Where does my food come from? The answer to this simple question holds the key to the wellbeing of our entire planet. When we probe this question, we can see the impact of our food consumption on our surroundings. This is what Food sustainability is about. Sustainability occurs when there is a mutual agreement and balance among all cohabitants of the environment especially when they are a source of sustenance for each other.
United Nations estimates that the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Hence sustainability has gained a large importance as it has become crucial to feed and provide nutrition to this growing population and also ensure that there is enough for the future. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) set out Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to concentrate efforts through 17 goals aimed to prioritize sustainability by striking a balance in three dimensions – environment, economy and society – to realize the future we want. Food sustainability is a key priority and is addressed through several of these goals.
The key points of concern to achieve Food Sustainability are
Food production systems around the world are currently not sustainable. There is a skew towards popular foods such as rice, wheat and livestock, which is taking a toll on nutrition diversity and the ecology. During India’s green revolution, an increase in rice and wheat production was at a cost of lowering of millets (minor nutri-cereals), Pulses and legumes, nuts and oil seeds and horticulture which took a toll of local consumption habits and the local economy as well. Due to over farming of popular fishes, there is a growing imbalance in marine life as well.
Agriculture alone is responsible for up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, half of which is caused by livestock production. On top of that it accounts for most deforestation and use of clean water as well. Hence it is a major contributor to the current accelerated climate change which is in turn affecting food sustainability further. This can only be reversed with global collaboration and coordination among nations to diversify food production and reduce carbon footprints from excessive production and transport. There is also a need to focus on a more diversified farming practices to produce a wide mix of seasonal crops and livestock products for regional markets. This should benefit the environment, provide better nutrition to consumers, and also improve local economies.
Consumer demand is playing a key role in the current state of unsustainable food production practices. Due to globalisation and an increased awareness of non-local foods and their nutritional benefits, consumers are demanding access to the best food. This is increasing pressure of food systems to produce more food of a certain kind. If that food is not available locally, then it is transported from great distances to meet the demand which increases the carbon footprint of our meals.
The solution is to increase consumption of local and indigenous foods and preserving local food practices, especially in the rural parts of our country where local cuisines are prominent.
There is also a need to reduce food waste both at home and industrially, and to reuse and recycle wherever possible. Consumption of fish and meat from sustainable farming only and reduction of consumption of highly-processed foods and beverages are other ways to control food sustainability through consumer action.