As we outlined in our previous piece, The Flaws of Today’s Industrial Food System, industrial agriculture prioritizes production at the expense of everything else. It is unsustainable in every sense of the word. It depletes topsoil, disrupts nutrient cycles, and degrades habitat. It harms human health, pollutes the biosphere, and exacerbates existing inequality.
In contrast, sustainable agriculture prioritizes well-being. It creates its own inputs (natural fertilizer and feed) and cycles finite outputs (like crops/livestock and manure) in a circular system. This dichotomy - between the wasteful status quo and the self-regenerative sustainable future we must usher in - mirrors the contrast between the current carbon-heavy industrial economy and the decarbonized future that prioritizes people and planetary health.
The global food system is good at what it’s designed to do - produce a lot of food - but this design is misguided and unsustainable.
In sum, the global food system is good at what it’s designed to do - produce a lot of food - but this design is misguided and unsustainable. Tomorrow’s food system presents an opportunity to correct each of these flaws. It can be both efficient in the right ways - producing the right food in the right places at the right times - and less wasteful at every stage of the supply chain. It can be resilient to disruptions both related and unrelated to the climate crisis, which will magnify existing challenges to the food system and present new ones. It can be fundamentally equitable by being more inclusive and beneficial for both humans and the planet. It can be regenerative, helping the planet and restoring natural balance to ecosystems that have been punished for centuries by our ecologically destructive approach to making food. And it can be humane and healthy, prioritizing the welfare of all forms of life and the planet’s welfare as well.
Food touches every aspect of our civilization, and reforming the ways we produce and consume food could reshape our civilization more than any other singular intervention the 21st century may bring. Below, we describe how a sustainable food system would correct many of the greatest shortcomings of our modern industrial food system while curbing some of the greatest societal challenges we face.