Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 560–572 | Cite as

From industrial production to biosensitivity: the need for a food system paradigm shift

  • Robert Dyball


Urban consumers in affluent cities are typically divorced from the landscapes and farmers that produce their food. Most food is made available to these consumers via global retail systems, operating within an overarching paradigm of industrial commodity production. This paradigm induces one-way flows of resources from rural hinterlands to cities, with farmers undercompensated for their services—a process which is inherently unsustainable and unjust. By unwittingly eroding processes upon which they are utterly dependent, urban consumers are making themselves vulnerable. Potentially, this vulnerability could be reduced if urban food consumption was linked to regional production, but for many cities, the volumes of food required do not match regional output. Framed using a human ecological systems-based template, this paper presents case studies of three cities that have contrasting relationships with their regional food-producing landscapes. Canberra, Australia, could not consume all its regional production and so is in food surplus. Tokyo, Japan, could not meet its consumption needs from its region and so is in food deficit. Copenhagen, Denmark, could probably meet its needs from its region but chooses to reduce its food-producing land area and focus production on high-value meat products from pigs fed on imported low-value grains. Despite their differing food procurement strategies, producers and consumers in all three cases remain co-dependent upon each other and vulnerable to the processes being driven by the industrial paradigm. Consequently, a shift to a new ‘biosensitive’ paradigm is required, within which the social and environmental aspects of food production and consumption would be respected. This paradigm shift would reduce food choice and convenience and likely increase cost, so what would motivate consumers to support it? The answer suggested is that consumers could embrace the new food system if it had features that they valued sufficiently to compensate for the forgone values of the old system. Features that consumers could positively value include personal skills in the creation of meals, knowledge of the provenance and production standards of ingredients, and convivial relationships with producers. Pragmatically, these values are most likely to arise from consumers interacting with local food systems. Hence, it is argued, the primary value of local food systems lies not in the absolute volumes of food that they produce but in their educative capacity to foster a shift to a biosensitive paradigm. This new paradigm could extend concern to all food-producing landscapes and farmers, wherever on the planet they were located.


Human ecology Food systems Urban food security Paradigm shift  



This paper incorporates the material developed by Barry Newell and published in Dyball and Newell, 2015. John Schooneveldt and Adam Driscoll provided very useful comments, as did Gerry Marten and the editors of this special issue and the anonymous reviewers of the earlier manuscript.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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