In the previous chapter we examined the complex set of transformations which gave rise to the modern food system, a system whose characteristic features distinguish it from earlier modes of producing and distributing food in crucial ways. In a sense, the main object of analysis of this book is the modern food system itself, in terms of its multiplicity of aspects, dimensions and relationships. What is more, just as this system emerged out of far-reaching changes, the system itself is subject to continuing change. Thus, we will also be required to try to make sense of these changes, in terms of their causes and their directions. However, alongside change there is also continuity and stability in certain aspects of the system, and the bases of these features also demand attention and explanation.
Up to this point we have used the concept of the human food system in a general rather than a specific sense. At this stage it is worthwhile attempting to make more explicit its particular features, linkages and relationships. Of course, at its most basic, the modern human food system can be conceptualized as an immensely complicated set of biological relationships between human beings and symbiotically linked domesticated plants and animals, not forgetting the myriads of micro-organisms upon which the system depends and the hosts of pests and parasites which colonize it at all its tropic levels (see e.g., Jeffers 1980). However, for the purposes of this book, the primary focus is not on the biological but on the social and cultural dimensions of the system. As a starting-point we can take the basic scheme put forward by Goody (1982:37). In Goody’s view, providing and transforming food can be conceptualized in terms of five main processes, each process representing a distinct phase and taking place in a characteristic location, as shown in Table 3.1.
Thus the process of ‘growing’ food (including the rearing of animals) equals the ‘production’ phase, and is located on farms. The processes of allocating and storing food are identified as the ‘distribution’ phase, located in, for example, granaries and markets. Cooking, the preparation phase, takes place in the