Yesterday marked the second annual Food Day in the United States. Not to be confused with the international observance of World Food Day that celebrated agricultural cooperatives last Tuesday, the U.S. day specifically focuses on domestic food movements and policies. Created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and with a diverse array of advisory board members (from senators to chefs) and partner organizations, Food Day’s priorities included such diverse subjects as:
- Promoting safer, healthier diets
- Supporting sustainable and organic farms
- Reducing hunger
- Reforming factory farms to protect the environment
- Supporting fair working conditions for food and farm workers
To bring further discussion to these issues, over 3,000 events were hosted around the country. In Washington, DC two panel discussions convened to tackle The Future of Food: 2050 – Utopia or Dyspepsia? The event brought to the forefront the many issues to be addressed within the food system, both domestically and on a global scale. Michael Jacobson, director of CSPI and founder of Food Day began the event by asking two questions – What will our food system look like in 2050? And what needs to be done in the near future?
The first panel focused on the topic of Diet and Food. Panelists, David Katz, Founding Director at Yale University’s Prevention Research Center; Andrea Thomas, Senior VP for Sustainability at Walmart; and Eric Meade, VP and Senior Futurist at the Institute for Alternative Futures, emphasized the need for the institutions, information, and education to help consumers make informed decisions about healthy and sustainable food.
Moving back along the supply chain, the second panel honed in on the key issues surrounding agricultural production. Catherine Badgley, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Michigan, saw four transformations taking place in the food system: a shift from annual crop monoculture to diversified farming systems and perennials; a down-scaling of farm size; a move from a cheap and wasteful mentality to one that values agriculture appropriately; and a transition from largely top-down control to grassroots-driven.
Former California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamara stressed that we can’t forget the fundamentals that allow the diversity of food choices today: the underlying agricultural production systems. He also highlighted the strides made in urban and regional agriculture to boost resilience, and the need for growth in a new generation of farmers. To complement this domestic U.S. perspective, Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet Project at Worldwatch Institute, drew upon her experiences in Africa and Asia scouting on-the-ground innovations in agriculture. Her four take-away points included the importance of preventing food waste; focusing on youth; building up urban agriculture; and increasing resilience to climate change.
Diversification and talking about the food system rather than just agriculture were crosscutting themes over the course of the discussion. Many parallels with the goals of the Landscapes Initiative surfaced, particularly this notion that agriculture can align both with ecosystem function and food production, and that all stakeholders must be involved in the process. One thing was clear by the end of the evening; While 2050 may seem far off, there are many shifts that still need to take place in the food system as a whole – from actual production methods, to the policies, institutions, and culture influencing them.