The evidence is indisputable. We need to make substantial changes to the way we grow, process, and consume food.
Today, there are 925 million people around the world suffering from hunger, and yet approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. That’s not to mention the vast impact our existing food systems have on the environment -generating 34% of all man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say we will need to produce 60% more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion by 2050. To do so in a sustainable manner, three key factors must be addressed:
- Food shortages
- Land shortages
- GHG emissions.
Here are five key ways we can work to overcome these challenges:
1. Reduce consumption of animal products
Producing meat for human consumption is far more resource-intensive than growing plant proteins like cereals, beans, peas, or lentils.
To offer just one example, beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more GHGs per gram of edible protein than the most common-grown plant-based alternatives.
There are lots of communities in rural parts of the world that depend on animal agriculture to make a living and feed their families. But if everyone with the means to do so were to reduce their meat and dairy intake, it would make a significant impact on global food systems – freeing up land for alternative crops and reducing GHG emissions.
Our Mindful Fork concept offers guests the option to choose delicious plant-based menu items, and we’ve set a goal to become the first food service management company in the United States to serve 50% of our entrees as plant-based menu items by July 1, 2025.
2. Eat local
In a highly globalized society, we have grown accustomed to eating exactly what we want, whenever we feel like it – whether it’s bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico, or guava from Ecuador. It’s rare to visit a grocery store and not be able to acquire the entire spectrum of fresh produce. But have we as a society become a little spoilt?
A shift towards seasonal eating, which would see communities primarily consume food grown and harvested in their local area, holds many benefits. For starters, locally grown food is fresher, more nutritious, and much more delicious. Furthermore, seasonal eating supports local farming economies and negates the need for produce to travel halfway across the world to reach our plates. At present, as much as 23% of all the food produced globally is traded internationally, but we could work to reduce our dependence on imported produce and learn to eat with the seasons.
3. Increase agricultural resiliency to withstand climate change
A Chatham House report estimates that staple food crops could decline by a third by 2050 as a direct result of global warming. Furthermore, the report warns that a single drought or similarly extreme weather event could decrease global food production by 10 to 15%.
There are several ways farmers can adapt their practices to fight against the impacts of climate change and leverage all available land. This might include breeding crops to thrive in higher temperatures, improving soil and water management practices to boost crop yields in degraded soils, or planting alternative, more resilient crops.
Regardless of global warming, it’s a good idea for farmers to switch out the crops they grow every few years, since planting the same crops time and again removes soil nutrients and increases reliance on fertilizers.
4. Process and manufacture food more sustainably
More than 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging are produced every year, and just 14% of that is likely to be recycled. Food manufacturers and providers have an important role to play in addressing this, with many already investing in wood or paper-based packaging.
Manufacturers, grocery stores, and the food services industry must also look to optimize processes to reduce food waste – given that almost 50% of all food waste comes from processing and manufacturing. This will require businesses to review their existing operations and identify where their biggest food losses are occurring.
5. Use sustainable ingredients
We’ve addressed how animal agriculture is contributing to both food scarcity and GHG emissions, but many other foodstuffs are difficult to produce ethically and sustainably.
For example, the production of ingredients such as coffee, cocoa, and palm oil has long been linked to deforestation, the destruction of natural habitats, and highly unethical labor practices.
Participants in the global food supply chain, including everyone from grocery store buyers and restaurant owners, to catering services providers and the end consumer, can rally against these practices by thinking more carefully about the high-risk ingredients they source and where they source them from.