Food poses a massive challenge globally. Many people are either food insecure or suffering from nutritional problems, including overconsumption. At the same time, the fulfilling of growing food demand has enormous environmental impacts. In this chapter, we urge individuals and organisations around the world to start looking at everything to do with food as interconnected, taking a ‘food systems’ perspective to start solving the deeper problems. Using hopeful and powerful examples, we show how looking at food systems can help transform food economics, politics, technologies, habits, and cultures.
Keywords: food systems, diet change, food waste, cities and food, food politics, education, gender gaps
Food security underpins the stability and prosperity of entire societies. The aphorism ‘Every society is only three missed meals away from revolution’ is evidenced by the unrest surrounding food price spikes around the world. Food is central to every aspect of human life.
Today's food systems face unprecedented and ever-increasing pressure from population growth, climate change, and environmental degradation more broadly. The world's population is projected to grow to almost ten billion by 2050, and demand for food will increase accordingly. According to one of the UK's chief scientists, by 2030 the world will need to produce 50 per cent more food and energy together with 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Poignantly, many of the advances in food systems productivity and efficiency have contributed to the environmental challenges and population growth that now threaten them. Food production is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, responsible for at least 60 per cent of global terrestrial biodiversity loss and full or over-exploitation of around 90 per cent of commercial fish stocks. Marine ecosystems are quite literally dying due to the combined effects of overfishing, ocean acidification, and pollution.
The agriculture sector worldwide directly contributes around 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions when fuel use, fertiliser production, and land-use changes are included. Crop-livestock production systems are the largest driver of changes to global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, which are already well outside of the safe operating space for the planet.
Food processing uses large amounts of energy and water – for example, accounting for 10 per cent of industrial use of the public water supply and around 10 per cent of the industrial waste stream in the UK.