During the official World Food Day North America Celebration, food systems researchers, policy experts, and advocates discussed the importance of improving global food and agriculture systems to address the world’s most pressing challenges. Hosted by WOSU-NPR, the event was organized by The Ohio State University, The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), The Ohio Food Policy Network, the U.N. Environment Programme, and Food Tank.
Falling between the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in the United States and the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP27)—which will feature pavilions dedicated to food and agriculture systems for the very first time—World Food Day 2022 calls for action to increase resilience, foster inclusive economic growth, and address inequalities.
“While there is much to celebrate on World Food Day,” Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg says, “there is way too much to do. We need more accessible, affordable and equitable food systems that are diverse and inclusive, and include youth and women and transgender folks, and address inherent misogyny and racism in our food systems.”
Jocelyn Brown Hall, Director of the FAO Liaison Office for North America, states that almost 830 million people globally are food insecure, with around 130-140 million facing acute food insecurity. Additionally, 3 billion people lack access to healthy diets.
The world’s food and agriculture systems are also a “contributor to and casualty of” the climate crisis. “We have a lot of challenges ahead,” Hall continues, “and that’s why we, every year, talk about World Food Day, because we haven’t cracked the code [to solving these problems] yet.”
Despite these challenges, speakers highlighted a number of key solutions that can help to improve resilience, reduce hunger, and improve the agency of historically marginalized communities.
In the U.S., Marion Nestle, Professor emerita at New York University, advocates for implementing universal free school meals. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic “the Biden administration made school lunch universal, which many advocates have been pushing for for decades,” Nestle says. “It was thrilling when that happened, and now it’s stopped.”
Universal free school meals have been shown to reduce both childhood hunger and the stigma associated with receiving free or reduced price meals, but many states are opting to return to pre-pandemic feeding programs. Nestle points to partisan politics as a major barrier to keeping a universal free school meal program in place. “The idea that food in schools has become a partisan issue is enough to make me cry.”
Overcoming partisan politics will also be key to devoting more funding to food and agriculture research, a key change called for by Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. As the climate crisis advances and supply chain disruptions continue to reveal the fragility of global food systems, Glickman argues that researchers will need to find ways to efficiently supply eaters with enough food.
“We need to have ample research budgets in the food and agriculture sector in order to ensure that we can feed a hungry world,” Glickman says. But, he notes, partisanship, which “invades everything now” is currently limiting funding for this research. “What we do in terms of making our democracy flourish better is going to have a lot to do with the issues that are being raised in today’s conference.”
Improvements to the world’s food and agriculture systems also require supporting those who grow and harvest the food, Baldemar Velasquez, President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) says. Pointing to the prevalence of child labor and worker exploitation in global food systems, he says, labor organizing is key so they can demand “a restructuring of the systemic inequities that are inherent in the supply chain.”
He also calls on allies to do their part and ensure farm workers are able to drive these changes. “Many of you are involved in advocacy groups,” Velaszques says, addressing the audience, “but you need to partner with groups that are the recipients of your support. Because they need to get up and rise up and start demanding these things for themselves.”
Watch the full recording of the official North America World Food Day Summit below and learn more about the changes that food systems experts are advocating for.