Vulnerability to food insecurity: Tradeoffs and their consequences

Margaret Nelson, Ann Kinzig, Jette Arneborg, Jette Arneborg, Scott E. Ingram

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we are interested in food security – how it is achieved, what tradeoffs are made to achieve it, and how people become vulnerable to shortage, especially under climate challenges. Accomplishing food security involves tradeoffs and creates some degree of vulnerability. And the state of security, or “load of vulnerability” as we describe it in this chapter, is constantly changing as conditions change and people act (IPCC 2012). So there is no perfect, enduring achievement of food security both because conditions change and because any decisions or actions to attain security have tradeoffs. Nearly all of the decisions we make, as individuals and as societies, involve tradeoffs large and small. Those involving food systems are quite varied. Dearing and colleagues (2014) describe tradeoffs in Chinese agricultural intensification that reduce poverty but increase environmental degradation. They also reference a study by Erb and colleagues (2008) documenting the tradeoff over time in Austria as fossil fuel was substituted for biomass as an energy source. Gains in food supply and forest cover were accomplished while greenhouse gas emissions increased. Turner and colleagues (2003) describe different kinds of tradeoffs in chili farming in southern Yucatan: between raising income and raising vulnerability to variation in yield, between land clearance to create farmland and vulnerability to deforestation and hurricane impacts on forests, between intensification of farming and vulnerability to pests and disease. These tradeoffs are often not addressed as we make decisions and design policies. Consider an example close to our individual lives. The cell phone has improved communication and access to information, especially in remote areas. But at what cost? Have we considered the environmental, material, and social costs of cordless phones? Are there long-run consequences or vulnerabilities created by our reliance on them? Hurricane Sandy in the New York area made clear our vulnerability to electrical outage when relying on cordless phones for communication (Johnston 2012). When electricity was disabled, communication was disabled. “Attention to the spatial and temporal dynamics of exposure and vulnerability is particularly important given that the design and implementation of adaptation and disaster risk management strategies and policies can reduce risk in the short term, but may increase exposure and vulnerability over the longer term” (IPCC 2012:9).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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