During a recent conversation at the U.N. Climate Change Conference sustainable food advocates called on decision makers to incorporate sustainable consumption into national policies. The session was organized by Food Tank in partnership with the Food4Climate Pavilion.
Global food systems leaders believe that without pushing for sustainable consumption patterns among eaters, the world will still drive land use change, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss.
In some regions, diets are already aligned with planetary health, says Eirini Pitsilidi, Global Head of Food Systems for Compassion for World Farming. But in other areas, particularly in the Global North, where “we over consume resource-intensive foods, such as meat,” there needs to be a focus on shifting diets.
Pitsilidi and Juliette Tronchon, Policy and Public Affairs Specialist for ProVeg International, say that proponents of plant-forward diets don’t want consumers to frame this shift as a loss. “We’re not taking anything away from people,” Tronchon argues.
Rather, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with food systems and embrace new foods. “We have been segregating food from nature for the last 60 to 70s years, and now it’s time to connect them again and diversify them again,” states Pitsilidi.
But the panelists are quick to say that the onus doesn’t fall entirely on the consumer. Enabling environments supported by the public and private sector will be essential to drive change, they argue.
Nicole Pita, a Project Manager for IPES-Food says that a forthcoming report shows that consumers’ “agency is highly constrained.” She argues that only the most “highly motivated” eaters with access to healthy, sustainably produced foods and financial capital are able to change their diets.
Tronchon says that ProVeg is working to help policymakers understand that a holistic approach for food systems is necessary. But it’s a “struggle,” she says. “You can see clearly at COP that we’re talking about agriculture a little bit, but we’re not really talking about food systems and diets.”
“Consumption needs to be part of agricultural conversations,” Pitsilidi agrees.
Speakers including Pita and Satya S. Tripathi, Secretary-General, the Global Alliance for a Sustainable Planet also advocate for redirecting public funds, particularly agricultural subsidies, to support better production practices. “Repurposing government expenditure in the right way can really empower people to reduce input costs by up to 80 percent, increase yields anywhere between 30 to 200 percent, and [lead to] exponential gains in public health,” Tripathi says.
Market access is also key, Tripathi says, noting that farmers won’t be incentivized to grow a diverse range of crops, which promote human and planetary health, if they aren’t able to sell their products to support their livelihoods.
Recognizing the value farmers bring, respecting them, and paying them for their work is an important part of this, Tripathi adds. “[Farmers] need to be respected, and that is the only way you will see a systems-scale transition.”
Listen to the full conversation by clicking HERE.
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