Food Systems Mapping
This week I am continuing to play with ideas about food systems. As eggs are in the news because of high prices, to understand what was happening I drew food systems maps based on eggs.
These ideas are sparks of inspiration, which eventually will lead to further ideas about how our food system works and how we can center equity in the food system.
Egg Production Supply Chain
This first flowchart is a supply chain map of industrial egg production showing eggs from farm to table. I found the details before eggs helpful as the fact that laying hens are typically raised off the farm in hatcheries is rarely included in discussions of egg supply chains.
Food Systems Map Based on Eggs
My map of egg food system was really interesting. I tried to put eggs in the middle and found that hens kept pushing them out. There is a joke here based on the conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
The fact that I couldn’t center eggs is unsurprising as the idea of a system means that we can’t center anything. Change one small part, and something else changes, unexpectedly elsewhere.
For example, high fuel prices caused the price of feed to increase, adding to the increased price of all food that contain eggs.
This map includes both inputs and outputs beyond eggs reaching the consumer and allowed me to consider outputs such as manure and egg shells. I save some of my egg shells because they are useful to add to the pots I grow tomatoes in. Their calcium reduces the risk of my tomatoes suffering from blossom end rot. I’m not sure what food manufacturers do with their excess egg shells except add them to landfill.
After accepting that hens were important, I next drew a map of laying hens. This is more of an input/output map and I’m still considering how to include things like breeding, farm policy, and animal welfare regulations.
I wanted to dig deeper into what influenced consumers. It was convenient to use eggs as example as we find eggs throughout the food system from home use to manufacturing. Food service is all forms for restaurants including your brunch diner and the Egg McMuffin or equivalent from a fast-food chain. It also includes eggs used in other dishes at restaurants such as cakes, quiches, etc.
I put income to represent how the egg prices influence our choices. If we have lots of disposable income, we have more choices than other people with lower incomes. Thus, we might not even think about spending $8 or more on pasture-raised eggs.
Social media represents the influence of ads and media. When we watch an Instagram reel showing a delicious egg recipe, we are more likely to try that recipe. Similarly, if we watch a TV show or read about people eating an egg dish, this influences our choices.
Egg consumption has increased in the US as the idea that egg=cholesterol=bad fades. Fortunately, because that paradigm was wrong and eggs offer some great nutrition. In the map, this comes under culture, which also includes government regulations and other influences from family, religion, work, etc. These influence our values as well. Values means we might choose not to eat eggs or that we only eat eggs that are cage-free, organic, grass-fed, etc.
I would love your comments. Are these maps helpful or just more confusions?
Go here to read more about eggs and concerns about the current industrial egg food system.
Read about eggs on my blog.
Who Writes Food Crumbs?
Cathy Davies runs a food safety consultancy, Food Safety Mid Atlantic, supporting specialty food businesses with their food safety plans and programs. If you are interested in learning more about my consulting services, please schedule a free call.
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