Happy World Sustainable Gastronomy Day! Phew, what a mouthful. You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes and thinking, oh not another ‘Day’, but this is one to get on board with. The future of food sustainability and accessibility is important to us and to many of our clients. Dedicating a day to talking about how and where food is grown, how it gets to markets and finally onto plates is crucial to making progress.
The notion of globally sustainable gastronomy is our route to a more conscious and fair future of food for everyone. The ultimate goal is to provide enough food for our growing population, without harming the environment or our health. In short, how do we make food nutritious, accessible and sustainable for the future? That’s the big question.
What is going on with our food systems?
By 2050, our global population is predicted to rise to 9 billion people. That’s roughly another billion mouths to feed, on top of the current state of food inequality around the world. Today, around one third of all food grown and produced is lost or wasted1. It’s thought that we already produce enough food to feed the world, if only we could stop wasting it, grow it more efficiently, and share it more fairly.
We are using our oceans, forests and soils in a way that cannot continue. As it stands, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to global warming, producing more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trains and planes combined. Where does most of this pollution come from? Methane released by cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide from fertilised fields, and carbon dioxide from deforestation2.
The way we farm today is also hugely thirsty, draining vast supplies of water, while also polluting rivers, lakes and coastal ecosystems. Our persistent clearing of land to grow more crops and raise livestock further impacts wildlife, destroying crucial habitats and directly driving wildlife extinction3.
And there’s a further threat. As we raise livestock more intensively, and grow crops in greater areas of monoculture, we’re breaking down fragile ecosystems, forcing the remaining wildlife into closer confines with ourselves. 66% of emerging diseases in humans have animal origins, and one or two new diseases emerge every year4.
This is all pretty hard to swallow, and it’s clear it can’t continue. Finding a solution to how we grow food sustainably for everyone has to be a number one priority.
How can we feed the world sustainably?
1. Calling time on food waste
Reducing food waste is a real biggy, especially for wealthy countries such as the UK and the US. As a nation, we produce the highest amount of food waste in Europe, with 9.5 million tonnes going in the bin a year. And yet, 8.4 million people in the UK are in food poverty5.
In the UK, unsustainable (and frankly, bizarre) cosmetic standards imposed on farmers by supermarkets need to go. As does over-ordering to present full shelves, which later go to waste.
We’ve talked about food waste at length, so we won’t ramble on, but as consumers and as businesses within the food industry, there needs to be a movement to champion sustainable food projects and waste reduction. That could be through rescue schemes such as Oddbox, Too Good To Go, and Odd Coffee. Or perhaps by recycling kitchen waste into compost on a big scale. And then of course there are charities such as Fareshare, who save spare food from the bin by distributing it to people in need.
2. Plant-based living. No bull.
Only 55% of the world’s crop calories feed people directly6. The rest is fed to livestock or turned into biofuels and industrial products. The land used for livestock, whether directly or indirectly, could be used far more efficiently and ethically.
One acre of land has the potential to produce:
- 113kg of beef,
- Or 13,000kg of carrots,
- Or 24,000kg of potatoes7.
All this points towards a transition away from eating meat. Whether that’s a fully plant-based diet or a drastic drop in meat consumption, something’s got to give. While veganism and plant-based eating is growing in popularity in the UK, the global demand for meat continues to increase8. But the move away from eating meat has to start with wealthy countries. As wealth increases in developing countries, the demand for meat and dairy rises. It’s not for us to condemn this, but instead to look to our own consumption and make more conscious decisions.
3. Choosing crops wisely
There also needs to be a global shift in the crops we demand and therefore grow, too. Many of the crops we farm are very thirsty (we’re looking at you, almonds), while reliance on a few varieties rather than a diverse range of crops results in huge monoculture farms (ahem, avocados) with little room for wildlife and a big risk of diseases.
WWF and Knorr Future 50 Foods list9 highlights the top most sustainable and nutritious crops to grow in the future, including:
- Nutritious seaweed,
- Varied and filling pulses,
- Heat and drought-resistant okra,
- Meat-replacement mycelium and mushrooms.
There’s much research focusing on using high-tech, precision farming systems alongside organic growing principles as the way forward. Mulching helps retain water and fend off pests, while cover crops reintroduce nutrients to the soil, and composting reduces waste, creating cyclical farming schemes. This, it’s thought, will boost yields and reduce our reliance on pesticides and fertilisers, while also encouraging wildlife back onto farmland.
4. Supporting our food heroes
Considering farmers are some of the people on whom we most rely, they get a pretty tough time of it, being paid very little to produce the food that sustains us. It seems clear to us that if we’re to transition to sustainable cuisine, we have to support our farmers to do this.
Naturally, farmers need government support to grow for the future, with funding available for rewilding, organic farming and growing alongside nature. But as consumers and business owners, we too need to support farmers.
Simple actions such as buying locally and seasonally is a great step, and one that food businesses in the UK could think about. Buying locally boosts a country’s economy, increases jobs and reduces transport emissions. British-grown ingredients are also a big turn-on for many consumers, so if your company or kitchen can source a little closer to home, make that one of your USPs. Let’s be proud of British farming.
5. Learning and growing together
And finally, as with everything, we are all on a journey. We have to make this journey together, learning and sharing as we grow. Education around minimising waste, increasing plant-based eating and reducing meat intake is key.
We’ve made huge progress in the past few years, with campaigns like Veganuary, Meat-free Monday, and an influx of plant-based foods in familiar formats, such as vegan burgers, encouraging consumers to dabble in new ways of eating.
Sustainable cuisine is a huge, complicated beast. But there are clear steps we can all take to get there. Taking a day to discuss our options and make plans is just the first.
Is your brand on a mission to create sustainable food solutions? We are all about helping purpose-based brands to create work that ignites change. Drop us a line, we’d love to help.
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