities and the planet. The food and agriculture sector is also unique in that by making changes to support a more local and sustainable food system we not only reduce future negative impacts, but we can also mitigate or repair some of the harm that was done in the past. For example, eating organically grown food reduces the use of petroleum-based chemicals and reduces green house gas emissions today, while at the same time helping rebuild soil that has been depleted by the use of chemical fertilizers and over farming in the past. In contrast, other efforts toward sustainability, such as expanding the use of solar power, effectively reduce our use of fossil fuels for the future, but do not repair the harm that has been done by using fossil fuels in the past.

What is Organic?

Organic refers to food that is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy comes from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. “[Organic food] is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.” (from World Hunger Year). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates standards for any product that can be certified and labeled as organic. Some small and family farmers that sell directly to consumers through farmers markets or other means forego the expense of certification and rely on relationships and contact with their customers to build accountability.

What is Local Food?

Local food is a somewhat flexible term that can be defined differently by many. Many think of local as purely a distance equation. A growing movement of Locavores focus on eating food that is grown and produced within 100 miles of where they live. Others consider look to food that comes from their region, say Southern California for us in Santa Monica, or would consider anything within a single days drive to be acceptable (expanding our local reach to Northern California). The City of Santa Monica farmer’s markets define local food as food that is grown and/or produced within California. Of equal importance to the distance is the value behind local food. Local food is intended to be food that benefits the local community where it is grown and where it is sold.

Sustainable, Organic, and Local is for EVERYONE!

A local and sustainable food system makes food an integrated part of every community and creates opportunities for everyone to participate in building and supporting the system. Community gardens, urban farms, the revitalization of neighborhood markets and local owned food-based businesses that buy from regional farmers – these all increase access to healthy, local, sustainable food for all residents, regardless of what neighborhood you live in or your income. Organic and local foods can cost more, but smart shoppers can eat the best of every season on nearly every budget.

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Last updated: Monday, 12/31/2012
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