Eleven percent of the world population faces food insecurity. That’s more than 850 million people. But a sustainable and inclusive food system is within reach. Here’s how to help.
According to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly half of the world’s population can’t afford to eat a healthy diet.
“Moreover, the way we produce, consume and, sadly, waste food exacts a heavy toll on our planet, putting unnecessary pressure on natural resources, the environment and climate,” the FAO notes.
“Food production too often degrades or destroys natural habitats and contributes to species extinction. Such inefficiency is costing us trillions of dollars, but, most importantly, today’s agri-food systems are exposing profound inequalities and injustices in our global society. Three billion people cannot afford healthy diets, while overweight and obesity continue to increase worldwide,” the agency says.
How to support a more sustainable food system
“A sustainable agri-food system is one in which a variety of sufficient, nutritious and safe foods is available at an affordable price to everyone, and nobody is hungry or suffers from any form of malnutrition,” says the FAO.
“The shelves are stocked at the local market or food store, but less food is wasted and the food supply chain is more resilient to shocks such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics, all while limiting, rather than worsening, environmental degradation or climate change,” says the FAO.
“In fact, sustainable agri-food systems deliver food security and nutrition for all, without compromising the economic, social and environmental bases, for generations to come. They lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.”
Try these ten tips to help our global food system become more sustainable and inclusive.
1. Choose Local
What does eating local mean? It means supporting growers producers food in as close a radius as possible, ideally within 250 miles or so — think of it as any place you could drive to within a day and make it back home with your produce haul. That’s a good benchmark for where your food ideally comes from. That’s of course not always easy in off-seasons. But a growing number of indoor vertical gardens and growers are popping up in cold-weather climates. London has an underground hydroponic greens producer. New York and Chicago have indoor growers, too.
2. Choose Seasonal
One of the best ways to stick to your local commitment is to eat with the seasons. Watermelon in December isn’t going to come from someplace nearby to most people north of the equator. But you’re likely to find pomegranate, persimmons, apples, and pear. Certain fruits and vegetables freeze exceptionally well and can sustain you through the winter if you can’t live without them.
3. Eat Less Meat
The World Health Organization now lists red and processed meat as probable and likely carcinogens. This includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. But not only are they harmful to human health, but they’re also incredibly resource-intensive to produce. Calorically speaking, plants can feed far more people than animals can, and with significantly fewer resources. This is essential to reducing our climate impact and to tackling global hunger. And there’s no shortage of vegan meat options to swap in, either.
4. Eat Less Dairy
Just as meat is resource-intensive, so too is dairy. Milk production requires upwards of 50 gallons of water and 100 pounds of feed per cow per day. Plant milk, on the other hand, is considerably less resource-intensive. Given much of the world is also lactose-intolerant, there are health benefits in swapping dairy for plant milk.
5. Go Plant-Based
If you’re cutting down on meat and dairy, why not dive fully into a plant-based or vegan diet? In his 2020 Netflix documentary, A Life on Earth, Sir David Attenborough encourages viewers to adopt a plant-based diet. He points to the link between animal agriculture and climate change. The climate emergency is expected to reduce food availability for millions of people across the globe.
6. Reduce Food Waste
An estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption goes uneaten. While much of this happens before food makes its way to our plates, we do have the power to change our consumption habits and reduce food waste in our lives. Try shopping more often but buying only what you need rather than filling your cart every time. Plan your meals ahead of time and look at ingredients that work across several meals, like whole grains, beans, and steamed veggies.
7. Grow Your Own
A little goes (grows!) a long way. Whether you’re doing countertop sprouting, growing herbs, or your own greens, the food we grow ourselves takes on a more profound significance and value. Growing your own also eliminates transportation and packaging, which also supports a healthier environmental footprint.
8. Eat the Rainbow
By diversifying your food choices, you keep a multitude of crops in the soil and a multitude of growers in the food system. A healthy food ecosystem supports wider availability and greater access. The healthier we eat as individuals the more we can inculcate the market and make healthier food for everyone the norm.
9. Support Diverse Producers
It’s not just our local farmers that need our support. Ensuring women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ producers succeed is key to a holistic food system, too. They often help to keep food production local, which means more local growers are finding nearby customers to bring their crops to market. Keeping that future local means producers who are invested in their communities, bringing jobs, support, and inspiration where it’s needed most.
10. Support Healthy Food Initiatives
This work can’t be done alone. There are countless organizations out there helping to bring healthy food and resources to those most in need. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (Ethos is a supporter) for example, works with low-income communities around the world. It brings fruit-bearing orchards to communities and empowers them with a local food system. The United Nations’ World Food Programme received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in famine-stricken regions. And there are likely a number of local organizations where you live working to feed those most in need.
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