Table 1. Questions to help assess the vulnerability of food systems to global environmental change.

Vulnerability focus Food system concern Evaluation criteria
What are the key functions of the system? Four major activities: production, processing, distribution, and consumption The three outcome categories should illustrate whether food system activities are functioning properly
Three categories of outcomes: food security, social welfare, and environment The outcomes are prioritized by social values or policy goals, and the prioritization is scale dependent
What is potentially vulnerable? Consumers can be food insecure Food insecurity arises because of a loss of availability, a loss of access, or a lack of proper use
The environment can be degraded Biodiversity loss, nutrient cycle alteration, water pollution, etc.
The social welfare of both consumers and agents in the food chain can be diminished Income loss, increased inequity, increased migration, etc.
Food system activities can be disrupted The food system outcomes should, but may not, indicate this because of masking or substitutions among activities
How is a global environmental change shock or signal transmitted? Shocks can be transmitted over long or short distances and via few or many processes, which may magnify or diminish their impact. They can be ignored or masked. Cross-scale interactions may be particularly dangerous because they can complicate outcomes An increase or decrease in system vulnerability as a result of the shock. One or more outcomes may indicate this vulnerability. Possibly no outcomes will indicate any vulnerability.
What gives the system adaptive capacity? Specific social, economic, institutional, and ecological components of the system, i.e., the actors and their resources, as well as their relationship to one another within the system Adaptive capacity is the major projection against vulnerability
Can thresholds of vulnerability be defined? Food security outcomes are often measured against standardized criteria. The same is attempted for many ecosystem criteria A defined limit is important to motivate policy responses
Which processes are fast? Which are slow? Fast disturbances attract attention, but the slowly changing variables are more important Resilience usually comes from slowly changing variables, but rapid changes can trigger temporary vulnerability. This is scale dependent
Who are the winners and losers? Not all food system components will necessarily improve together This will depend upon social and political priorities

Note: Adapted from Eakin and Luers (2006).