Coronavirus is the whistleblower on the global healthcare system. The science around COVID continues to unfold and what we do with the information it exposes – is up to us.
A zoonotic virus, birthed out of the human appetite for wildlife, threw the world into a global pandemic. Can it also be a stimulus for change? As we peer through the cracks of the healthcare system, we need to recognize the urgent need for transformation of the most vulnerable industries that society depends on. Food – is one of these vulnerable systems that is highly susceptible to various systemic and environmental disruptions.
To grasp the complexity of the food system means to identify the multitude of its parts and to understand the depths of its fragmentation. In its fragmentation it conceals its own brokenness.
A prolific marker of this broken system is polarization. We rarely expect two words like ‘hunger’ and ‘obesity’ to exist in one sentence. How can such juxtaposed notions be the outcomes of the same system? The answer is less philosophical: brokenness always fuels injustice.
Numbers reveal the true scale of the dispositions: 820 Million people go to bed hungry every day while food waste equates to one-third of all food produced globally. 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water while 15,000 liters of water are used to produce just one kilogram of meat.
The most sobering statistic is that it’s happening with today’s global population of 7.5 Billion. As the population grows so will the demand for food. By 2050 we will need to close food gap of 70% to feed 9.5 billion people, which will push natural resources like land and water to their limits.
50% of habitable land on Earth is taken up by agriculture. 80% of that land is taken up by the meat and dairy industries and only 23% of the remainder is dedicated for human crop production. Surprisingly, meat and dairy account for only 18% of global calories and 37% of the global protein supply. On the other hand, land used for crops totals 82% of the global calorie supply and 67% of protein from plant-based foods.
According to calculations from the United Nations Environment Programme, the calories that are lost by feeding crops to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could feed an extra 3.5 billion people.
It seems that we can’t feed 9.5 billion people without turning desert sand into fertile soil, cutting down all remaining forests and putting pressure on increasing production yields. But this would mean taking the approach of doing business as usual which beefs up humans’ continual denial of our fundamental interconnectedness to all eco-systems on this planet.
If we continue to do business as usual, additional pressure in sectors like animal agriculture will pose greater public health risks. Outbreaks of zoonotic diseases and pathogens will escalate due to the filthy conditions that crammed up animals would be subjected to. This, in turn, would require an increased use of antibiotics in animal feeds that would further expose people to superbugs and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The same pressure would weigh heavy on crop yields and without the application of regenerative agricultural methodologies the soil would completely erode. To put it simply: no soil means no food. Today, soil erodes 100 times faster than the rate of its formation.
Offender and The Victim
Large-scale problems deserve well thought-out solutions. But until we can comprehend the true damage our system causes to the environment (that we are undoubtedly dependent on), any good solution will be like a joke that just doesn’t land.
The way we grow, produce and transport food today leads to destruction of natural habitats, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, water and air pollution, deforestation and causes profound suffering of non-human animals and people.
But our food system is not just the offender, it’s also the victim. As we continue to take large bites out of nature, extreme weather patterns, increased temperatures, wildfires, floods and drought will continue to devastate all parts of the food chain.
Model for the future
The future of food is about taking a holistic approach. A closed-loop solution, mimicking how nature recycles all matter, would be ideal for connecting the broken links. The guiding principles of a circular model are the most holistic for life on Earth and its environment. There are many challenges to closing such a loop, but there are also many existing solutions. Yet most of the solutions are as disconnected as the food system itself. Before we move forward with actionable solutions we need to get it right: society, economy and culture cannot exist without the environment. So the environment can never be represented as less than or even as an equal.
As a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations announced 17 goals that have the potential to transform our world. We identified the top 8 main pillars that are ripe for transformation within our food system and that address the majority of the United Nations’ sustainability goals: from ending hunger to promoting good health and well-being, to climate action and responsible consumption.
Top 8 areas due for transformation:
- Carbon Emissions
- Logistics and distribution
- Policy and education
We humans, the most improbable evolutionary creations, are intimately connected to earth. Our physical well-being emerged and was built around earthly realms, as is our psyche. We seek refuge in nature, not concrete. Our earth-boundedness is the DNA we all share. Our future is imbued in the future of our environment, that’s why the future of food cannot be anything but regenerative, restorative and plant-based.
So let’s talk about the menu of the future.
We’ve all heard that the menu of the future may involve less processed sugar and dairy and more plants and alternative proteins. Let’s take a closer look at the sustainable trends in the food industry.
Two of the most innovative (and spoken about) Silicon Valley food companies – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – have been developing plant-based substitutes for meat, dairy, and fish products.
Even the most traditional restaurants are embracing the vegan trend. Plant-based chef Matthew Kenney has revamped the menu of La Durée Beverly Hills, a well known French bakery. The bakery’s menu is now completely vegan and offers dairy-free macarons (something it is traditionally famous for).
At the same time, more fine-dining establishments are offering thoughtful plant-based menus with innovative preparations of fruit and vegetables and the world’s most famous chefs are replacing traditional proteins with the alternative proteins based menus. Although there are no vegan restaurants rewarded with a Michelin star, there are 14 Michelin Guide vegan restaurants.