Feedback’s plan for a better food system
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 CIRCULAR, STABLE, LOW-INPUT 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.
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.