Could the Silver Bullet To Our Problems Be Right Under Our Millennial Nose?

06/01/2015 11:11 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016
insatiablemunch: Flickr CC

To put it plainly, we've got a lot on our plate. It's hard not to see the big challenges facing our 2015 world. Climate change and our seeming inability to mount a coordinated, comprehensive response. An obesity crisis across almost all economic, cultural and geographic divides -- hitting populations still struggling with co-existing starvation. Growing global and local social inequality, the concentration of global wealth and cavernous economic divides, such that 1% of the world's population will soon possess 50% of its wealth. The list goes on.

With all this on my mind, I've been struggling with a question. How do we bring communities together, move beyond talking about problems and differences, and re-start a conversation about our biggest collective challenges? What do these challenges have in common? What is our lever for unifying ideological, political and social divides toward meaningful action.

Suddenly the answer became clear: food.

Universal, emotive, powerful -- what we put in our mouths today is the single biggest risk factor for disease worldwide. What was once a catalyst for major gains in life expectancy last century, our diet is now eroding those very gains. Food also contributes almost 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions; that's more than cars, trucks and planes combined. It acts as the building block for life itself and so it is no surprise that in an age when food is more processed, globalized, carbon intensive and privately controlled -- we are simultaneously battling a war on obesity and threatening the very ecology upon which humanity depends.

What is truly exciting though, is that the reverse is also true. A smarter food system could be our missing silver bullet for both planetary and human health, and food is a common language in a fragmented world -- bridging religions, cultures and boundaries. 

As the millennial generations, we might be the cohort that largely inherited the greatest challenges we collectively face this century -- increasingly framed as our "super wicked problems." But we are also the generation best positioned to solve them. Globally connected, native to 2.0 technologies and increasingly looking for a bigger "why" than consumption, growth and economic returns -- we are millennials reconnecting with food, with each other and toward a better future.

So what is happening? What works? What are millennials around the globe doing to bridge the food gap and unlock the power of what's on our plate?

Millennials Connecting Food With Future

One such example is the Food Recovery Network. Founded by 25-year-old Ben Simon, this group now has an army of volunteers from all walks of life, taking surplus, unsold food from schools and universities -- saving it from landfill -- and donating it to hungry Americans. Simon founded the group as a college senior and has since reached out into 111 colleges in 31 states and donated more than 600,000 pounds of food -- that's almost half a million meals.

Another clever idea linking food, the way we eat, our health and our environment, is Original Unverpackt. Established by young Germans Milena Glimbovski, 24 and Sara Wolf, 31, this is the first supermarket breaking its reliance on disposable packaging. Mindful shoppers purchase their food using reusable containers -- without the need for plastic or paper packaging. The quantity purchased is also then dependent on the needs of the buyer, dramatically cutting down on food waste in the home.

Turning to Melbourne, Australia, and an idea I co-founded with a team of concerned peers: festival21 is a live, open celebration of community, food, and future. Established by pro bono millennials, this is not just another food festival. It's about exploring our biggest societal issues without using the jargon and rhetoric that currently surround them -- including climate change, chronic disease and social equity. Through celebration, food becomes a common language with which we can connect and come to terms with our relationship with food; our community and social contract; the paired future of food and climate change; and the impact of food and nutrition on global health.

Finally, looking to the Nordics and EAT Move Sleep. This fast-paced initiative is using soccer as a platform for delivering health and sustainability literacy, as well as fresh-food access to young people across Norway. Utilizing the existing network of 300,000 young players, their families and millennial ambassadors from the sporting world, EAT and its partners are on a mission for big impact.

A New Food Future

In 2015, an eggplant should be as obvious to a 7-year old as an iPhone and we need to find ways to make this happen. Knowing what food is, where it comes from and how to eat it allows us to make informed decisions about what we put in our mouths -- with direct consequences on our health, our environment and our collective future. In this light, food could well be the common language and that elusive silver bullet for some of our most pressing collective challenges.

We might have some big challenges on our plate, but the answers could be right there too.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the EAT Initiative, in conjunction with the latter's 2nd annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum (Stockholm, June 1-2, 2015). The EAT Stockholm Food Forum aims to convene thought leaders at the intersection of science, business and politics, to develop integrated strategies and synergic solutions toward a healthier and more sustainable global food system. For more information about EAT Stockholm Food Forum, read here.