Its scale and complexity: When gut instinct works and when it doesn’t

This blogpost summarises this brief paper: Shining a light on the UK food supply system: Its scale and complexity.

The preface to it explains that out gut instinct doesn’t work in alien environments — such as the scale and complexity of the food supply system.

It has three parts:

  • The scale of what it takes to feed the UK — and a workaround about how to ‘see’ big numbers
  • The complexity of the UK food supply system, including the complexities arising from regional specialisation, how food gets from grower to consumer, composite products.
    • We put forward a ‘function space map’ of the UK food supply system as a way of better understanding the complexity of what organisations do in supplying the millions of us with food.
  • Efficiency versus robustness, and how the trade-off between the two affect the safe-fail capacity of a complex system.
    • Failure in the food supply system, with two illustrative examples (the CO2 crisis and the impact of Covid).
    • How to build robustness into the system.

We conclude by saying that neither the scale nor the complexity of today’s food supply system can be intuitively grasped. It is therefore unwise to base socio-political decision-making about food supplies on gut instinct — and that it’s worthwhile for all of us to often remind ourselves about the unreliability of our gut instinct in many circumstances.

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