Almost all of our major global challenges are linked to food: what we eat, how it is produced, and all that is wasted. We are beginning to grasp the magnitude and complexity of our broken food system, but not even close to fixing it. No expert, government or individual has the recipe, power or influence to single-handedly change the way the world eats. But no matter how "super wicked" our problems seem, there are some exciting entry points for action. EAT has defined five: commissions, cities, children, chefs and cash.
Scientists have already fed us the facts: unhealthy food kills more people than tobacco and alcohol. One in three of us, worldwide, is malnourished. Almost 800 million are starving, while more than 2 billion are overweight or obese. On the other hand, food is responsible for up to 30% of all greenhouse-gas emissions, and is the single most important cause of deforestation, loss of biodiversity and degradation of marine ecosystems.
Still, surprisingly few have studied how it is all interconnected.
EAT calls for scientists to look beyond the micro level, foster trans-disciplinary collaborations and leverage the macro connections. Our newly launched EAT-Lancet Commission has already started its state-of-the-art scientific assessment, to create the first comprehensive mapping of healthy and sustainable diets. The task is to uncover existing knowledge and knowledge gaps to report on where we are, where we should be -- and what policies are needed to get us there.
Scientific evidence is, and should be, at the foundation of all decision making. We'll always need experts who dedicate decades to important single answers. But in a complex world, we also need cross-disciplinary research collaborations and commissions. Even more, we then need simple messages to galvanize political action.
All over the world, people are leaving the countryside where food is produced, to live out their lives in urban areas, where more than half our global population now lives and most of our food is consumed or wasted. Through the C40 network, decision-makers in major cities have already taken action on climate change, particularly in the energy and transport sectors, changing the way we design our cities, the buildings we live in and the roads and rails that allow us to move around.
So far, policymakers have kept their hands off people's plates. But failing to act on the unhealthy food environments that affect their voters and food corporations with narrow outlooks will not only affect their carbon budgets. In the UK, the economic costs of treating under-addressed obesity related conditions have already exceeded the cost of police and fire services.
Partnering with EAT, C40 mayors now want to transform their urban food systems in pursuit of EAT's vision: Healthy People, Healthy Planet. The goal is to create thriving urban communities and leverage climate, health and economic win-wins. EAT calls for all politicians to find the courage to lead, to take their voters where they need to go, and make their local food industry help them get there.
While we are using less time preparing our food, we are using more time watching others cook, and spending more of our food budgets eating out. Chefs have become the rock stars of the food world, culinary trend setters and major influencers. It's time they make us crave the right choices, and set us free from our history of unsustainable gluttony. Scientists can lecture us on facts and figures, but only chefs can teach us what a healthy, sustainable future can taste like!
In partnership with Jamie Oliver, EAT is in the process of setting up a Global Chef Network to turn single voices into a powerful choir. The world needs a new menu, and chefs are the ones to write it.
Central to a food revolution are those that buy, cook, eat and waste food -- us! EAT is collecting insights on how to inform, engage, nudge and regulate, to really change what consumers put on their plates. Children in particular are vulnerable to unhealthy diets, but also great change agents. Obese kids have an increased risk of growing up to be obese. Once obese as an adult, the likelihood of attaining a normal body weight without radical bariatric surgery is less than 1%. Obese parents are, in turn, more likely to have overweight children. On the other hand, stunted children (short for their age due to chronic hunger) are at increased risk of becoming obese as adults.
A vicious cycle. But not unbreakable.
All around the globe, EAT-partners are empowering and engaging schools and children, and with great results. From working with Brian Wansink's Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University and Norwegian GreeNudge, to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution in the UK, via Peggy Liu and JUCCCE in China, to EAT MOVE SLEEP in Norway -- EAT and its partners are helping raise a next generation of healthy and sustainable food consumers. It's a cliché because it is true; children are the future.
Last, but not least, we cannot ignore the markets. All over the world, companies are realizing that the sugar-coated and under-regulated home-alone-party is becoming less and less appealing to customers, employees -- and even investors. Commercial giants were crucial leading up to the Paris Agreement, showcasing how businesses are not only part of the solutions, but also the fastest to develop and implement them. While politicians were still struggling to support and come to consensus for climate mitigations, the Low Carbon Technology Partnership initiative (LCTPi) came up with the business case. Now they are ready to do the same for healthy, sustainable food.
In partnership with EAT, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and its members from the industry, will develop science-based business solutions, to create triple returns -- for people, planet and profit -- as well as long-term sustainability for their shareholders.
Yes, the food industry is still making and marketing products that are bad for the environment, bad for the consumer, and simply not good for anything but short-term profit. But market leaders are changing their ways, and these companies have an important role to play.
EAT now calls for all industry leaders to go beyond adjusting recipes, and start to build new, truly sustainable business models. Some say money doesn't grow on trees, but there is cash to be made from real, good food.
This past week, almost 500 scientists, politicians, business executives, chefs and civil-society leaders from 35 countries gathered at the 3rd Annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum to coordinate efforts. Among them leading environmental scientists like Johan Rockström, G. David Tilman and Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, health and nutritional experts like Walter Willett, Sania Nishtar, Food Policy professor Tim Lang and Editor in Chief of the medical journal The Lancet, Richard Horton, The Prime Minister of Samoa and former presidents of Ghana and Ireland, John A. Kufuor and Mary Robinson respectively, corporate CEOs like Stefan Catsicas (Nestle), Paul Polman (Unilever) and tech entrepreneur Kees Arts (Protix), as well as super chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Sam Kass and Jamie Oliver. Or influential voices like food journalist Michael Pollan.
We all agree there is no silver bullet for fixing a failed food system. What we need are comprehensive and collaborative solutions. EAT is a round-table for systemic change, and to help start the transition we need around these five change-making ingredients. Achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 depends on many things, but one thing is clear -- getting it right on food will prove fundamental for success.
Whether you study, govern, produce, market or simply eat food, you are part of the food system. And can be part of the solution. Time to ask yourself, what can I bring to the table?
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the EAT Foundation, in conjunction with the EAT Stockholm Food Forum (Stockholm, June 13-14, 2016). The third EAT Stockholm Food last week brought together some of the world's brightest people in the fields of science, politics, business and civil society to shift food systems toward greater sustainability, health, security, and equity within the boundaries of our planet. To read all of the posts in the series, visit here. For more information about EAT Stockholm Food Forum, read here.
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