Photo courtesy of @medialiciously.co.uk
It’s no secret that the way we produce food contributes to many global problems, but it can also serve as a powerful solution. On November 7, food systems experts at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) Nourish Scotland Pavilion discussed how healthy and sustainable diets can drive positive outcomes for public health, local food systems, food workers, and biodiversity.
“Food is one of those things that brings every single person together. There are few other things that connect us more than food does,” says Brent Loken WWF Global Food Lead Scientist.
Everyone wants to talk about food, but it’s also not talked about enough, according to Loken—for example, food’s role in biodiversity loss, climate change, and ill health. While global forums have recently put a heavier focus on important topics like regenerative agriculture and food waste, healthy and sustainable diets are often left off the table.
“Food is both personal and political, and we need to elevate the political part,” says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.
One issue driving this is a lack of definitions, says Sara Farley, Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation Food Initiative. “As a global community, we don’t have a shared North Star to move towards and to vote for. What do we mean by healthy diet and by good food?”
These definitions can help rework the system to make sustainable foods the more profitable and logical choice. It can also help to “rethink what was obvious,” says Pete Ritchie, Executive Director of Nourish Scotland. “How we connect the dots between local food systems to these national governments is key,” Pete Ritchie, Executive Director of Nourish Scotland.
Local and regional food systems have become critical tools for larger governments to organizations learn from, especially over the last 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. On November 6, Nourish Scotland and IPES-Food initiated The Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration, a call upon world leaders to recognize that local governments and communities are critical leaders in food systems sustainability.
Dr. Chemuku Wekesa, Landscape Ecologist at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, has seen crosscutting benefits within his local community from investing more in traditional crop varieties. These crops are more resilient and resistant to pests and disease, and they also better nourish eaters.
“Even in the COVID era, in our community, we have zero cases,” Wekesa says. “And when you speak to the elders, they will tell you that it is because the food they eat has boosted their immunity.”
As a Coordinator of Rabai Cultural Village in Kenya, Mohammed Kadilo saw that his community, too, was able to sustain itself at a local level throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as global supply chains broke down.
“There is a strong correlation between the culture and food system. You cannot separate them,” Kadilo says. He’s working to preserve, cultivate, and utilize the region’s traditional crops varieties for these same purposes, as well as educate and get young people more interested in their benefits. But for there to be an economic incentive to grow these crops and use them, stakeholders—and especially government—need to understand their importance for the climate and in health.
“Our governments, whether in the global south or global north, are not addressing food the way they should be,” says Nierenberg.
“In many cases, governments have forgotten that access to food is their first responsibility… making sure people do not go hungry,” says Club of Rome Co-President Sandrine Dixson-Declѐve. She’s been amazed at the number of global leaders she speaks with that do not see this connection.
“We’ve lost sight as humanity that it is our responsibility to ensure that most of the world does not go hungry,” Dixson-Declѐve adds. “The food system is part of the broader economic system, which is broken.”
Panelists agreed that ensuring healthy and sustainable diets for all means going back to the basics. Food is the connecter between the planetary emergencies surrounding climate, biodiversity, and poverty. And all livelihoods are interdependent with those that are the most vulnerable within each community.
“We have to put the pressure where pressure needs to be put,” says Loken. This won’t be achieved from awareness campaigns and consumer demand alone. Bottom-up solutions within communities must be coupled with top-down policy. “If we don’t come at it from both sides, I don’t see how we can create the change that we want.”
“Food can be the linchpin for change,” says Dixson-Declѐve.