The importance of food systems and the environment for nutrition
Published: 24 November 2020
Publication: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Authors: Jessica Fanzo, Alexandra L Bellows, Marie L Spiker, Andrew L Thorne-Lyman, and Martin W Bloem
Read the original paper here.
- Food systems contribute to and are vulnerable to ongoing climate and environmental changes that threaten their sustainability
- We’re going to need more research to tell us what food policy changes we should make to ensure everyone has access to nutritious food despite the impacts of climate change.
- We need to think about this key question: how can both human and planetary health thrive while meeting the demands of a growing human population, and if we can’t have it all, what trade-offs are we willing to live with?
- Food systems involve the production, processing, packaging, distribution, marketing, purchasing, consumption, and waste of food.
- By “transforming” (improving) food systems, we could make healthy food more accessible and reduce environmental impact
- We need a lot more research to figure out how best to structure this transformation
- Silos within the field make this research harder
The impact of climate change on food systems
- The link between climate and food systems is getting more and more attention, but there are still a lot of gaps in our knowledge. Specifically, we need more research on:
- The “missing middle” of the food supply chain (aka anything other than people’s diets and agricultural production)
- How climate change will affect non-staple crops (most research to date has only looked at staple crops).
- How to create context-specific policies (eg. financial incentives, targeted messaging campaigns etc.) that encourage/allow people to eat sustainable diets and how to measure whether these policies are working:
- Diets. We need more information on:
- The best way to measure how sustainable someone’s diet is
- How people’s diets are changing as incomes rise
- Healthy, locally appropriate, and sustainable diets are sometimes at odds with one another. How should we prioritize?
- “One of the shortcomings of the EAT–Lancet Commission report was that it provided a single healthy reference diet for the world, and did not take into account that healthy and sustainable diets may differ in their availability, accessibility, and cost at the global, regional, and individual levels. Even more so, what is considered healthy is not always sustainable, and what is considered a sustainable diet is not always a healthy one.”
- Food safety. We need more information on:
- The danger of using pesticides and chemicals, and whether these dangers affect consumer purchases.
- The danger of plastics (in food packaging, production etc.).
- Food loss and waste. We need more information on:
- How to measure and reduce food waste/loss.
- “Some models suggest that changes in food availability due to climate change, specifically reduced availability of fruit and vegetables, are estimated to result in an additional 529,000 deaths by 2050.”
- “Globally, agriculture and livestock production utilize ∼40% of arable land account for ∼70% of fresh water withdrawn for human purposes, and are responsible for ∼11% of GHG emissions (although some estimates range from 11% to 24% depending on what is counted).”
- “Food wasted at the retail and consumer levels alone averages 1217 calories, 33 g protein, 6 g fiber, and 286 g Ca per person per day.”
Figure: Link between food systems and the environment