Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Food is magical! We all hold many memories of food, from sharing meals and laughter with friends and families to eating an awful meal your mum cooked. However, one thing we don't often think about anymore is how our food is produced. We call the processes by which our food is grown and consumed our food system. However, these mysterious systems remain hidden unless you have too much free time or are a massive food nerd like myself.
As is typical with many systems, our global food system is a massive and complex beast with many moving parts. There's so much to discuss that I will probably only scratch the surface here, but I hope to identify some of the nuances of these systems. I will eventually delve deeper into this area, so watch this space if sustainable food systems are your jam.
Everything written here is my informed ideas. I am open to and actively encourage critique of my work. Listening to opposing views and engaging in healthy discussions is always good. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post and encourage anyone interested to chat with me, so please get in touch! I would also really appreciate it if you share this with anyone you think might be interested.
By definition, a food system describes the interconnected processes whereby food is produced and consumed by humans. This involves growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, distribution, disposal, and waste. Despite feeding the majority of our global community, these systems are an abstract concept to the average consumer. They have been set up to prioritise high yields through chemical fertilisers and pesticides rather than working in harmony with nature. Our current intensive farming methods contribute to environmental damage, such as soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions, just to name a few. We must shift away from this profit-driven system to one that works with nature. As Covid has proven, these systems must also be more resilient to ensure food security for every human as a fundamental right.
Food systems consist of the land where our food is grown and all the ecosystem services for this land to be as it is. Ideally, all processes here are self-balancing. I like the idea that nature works in harmony, keeping itself in check. For example, if one species' population increases, more food will be available for its predator. This will increase the number of predators and reduce the species' population to lower than its original value. This cycle continues as each process keeps everything in check. This happens on countless levels between animals, plants, microorganisms, and weather. However, our current agricultural methods are unbalancing these systems, contributing to the climate crisis. We need to rebalance these systems by returning our land back to its natural state of equilibrium.
Our farmers use this land to lovingly cultivate crops and rear livestock to nourish our populations. We use half of the world's land to produce food to support our growing global population. Once upon a time, humans consumed locally grown whole foods. Since the industrial revolution, we have started processing our food for various reasons. Often times processing is excellent for preserving our food and reducing waste. However, recently, we have been turning it into unhealthy ultra-processed products, which I don't even consider food. Our food systems have also become globalised. We import and export food to other countries all over the world, which helps us to feed the people who live in our own country and those in other countries. But with the mechanisation and globalisation of our food systems and our ever-busy lifestyles, we have lost touch with what we eat. Instead of being our medicine, it is now damaging ourselves and our planet.
Currently, our diets include increasing quantities of ultra-processed foods. We're facing what is known as the triple burden of malnutrition. This refers to undernutrition, obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies occurring in populations simultaneously. I think we must get back in the kitchen and cook from scratch using fresh ingredients. However, I realise this isn't a luxury that everyone can afford. I also think it's essential to aim high and be ambitious; otherwise, we would never see any improvement.
From a chef's point of view, I think it is vital that those with the privilege to choose what they eat incorporate sustainability into the decision-making process. I understand that this is a luxury some can't afford, and it is essential we don't condemn those who can't make that choice. I am writing this as someone who can make these decisions and encourage those in a similar position as me to do the same. I aim to make these choices easier through my website and social media channels.
As Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust said in their report Feeding Britain, beneficial and lasting change requires a sound public understanding of what lies behind the need for these changes. It is, therefore, my mission to inform people about the impact of our current food systems. This includes climate change, biodiversity loss, and growing public ill-health. The report states that we need to eat less, eat differently, and waste less. Over time I will explore these issues and hope to empower people like you and me to make more informed decisions about what we eat.
I must add that it is not personal change alone that we need to make a difference. We also need better food policies. We need to support our farmers, who are the pillars of our lives. Without them, we wouldn't be where we are today. We must support them throughout this transformation which I and many others advocate for. I don't know whether we need to address how society functions, but I like the idea of change.