Over the past few years, I have taken a somewhat winding journey through various facets of our food systems in order to understand what a sustainable and just food system might look like. In my mind, the term “sustainability” as it applies to food systems not only embraces the ecological concepts of the food systems (i.e. the system could continue in perpetuity without degradation), but it also examines the social elements of food and the linkages within a healthy and functional society. Asustainable food system means that we all have enough to eat and that what we’re eating is not killing us or our ecosystem.1. Food systems are inherently complex.The solution to a sustainable food system is not as simple as wishing it so, it requires new thinking about consumption, distribution, land use patterns, and economics. In other words, it’s not as simple making a few adjustments to how we grow food or switching to an all organic diet. We need input from a variety of disciplines and we truly need to approach the issue in a comprehensive manner. Even choices regarding whatfuel we put in our cars can have an impact on the food system. Sustainable food systems require that we think not only about the food, but also the user in order to ensure that food is serving its intended purpose (i.e. nurturing and fueling us).2. For every piece of information on sustainable food systems, there are an equal number of pieces of misinformation. I spend a lot of time looking at food systems and food sustainability, I’m just a nerd that way. The one thing that I have noted is that out of all of the information available, very little of it actually provides us with any real information. Wandering into the food sustainability discussion is like wandering into a 100-way argument where I’m not sure anyone knows what they are talking about. You have to cross-check every article to make sure you’re not reading some puff piece by Monsanto and you have to make sure that people are not playing their fears to your lack of knowledge. We need better information regarding food and we need the entire system to be depoliticized. We have become the victim of a very competitive market place and we show very little gain from it. To illustrate this point further, think about what you have been told about nutrition within your lifetime… we’re consistently bombarded with information that changes our understanding of food paradigms, but the information is hazy and unclear at best. Without clear and honest information, how can we be expected to make sustainable choices?3. Robust food systems require a network of top-down and bottom-up solutions, but our focus should be on orienting communities to their food sources.There have been numerous discussions regarding food policies and regional food policy councils that use a variety of top-down and bottom-up approaches to help work through the issues of food sustainability. These efforts are terrific and are helping to raise awareness across the board. Government and business leaders should not sit around waiting for citizens to come up with solutions nor should citizens expect solutions to arrive from on high. A sustainable food system should operate at a variety of levels rather than being dominated by any one approach. What we need to see most though, is a general awareness within communities regarding where food comes from and how to ensure that everyone is getting what they need. Food can be a binding and stabilizing force within communities and we must take advantage of that.4. Our current legal system is not prepared for sustainable food systems.Our legal system is oriented to protect the largest food companies from endless litigation while leaving small-scale producers confused as to what is required of them. Making food available to consumers is difficult for everyone except food giants that have enough momentum to navigate the red tape and weave through all the liability issues. As an example, look to farmers markets which must carry liability insurance and corporate status simply to allow others to sell food in a vacant parking lot. On top of that each vendor must be protected by similar protections. When viewed pragmatically, this represents relatively substantial financial outflows that have relatively little to do with the production of food. Aside from being difficult to comprehend, the legal and liability issues associated with food create levels of complexity (and cost) that are best navigated by economies of scale. Small-scale producers are key to sustainable food systems because they aid in cutting down on the petroleum inputs required for food and food transportation and ensure a diversified agricultural base that can better protect us from crop diseases and systemic production issues.