The global food system is dirty, unhealthy, and unfair. Here are some solutions to promote the environment, better nutrition, and social equity.
The global food system has proven very efficient at extracting calories from the ground. But unfortunately, agricultural output growth is slowing relative to the population. With damaging effects on the environment, world nutrition, and equity, the system needs a reboot. This article will explore the biggest problems with the current arrangement and propose some solutions.
The Current System Drains Resources And Pollutes
The current global food system has been a disaster for the environment, and it promises to become more severe as the demand for food rises with the population. Food production consumes more water, nutrients, and fossil fuels than most other human activities combined. Even if the rate of resource consumption decreases relative to the global food requirement, the total drain will be astronomical.
Resources aside, the global food system releases over 70% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, chemical herbicides and pesticides pollute eroded land and vulnerable water, posing serious health risks to animals and humans. Finally, studies have shown that we consume many of these chemicals when we eat produce treated with them.
Our Food is Unhealthy, And There Won't Be Enough by 2050
Industrial farming produces low-quality nutrition. The total number of calories is high enough to sustain a large population but not a healthy one. Monocropping gives the land no time to recover nutrients, and most livestock consumes feed it would not eat in nature. Therefore, much of our food is nutritionally deficient.
Even if our current system would provide nutrient-dense food, it will not be able to feed an estimated 9.6 billion people by 2050. This is because we have become more efficient in extracting calories from the Earth; however, the growth rate is slowing down. Using food crops for non-food projects like biofuels further exacerbates the problem.
Go Circular – Consider buying food from or investing in local regenerative food producers.
Innovation and Investment Benefit The Rich
A small number of huge corporations dominate the global food system. They can afford engineered seeds and ultra-efficient equipment and still undercut smaller competitors. This arrangement prevents millions of people worldwide from equitable access to healthy foods and keeps many from entering the food production industry.
In addition to access, the current system distributes innovation inequitably. The fruits of technological advancement are only enjoyed on a large scale in affluent societies. Therefore, poorer countries cannot keep up. As a result, they are less likely to export their goods, and their economies and public health suffer.
A Circular Food Model Is Great for the Environment and Society
Moving to a circular food production system would mitigate many environmental and social problems compounded by our current methods. The circular model favors arrangements that deindustrialize food production, relying on renewables and cutting emissions. Moreover, a circular model prioritizes local distribution systems that benefit workers and farm owners.
Unfortunately, most people do not know what a circular food system entails, and the "big ag" companies have little incentive to invest in or research circular technologies and methods. Therefore, we need to reform the incentive structure, providing education and regulation to convince these companies that a circular model is in their best interest.
Nutritional Density Will Fix Health and Support a Larger Population
Increasing the production of nutrient-dense foods would do wonders for human health and local environments worldwide. Sustainable and circular agricultural practices would preserve the health of arable soil, decrease pollution, and increase food quality.
Furthermore, such practices tend to benefit areas that have suffered most from a lack of good nutrition. For example, in places like impoverished urban centers in the U.S. and Europe, nutrient-dense foods will help alleviate disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease among people of color.
As local food production grows and benefits smaller economies, they can afford more technological innovations that can increase the total number of calories extracted from the ground without harming the environment or nutritional quality.
Equitable Innovation and Investment Will Have an Outsized Impact
Over half the world's population growth between now and 2050 will occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Investing in innovation to produce nutritionally and calorically dense food in places like them is a much more effective proposition than growing more staples for biofuel. Furthermore, it will bring a more robust food production system to the areas that will suffer most without one.
Equitable investments and policies also have a part to play in increasing access to the food production industry. Particularly in the U.S., people of color have faced systemic discrimination when seeking agricultural employment and applying for business loans. Since urban and vertical farming are in their infancy, they are prime opportunities for entrepreneurs of color to make their foray into the industry and bring nutrition, health, and prosperity to their communities.
Change Is Difficult but Necessary
The current global food system is massive, and it will be challenging to influence. However, the growing awareness of climate change and systemic inequity is causing people to consider a push for change. A circular farming system would reduce our negative environmental impact, while a renewed focus on nutrition would alleviate health issues and prevent starvation worldwide. Finally, equitable distribution of innovation and investment would bring access to the people who need it most.
Key Marketing Takeaways
Go Circular – Consider buying food from or investing in local regenerative food producers. Not only will you get better-tasting food, but you will incentivize growers to engage in circular practices.
Be Dense - Encourage nutritionally packed meals at home and work. It's not about calories. Your family's health and your employees' productivity will improve if they consume foods grown on healthy soil.
Serve Equity – Anything that helps move innovation and investment to where they are most effective will help. From buying food at minority-owned establishments or investing in NGOs that improve irrigation in Africa, use your influence to incentivize equitable distribution.