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  • Writer's picturemichelle atterby

Systems Thinking; Structures, Behaviour and Consequences of our Global Agriculture Food System

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

"In this sheet of paper, contains the entire universe" Thich Nhat Hanh

In the direct relationship between structures and behaviour, we can begin to see how systems operate. Meadows, D (2008). A system is a complex set of things, whose interactions produce a series of behaviours. The entire cosmos operates in relationships of systems, from single cells to the formation of an entire galaxy. NO-THING is separate, independent, or isolated. Everything works in relationship. Consider the human body, your local community, a huge corporation, the government, our global food system, all of these are highly complex, interconnected systems.

Take for example a single flower. The seed is a complex anatomical structure that requires soil. The soil requires the diversity of micro organisms to nourish the roots of the growing seed. The seed requires water, and sunlight. The producing flower requires bees to pollinate it. The bees require a diversity of flowers to gather pollen and distribute it to produce more flowers. The flower responds with chemical releases to changing weather patterns or bug infestations...on it goes. This is a simple illustration of a feedback loop of dependent interconnections. No-thing can be reduced to an isolated unit without considering the multiple relationships required to exist. There is a purpose, a function to the existence of a system that is accomplished through the behaviour of the interconnected elements. Single cells to entire eco systems are a beautiful, complex web on relationships. But, systems can also be detrimental and destructive.


Let's consider our global agriculture food system; structure, behaviour and consequences. This is an intensely complex system, so this will be a very brief descriptive over view.

The Green Revolution began in the 1960's and established the current global agriculture system in operation today. The global food system today is dominated by intensive agriculture practices, and consolidation by major corporations, maintaining control and distribution.

The global food system is the biggest contributor to environmental impacts, humanitarian inequality, and horrific animal suffering.


1. Soil is a complex web of life that requires the diversity of micro organisms, animals, natural elements and so on. Due to intense chemical and machinery use, food is now grown in lifeless dirt, maintained by genetically modified seeds that will sustain constant spraying.

2. Animals are living in deplorable conditions, being fed a concoction of antibiotics, and poor quality food, tortured and slaughtered for human consumption. The close proximity of living conditions confine movement, and the localized release of methane is a leading cause of green house gasses.

3. People working in these conditions live in extreme poverty, are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and often suffer from PTSD while working in the animal slaughter houses.

4. Land degradation, deforestation, massive amounts of water consumption, excessive plastic packaging, transportation. Non renewable resources being depleted at rates the earth cannot support, all contribute massively to our global systems crisis.

Each part of this agriculture system can be branched off to explore the complexity of the interactions, behaviours and consequences. Here are some resources for further exploration.

Food Globalization; The Truth Behind Cheap Food

What You Eat Matters

Consumer demand drives the continued system. Lack of awareness and appealing marketing manipulate consumer choices. Major corporations and fast food companies to be aware of; Nestle, Kraft, Heinz, Kellogg's, Pepsi, General Mills, Coca Cola, McDonald's, Burger King, A&W....the list goes on. Here is a link to the major brands and their participation in the global systems crisis.

How can we minimize or eliminate our participation in this madness?

Increase our Ecological Literacy, here's how.

Reconsider our relationship to food, and how our consumer food choices effect people, animals and the planet is a vital and necessary step. Here are a number of options to initiate a new, and life sustaining food system.

  1. Think local. Research your local farmers and visit their farms. Ask questions and observe the environment.

  2. Consider growing some of your own food. Whether a few pots or an entire garden. Seek resources that educate on the practices and principles of permaculture; support biodiversity.

  3. Join a community co-op and share in food production, harvesting and preserving.

  4. Initiate conversations with local restaurants to support local food economies.

  5. Support the local community farmer's market

  6. Consider more vegetarian and vegan options

  7. Initiate a food garden at your local school or church

  8. Plant trees!

  9. Engage the entire family in discussions of food systems, and planning meals

  10. Save seeds

Children love to explore the garden! At the Eco Wisdom Sanctuary, we have designed an entire curriculum that engages ecological imaginations, and promotes eco literacy. Sampling fresh raspberries directly from the canes, or tasting the delicate texture of an edible flower. Biting into a sweet tomato or helping to make a beautiful, colourful garden salad. These are the joys of community food gathering, and rekindling our relationship to the sources of nutrients we nourish our bodies with.

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