A version of this piece was featured in Food Tank’s newsletter, released weekly on Thursdays. To make sure it lands straight in your inbox and to be among the first to receive it, subscribe now by clicking here.
I hope your new year is off to a good start!
I’m thinking about what changes this new year will bring: Will we take meaningful national and global policy action on food systems? Will we bring our eating patterns into alignment with what’s healthy for the planet?
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the transformations I’d like to see in the world—and reading some very smart people’s predictions for the food system in 2024.
Climate and sustainability are top-of-mind, of course, as are food prices, which could start to go back down after years of inflation. Technology and food, especially artificial intelligence, is a big topic, too: Companies like Winnow are using it to help cut food waste, and other analysts are talking about ways it can be integrated into farm tech and even meal planning.
Personally, I want to do more than try to predict the future—I think we can make a better future come true. So as the world continues to change over the next year, here are five concrete steps that’ll put us on the right side of history and help build meaningful change right now.
1. Eat planet-healthy foods, because they’re good for our own bodies, too.
One of the most common questions people ask me is what foods they should eat—or should avoid!—if they care about food and agriculture systems, farmers, food workers, and the planet. The answer is almost deceptively simple: The foods that are healthy for the planet are healthy for people, and vice versa.
Millets are a great example of a nutritious, resilient grain. Buckwheat, too, is an easy cover crop that’s also high in protein and fiber. “It’s gonna be buckwheat’s year,” Cathy Strange, the Whole Foods Market Ambassador of Food Culture, told the New York Times. Or, just go to your local farmers market, so you can find fresh ingredients that haven’t been too processed.
The Food is Medicine movement will be crucial to helping us achieve better diets in an equitable way. From the White House to local clinics, we’re seeing significant growth in strategies and programs that empower medical providers to incorporate the power of food into health care, which has the potential to address barriers toward accessing foods that are healthy for people and planet.
2. Make carbon “the new calories.”
This is one of my favorite quotes from experts’ predictions: “In 2024, carbon will be the new calories,” Julia Collins, Founder and CEO of Planet FWD, told Forbes.
So, let’s count carbon. Let’s be aware of the environmental impacts of the food we eat—and let’s put pressure on food corporations to use true-cost accounting to be transparent about their practices. Some chefs are even talking about “climate-change cuisine,” which could involve climate labels on menus or more frequently rotating out dishes.
3. Recognize that water gives us life.
Many communities around the world are already facing water shortages, and the current climate trajectory is set to make that problem even more serious. In 2024, let’s continue to make water a top priority.
That means buying crops from regenerative and organic farms, because healthier soils use water more efficiently. It also means eating more sustainable blue foods—fish, seafood, ocean plants, and more—which are particularly healthful and have a significant potential to help feed a growing world population.
I want to remind you of the words of Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe: “This society, this modernization, has decided that it’s OK to dump everything and anything into waterways. Whereas the old way was that this water is precious, this water is life. You take care of this water. You don’t go throwing things in there. You pray to this water.”
4. Stand up for food system workers’ rights and embodied knowledge.
Movements to organize food system workers have made significant progress over the past few years, from Starbucks employees fighting for a union to groups like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s efforts to ensure that farm workers are treated justly and paid fairly.
These forms of community mobilization around the globe are all rooted in food sovereignty, through which local communities have direct control over the production of their own culturally relevant foods. As Ousmane Ndiaye of the African farmers’ organization ASPRODEB told me when I visited Senegal last year, “farmers are knowledge producers too.”
We can support unionized food businesses, not cross picket lines, and honor traditional and Indigenous knowledge systems. We can also use art to show solidarity and share stories: If you’re in the Boston area in February, I hope you’ll join us for a reading of Food Tank’s play, “Little Peasants: A Behind the Scenes Look at Union Organizing in the Food Sector.” You can get tickets HERE, and Food Tank members can join us free by emailing Kenzie@FoodTank.com.
5. Take care of one another.
Going into 2024, we’re faced with devastating challenges, from the climate crisis to year four of Covid-19 to global hunger. Food insecurity, undernourishment, and hunger are getting worse, which is appalling, and climate-based resource shortages could make the situation even more tragic.
But in the face of difficulty, we can all make a difference by creating what the economist and food systems expert Raj Patel calls an economy of care. This means taking steps to build a society that incentivizes and facilitates community support, rather than exploitation. Our work can take many forms—and Food Tank’s list of 124 impactful organizations in 2024 is a good place to start!
Building an economy of care is more than just a kind way to exist in the world—it can actually help make us healthier.
This year, let’s uplift our local communities and build deeply rooted, resilient food systems. This year, let’s make our predictions for a better world come true!
On last week’s episode of the Food Talk podcast, I shared more of our own predictions for what’s to come in 2024, and several special guests joined me to discuss the opportunities they hope to see during the year. I hope you’ll listen to the show here.
What do you think is in store for food systems in 2024? What changemakers in your community are already stepping up to make change? Email me at email@example.com to share your thoughts and stories. I look forward to hearing from you!
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Kasturi Laxmi