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13 July 2017: A sneak peek at Feedback’s new model for the food system

Food waste is just one symptom of a very big problem

At Feedback, we have always argued that food waste is just one symptom of our dysfunctional food system (see our founder’s TED talk from 2012) – a system which produces too much food, and fails to use it efficiently, leading to both waste and hunger. What’s more, in the process of producing and wasting all this food, our food system is seriously damaging our planet. Our food system needs to change.

But what does that change look like? We’ve taken a close look at the answer to this question, and come up with our proposal for what needs to happen.

Our broken food system

What’s wrong with the way we produce food now? Our food system is broken, firstly because it is linear – in other words food travels in one direction, from production and processing, to consumption and disposal. In the process, huge quantities of resources are used to grow and transform our food, including petrochemicals and fossil fuel energy. Then we generate significant amounts of pollution in disposing of it, for example through landfill.

The second problem is that our food system is growing beyond what our planet can sustain. All along the process of growing, processing, distributing and consuming food, vast amounts go to waste (a third of all food grown, it is estimated). And because no one bears the cost of these losses, nor of the wider environmental impacts of agriculture, our food system is characterised by overproduction. Despite the fact that millions of people go hungry worldwide, millions also suffer the health costs of overconsumption – and we all suffer the environmental impacts of wasting precious water, land and energy on growing food that is never eaten. The fact is, we don’t need a bigger food system, we need a better one.

Here’s what our current, linear food system looks like:

Building a better, more circular food system

We want to build a better food system: one that isn’t linear, but circular. This better food system would gobble fewer resources to produce food, and lose far less food in the form of waste. In fact, a defining principle of our circular food system is that food previously seen as ‘waste’ actually has value, and can be used as a resource. Ideally this surplus food should be used for the purpose it was originally intended: usually this means that if food is still fit for human consumption, it should feed people. If not, it should be repurposed to feed livestock and fish, and finally, fed to soils through compost and manure. All three levels of the food system – humans, animals and soils – need to be fed and replenished to create a sustainable future.

As what was formerly seen as ‘waste’ is reused, less waste pollution through landfill disposal is created, and less resources are needed to produce food in the first place (because we are using almost all of it, instead of throwing it away, we don’t need to produce as much). Overproduction is reined in. These ‘best use loops’ create a small, circular, low-waste system that fits within the limits of our planet, while feeding everyone on a fair basis.

A sustainable food system:

 

That’s where we need to get to – and pretty quickly, because currently our food system is the single biggest problem standing in the way of tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and other major environmental problems. And we think we have some great ideas for how to do that. This summer, we’re putting the finishing touches on a range of new projects to take the next step towards a better, more sustainable food system. To be the first to hear the news you can sign up to our mailing list by taking the food waste pledge.