A systems approach to navigating food security during COVID-19

Gaps, opportunities, and policy supports





Food System, Local Food, Food Waste, Resilience, COVID-19, Pandemic, Community Development


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a series of concatenating problems in the global production and distribution of food. Trade barriers, seasonal labor shortages, food loss and waste, and food safety concerns combine to engender vulnerabili­ties in food systems. A variety of actors—from academics to policy-makers, community organizers, farmers, and homesteaders—are considering the undertaking of creating more resilient food sys­tems. Conventional approaches include fine-tuning existing value chains, consolidating national food distribution systems and bolstering inventory and storage. This paper highlights three alternative strategies for securing a more resilient food system, namely: (i.) leveraging underutilized, often urban, spaces for food production; (ii.) rethinking food waste as a resource; and (iii.) constructing produc­tion-distribution-waste networks, as opposed to chains. Various food systems actors have pursued these strategies for decades. Yet, we argue that the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to urgently con­sider such novel assemblages of actors, institutions, and technologies as key levers in achieving longer term food system resilience. These strategies are often centered around princi­ples of redistribution and reciprocity, and focus on smaller scales, from individual households to com­munities. We high­light examples that have emerged in the spring-summer of 2020 of household and community efforts to reconstruct a more resilient food system. We also undertake a policy analysis to sketch how government supports can facilitate the emergence of these efforts and mobilization beyond the immediate confines of the pandemic.


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Author Biographies

Alesandros Glaros, University of Guelph

Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics

Chloe Alexander, University of Guelph

Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics

Jodi Koberinski, University of Waterloo

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Geography and Environmental Management

Steffanie Scott, University of Waterloo

Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Management

Stephen Quilley, University of Waterloo

Associate Professor, School of Environment Resources and Sustainability

Zhenzhong Si, Balsillie School of International Affairs

Postdoctoral Fellow

Logo for COVID-19's Impact on the Food System



How to Cite

Glaros, A., Alexander, C., Koberinski, J., Scott, S., Quilley, S., & Si, Z. (2021). A systems approach to navigating food security during COVID-19: Gaps, opportunities, and policy supports. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 10(2), 211–223. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2021.102.051