Food sustainability affects all aspects of our daily lives, from the availability of nutritious and affordable food to the health of our agricultural communities.
Whether you’re a conscious eater or someone who simply wants to be better informed, this article will give you everything you need to know about the sustainability of food.
Keep reading to discover why it’s important, what challenges we face in achieving it today, and what can be done about it.
What does sustainable food mean?
Sustainability is a broad term that refers to the successful management of both natural and human resources.
It means using resources in a way that they are healthy and will be available for future generations.
A sustainable food system produces enough food to feed the population without degrading the environment.
Some of the key factors that contribute to food sustainability include growing crops using environmentally friendly methods and minimizing waste.
Food sustainability also encompasses a wide range of other topics, such as water management and biodiversity.
The idea of food sustainability is not new — it has been practiced for centuries by indigenous communities around the world. However, today we face a host of complex challenges that have made it more important than ever to pursue food sustainability practices in order to sustain healthy ecosystems and provide access to safe and nutritious food for everyone.
Every time we go to the supermarket to buy food, we’re taking part in the global food system.
That means all stages of food production, processing, packaging, distribution, marketing, and consumption, including waste management. This complex network of activities that takes food from farm to table is often called the food chain.
Why is the sustainability of food important?
The truth is that the way we produce and consume food today is unsustainable.
Did you know that it has been suggested that we would need four planets to feed the world’s population if everyone in the world had the same diet as the average American?
In reality, we only have one planet, which means we will have to work hard to ensure our food system is sustainable.
One challenge is that we are using up our natural resources to produce food faster than they can regenerate. This means that many of these resources will run out sooner than they should, which leaves room for major problems in the future.
Another challenge is that our food system is creating an abundance of waste, making it almost impossible to feed the world’s population sustainably.
Food loss and food waste
- Consumers: In industrialized countries, food is often thrown away by retailers or consumers because of either damage or (false) “best before” dates.
- Post-harvest handling: Food is lost during post-harvest handling, storage facilities, and transportation. Processing: Inefficiencies during processing lead to food loss.
- Preparation and cooking: Food is lost through overcooking and spillage during preparation.
- Retail and consumer handling: Food is lost during transferring and storage at the retail level and during consumer handling.
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions
The biggest challenge facing our food system is global climate change.
In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to reduce emissions.
According to the IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land (2019), agriculture is directly responsible for up to 8.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The two biggest sources of greenhouse gases from agriculture are:
- Methane from livestock and manures: Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that is most responsible for global warming. It occurs naturally in the environment and can also be produced by certain bacteria and animals as a metabolic by-product.
When too much methane is released into the atmosphere, it traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change. This affects plants, animals and humans.
Reducing methane emissions from livestock waste can help to reduce global warming.
Landfills are a common source of methane emissions. If they are not properly managed, this could contribute to global warming
- The release of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils: Nitrous oxide is a natural component of the soil and can be found in high levels in organic farms.
However, it can also be produced by bacteria and plants during photosynthesis.
Nitrous oxide is an important greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Nitrous oxide is currently used in the production of fertilizers, steelmaking, pharmaceuticals, and other industries.
As global demand for food continues to rise, more nitrous oxide will be released into our atmosphere. This could lead to an increase in global temperatures and climate change.
Reducing nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture is an important way to combat climate change.
Protecting our water supply
One of the most pressing challenges facing our food system is water scarcity. If nothing is done about it, we could face a global water crisis in the coming years.
According to the World Bank, “Currently, agriculture accounts (on average) for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals globally (and an even higher share of “consumptive water use” due to the evapotranspiration of crops).”
To protect our food supply, we need to reduce the amount of water we are taking from rivers, lakes, and aquifers.
There are some things we can do to improve water sustainability in our food system, such as diversifying our crops and livestock, investing in sustainable irrigation systems, and implementing better farming practices.
Sustainable farming practices
Sustainable farming practices are designed to protect and improve soil health and water retention.
There are many benefits to adopting sustainable farming practices, such as increased crop yields and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
So, if we are going to achieve food sustainability, then we need to make sure we are protecting our soil and water.
This can be done by maintaining nutrient levels in the soil, rotating crops, and reducing tillage.
Farmers also need to protect water by utilizing efficient irrigation methods.
- Sustainable food systems are designed to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
- Sustainable agriculture is an ecosystem that produces food without depleting the soil or freshwater, conserves biodiversity, and minimizes carbon emissions.
- Sustainable fisheries are managed to prevent overfishing, protect vulnerable species, and maintain ecosystems so they can continue to produce fish.
- Sustainable food systems also address food insecurity. Food insecurity is when people don’t have reliable access to healthy or affordable food.
The challenges of food sustainability
We have already seen that the current food system is unsustainable because of its heavy reliance on natural resources, wastefulness, and pollution.
However, the main challenge is that the current food system is not designed to feed the future generations.
The current food system is focused on producing food as quickly and efficiently as possible. This means that the system prioritizes quantity over quality.
While quick production is great for food security, it can have devastating effects on the environment and human health.
Thus, if we want to achieve sustainability, then we need to change how we view and produce food. We need a system that promotes quality and sustainability.
The problem with food today
There are three main problems with the food we consume today.
First, we consume too many unhealthy saturated fats, sugar, and salt.
Second, we lack key nutrients, such as fiber and nutrients found in meat.
Third, our food system is unsustainable. The current food system is unsustainable because it relies on nonrenewable resources, pollutes the environment, and creates food waste.
To put things into perspective, it takes around 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a juicy hamburger!
How we can achieve food sustainability
Food sustainability is the goal of using resources efficiently and sustainably.
While there are many definitions and approaches to food sustainability, the basic idea is that we need to use the food we produce in a way that keeps us healthy, reduces our environmental impact, and provides enough food for everyone.
To achieve food sustainability, we can start by reducing our reliance on pesticides and other chemicals.
Then, we can make sure that the food we buy has been produced with minimal environmental impact.
Finally, we can try to buy locally grown food whenever possible.
By taking these steps, we can help ensure that our food supply is both sustainable and healthy.
Food sustainability is an important goal to strive for, and it’s not impossible to achieve. With the right mindset, dedication, and effort, it’s totally possible to reduce our impact on the environment while still feeding ourselves nutritiously.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDGs are a set of 17 global goals that are intended to improve living conditions and protect the environment around the world.
The second SDG goal is to, “end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular, the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round” by 2030.
Food sustainability is important because it is essential to our survival. Without food, there would be no life.
The problem is that our current food system is unsustainable. It is making our planet sick and impeding our ability to feed everyone. If we are going to be able to protect our food supply, then we need to make changes.
We need to focus less on quantity and more on quality. We need to adopt a new approach to eating that promotes sustainability.
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