There’s no doubt that the food system is broken. More than 1 billion people are obese; nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night; at least 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies; and food price speculation and massive consolidation of farms and companies has led to price spikes and poverty in the developing world. The impacts of climate change and decades of disregard for soil and water health are becoming increasingly evident, leading to drought and disease from Iowa to Niger; and investment in agriculture, continues to emphasize quantity over quality.
We need solutions—from schools and hospitals to fields and forests and from board-rooms to parliaments. Food Tank: The Food Think Tank [www.FoodTank.org], founded by food and agriculture experts Ellen Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg, is a bold new voice in bringing attention to these important issues. Food Tank will attempt to help propel that change by fostering the growing community of voices on food issues. In 2013, Food Tank will be planning a 2013 "Change the Food System" summit, conducting on-the-ground research both domestically and internationally, and preparing research reports and books, highlighting road maps for sustainable agricultural systems, and building an innovations database. And the Food Tank website will be posting new research and insights daily.
The goal of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is to find ways to connect domestic and global food issues. We want to highlight the need for changing the metrics regarding how food security and nutrition are measured. While yields and calories are important, they are not the only measurement of a healthy food system — we also need to consider environmental sustainability, the nutritional quality of food, gender equity, and involvement of youth, when measuring whether a food system is ‘successful.’
“We’re trying to bridge the major disconnect between organizations that are fighting hunger and organizations that are fighting obesity. The two groups have more in common than they think. The truth is we’re all fighting to get people access to nutritious food, no matter where they are in the world, but we need to be asking the right questions and developing the right metrics for today’s food system realities, not yesterday’s,” says Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank.
“Agriculture can be the solution to some the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. Through our on-the ground-research, we have seen the impact that sustainable and diverse farming systems can have on health and nutrition, food security, and the livelihood of farmers," according to Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank. "We can create state-of-the-art sustainable farming systems by using a combination of traditional practices that have worked for hundreds years all over the world with modern eco-friendly technologies.”
Roughly a half-century after the Green Revolution—the first systematic, large-scale attempt to reduce poverty and hunger throughout the world—a large share of the human family is still chronically without food, reliable income, and access to education. And over the last 30 years, the western food system has been built to promote over-consumption of a few consolidated commodities and has failed to be the harbinger of health as it spreads around the world. The epidemic of obesity in industrialized and developing countries alike, is increasing the risks of diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and other maladies. Ironically, the “solution” to hunger—increasing production of starchy staple crops—has also created the problem of obesity.
In addition, we waste vast amounts of food—more than one third of all food worldwide is wasted, or 1.3 billion tons annually. In the developing world, roughly 40 percent of all food goes to waste as a result of pests, disease, and improper storage. We need to find a different way to feed the world.
We also want to tell stories of hope and success in agriculture and highlight the innovations that are working on the ground to help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment and shine a spotlight on these initiatives so they get more attention, more research, and ultimately more funding and investment.
There is an opportunity to develop a better vision for the global food system. In a recent, 35-country on-the-ground research tour across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States we found hope and real progress towards better solutions for food system sustainability, in industrialized and developing countries alike. By visiting hundreds of projects, talking with farmers, farmers’ groups, NGOs, policy-makers, educators, funders, journalists, and other stakeholders, we were able to see the change afoot.
Across America, we have met with chefs, students, nutritionists, farmers, school administrators, doctors, urban gardeners, grocery store owners, scientists, leaders of charitable organizations, parents, and policy makers and we are hearing the voices of action among stakeholders working towards a better food system where all people can access healthier food.
Fixing the system requires changing the conversation and finding ways that make food production—and consumption—more economically, environmentally, and socially just and sustainable. The solutions, both big and small, are out there—in market garden projects in rural Niger, on rooftop gardens in Vietnam, at research institutes in Taiwan, in European healthy school food systems, in the explosion of farmers markets across the US, in global food retailing initiatives that prevent food waste, and in individual communities, regions, and countries all over the world. Unfortunately, these projects are not getting the attention and the investment they need. The science is out there, too, yet it is not getting the funding to change the metrics we use to measure agricultural success. This needs to change.