Sustainable gastronomy: Can food abundance be sustainable?

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Sustainable Gastronomy Day highlights the steep cost of current agricultural methods and dietary choices. It calls for a sweeping transformation to ensure food security and a healthy planet.

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In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 18 as Sustainable Gastronomy Day to celebrate food diversity across the globe.

Sustainable gastronomy includes dietary choices that consider where ingredients come from, how they are cultivated and processed, and how they arrive in our stores and on our tables.

The United Nations (UN) Zero Hunger goal requires combined, consistent efforts to promote health and food security through sustainability practices.

What is sustainability?
The UN defines food sustainability as “the idea that something (e.g., agriculture, fishing or even preparation of food) is done in a way that is not wasteful of our natural resources and can be continued into the future without being detrimental to our environment or health.”
Food sustainability hinges on sustainable food systems.

These are based on subsystems, including farming, waste management, and supply systems, which interact with trade, energy, and health systems.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) states that a sustainable food system (SFS) should deliver nutrition and food security for everyone in a way that is economically viable and socially beneficial.

At the same time, an SFS must continually make a neutral or positive impact on the environment.

In turn, SFSs rely on sustainable agricultureTrusted Source, which relies on access to fertile land with healthy soil, a stable climate, and clean water and energy.

Achieving food sustainability for the planet is not only up to the agricultural industry or global powers, though. Individual choices also play a major role in the welfare of food systems.

Why is food sustainability important?
The World Food Programme reports that more than 1 in 9 people worldwide — 821 million people — go hungry every day.

Hunger and malnutrition are such a widespread problem that the UN has emphasized that “a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed” to tackle it. This change should include striving for the sustainable production of food.

Medical News Today asked Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, why food sustainability matters to us as individuals and as a global community. She responded:

“Food sustainability is a matter for both present and future generations around the globe. It is a window into whether society will provide for itself now, but also its future later[…] Taking only what the Earth can provide and not tinkering with its limits is why food sustainability matters on any level. Accomplishing this ensures that the Earth will provide now and later for all future generations. Additionally, food sustainability is healthier for humans and the Earth.”

What key factors should we consider?
The global food system encompasses all economic sectors.
Understanding its components is essential for developing and executing effective measures to strengthen it.

Land
Agricultural land area takes up 38% of the Earth’s land surface, and the growing global population is straining this limited terrestrial resource.
Conventional farming practices have led to the loss of carbon and biomass and land degradation.

The FAO cites the need for strategies to “maximize crop productivity while minimizing the potential environmental impact due to excessive loss of habitats and overuse of natural resources such as soils and water.”
Energy use
The EDGAR-FOOD database breaks down emissions from each stage of the food chain for every country spanning 1990–2015.

It indicates that, “in line with the ongoing socioeconomic development trends, food emissions are being increasingly determined by energy use, industrial activities, and waste management.”

The European Commission is calling for targeted energy efficiency and decarbonization policies to curtail these emissions.

Global warming
Research suggests that agriculture is a leading driver behind global environmental change, while it is also, in turn, deeply affected by climate change.

Kirkpatrick sees global warming as the greatest threat to food sustainability. “Currently, there are multiple threats to food sustainability, but its greatest threat is global warming. To meet the needs of the ever-expanding population, food production techniques have changed in a way [that is] toxic to our environment, health, and future generations,” she explained to MNT.