Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 685–698 | Cite as

Do global food systems have an Achilles heel? The potential for regional food systems to support resilience in regional disasters

  • Rebekah Paci-Green
  • Gigi Berardi


Today’s domestic US food production is the result of an industry optimized for competitive, high yielding, and high-growth production for a globalized market. Yet, industry growth may weaken food system resilience to abrupt disruptions by reducing the diversity of food supply sources. In this paper, we first explore shifts in food consumption toward reliance upon complex and long-distance food distribution, food imports, and out-of-home eating. Second, we discuss how large-scale, rapid-onset hazards may affect food access for both food secure and insecure households. We then consider whether and how regional food production might support regional food resilience. To illustrate these issues, we examine the case of western Washington, a region not only rich in agricultural production but also threatened by a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami. Such an event is expected to disrupt transportation and energy systems on which the dominant food distribution system relies. Whether a regional food supply—for the purposes of this paper, defined as food production in one or adjacent watersheds—can support a broader goal of community food resilience during large-scale disruption is a key theme of our paper. The discussion that ensues is not meant to offer simplistic, localist solutions as the one answer to disaster food provision, but neither should regional food sources be dismissed in food planning processes. Our exploration of regional farm production, small in scale and flexible, suggests regional production can help support food security prior to the arrival of emergency relief and retail restocking. Yet in order to do so, we need to have in place a robust and regionally appropriate food resilience strategy. This strategy should address caloric need, storage, and distribution, and, in so doing, rebalance our dependence on food supplied through imports and complex, domestic supply chains. Clearly, diversity of food sourcing can add redundancy and flexibility, allowing more nimble food system adaptation in the face of disruption.


Food access Disasters Resilience Emergency relief Earthquake Washington Small-grain cereals Regional food systems 


Compliance with ethical standards

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental StudiesWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA

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