A group of 24 young leaders around the world are pushing businesses and governments to commit to food system change as part of the Act4Food Act4Change campaign. During the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in July 2021, the team will present the 17 actions they think have the power to catalyze a food revolution.
Each initiative addresses a longstanding food system issue, such as food waste, meat consumption, and unhealthy and unaffordable meals. The global campaign is encouraging young people under the age of 30 to vote for the actions most important to them. The top five actions will then be unveiled during the official summit, which kicks off on September 1.
The campaign also features a pledge for youth to sign, which acknowledges that “our current food systems contribute to ongoing health, climate and biodiversity crises, and violation of human rights.” Signees commit to transforming the food system by demanding “urgent large-scale action from others, especially from decision-makers in government and business.” More than 1,300 people from 81 countries, including Norway and Egypt, have signed the pledge so far.
Act4Food Act4Change, which launched in May, evolved out of a 2020 Bangladeshi campaign Eat Well, Live Well. The campaign’s primary goal is to encourage young people to buy nutritious snacks. Additionally, the Eat Well, Live Well pledge commits to working with food producers and policymakers to improve the food production and distribution.
Eat Well, Live Well was “designed to improve the eating behavior of adolescents and make them understand the importance of nutritious food,” Dipty Chowdhury, one of the campaign’s organizers, tells Food Tank. “Another aim was to empower adolescents in expressing their dream.”
In Bangladesh, adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 make up one-fifth of the total population – about 36 million people. Over 1 million youth have signed the original pledge to eat nutritious and healthy food.
“It’s very necessary to make them healthy and educated,” Chowdhury says.
Sophie Healy-Thow discovered Eat Well, Live Well on Twitter. She thought young people around the world would be interested in the campaign’s push for healthier eating habits and a healthier food system. Working with her friend and fellow food activist Maureen Muketha, who is based in Kenya, Healy-Thow sent in a proposal to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. The pair envisioned a global, youth-led campaign calling for food systems change.
GAIN agreed to back the campaign, and Act4Food Act4Change was born. Healy-Thow and Muketha recruited Chowdhury to execute their global vision.
“It will show the world youth power and youth leadership,” Chowdhury says of Act4Food Act4Change. “This pledge will mobilize youth across the world.”
The trio has since grown to an international team of 24 youth leaders representing countries including Nicaragua, China, and Lebanon.
The campaign is already reaching out to governments and businesses around the world to demand a commitment to Act4Food Act4Change’s food system actions.
“We’re asking them very bluntly, ‘Are you with us or are you against us?’ Because we need to work with you to make these actions a reality,” Healy-Thow tells Food Tank.
While some politicians and CEOs may be inclined to dismiss young people, Healy-Thow emphasizes their power. Millennials are the largest generation across the world, with just under US$15 trillion in global spending power. Plus, the support of young people – and the reach of Generation Z’s social media networks – is impacting elections.
“When you’re thinking about the health of the next generation, if you want the population of your country to not emigrate, to be economically viable citizens, while also having a country that’s happy, and having an environment that’s sustainable and long lasting into the future, you really need to listen to young people,” Healy-Thow tells Food Tank.
Both Healy-Thow and Chowdhury think the action “Ensuring young people have a seat at the table at every level of decision-making,” is one of most important on Act4Food Act4Change’s slate.
“I strongly believe that young people need to be at the trustee or board level,” Healy-Thow tells Food Tank. “Especially in food systems when businesses have such a large part to play, having a young person who is switched on to sustainability, climate actions, and human rights at a really high decision-making table, I think can only be a positive thing.”