Dinner for 10 Billion - Building Sustainable Food Systems

Diet is a significant part of the road to sustainable recovery and we are passionate advocates for putting nourishing food into our bodies while considering the impact on the planet.

Last weekend saw the Australian launch of EAT-Lancet commission report on diet and sustainable food systems as part of Festival 21. The primary question this report set out to understand was, can we can feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? To say this is an ambitious question to answer is putting it lightly…

In pursuit of an answer EAT assembled 37 experts to take a scientific look into our food systems and diet with the aim of proposing realistic targets for our growing population.

For many, food may not be top of our radar as a tool for improved sustainable outcomes, though, according the EAT-Lancet report, food is the “single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth”. This is supported by Paul Hawkin’s Project Drawdown which identifies food, and the associated industries as one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Further, due to the easily implemented demand-side solutions, Drawdown suggests food is also one of the biggest opportunities for positive change.

There are three key reasons we love the intent, direction, and outcomes from this report:  

  • They are using evidence- based science to investigate global issues.

  • They are looking to provide solutions in the form of global targets.

  • The proposed targets factor in a holistic solution considering healthy diets, sustainable agricultural production, as well as broader environmental effects such as the implications for climate change.

It will likely come as no surprise that our over-reliance on animal related products is one of the biggest issues for both our diet and global food production systems. Specifically, our red-meat consumption is far too high. Globally we consume 288% of our “healthy” allocation for red meat (where 100% of our allocation would have us in a happy equilibrium with our bodies and the environment). North America consumes 638% of their allocation of red-meat, significantly increasing the global average. Interestingly, our consumption of starchy vegetables is also far in excess of what might be healthy for ourselves and our food systems. These vegetables should make up a small portion of our food intake, though we are at 293% of our allocation globally, with sub-Saharan Africa leading the charge at 729%. The report is clear that we cannot sustain the levels of consumption for both food groups.

At the same time, the report acknowledges there are significant populations in the world that do not have sufficient nutrition. For some of these regions, gaining sufficient micronutrients from plant based foods can be difficult. The report is clear not to dictate to these communities to eat less red-meat for the good of the global food supply, for these communities it is very much advised to get nutrients where, and when they can – there is no doubt this is also an area we can improve on a lot. Though as previously noted, it is largely wealthy regions such as North America that are the greatest culprits of damaging consumption patterns, as such, this should be where the focus lies.  

There are 5 strategies that are proposed to tackle some of the issues discussed throughout the report. These range from changes to our food production industry through putting a greater emphasis on higher quality, healthier food all the way to reducing food waste to be in line with UN sustainable development goals.  

At home, the instructions are simple. We need to look at halving our red-meat, sugar, and starchy vegetable consumption, while increasing our consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts by 50% or more.

The experts responsible for this report are not relying on past experiences or religion to guide their understanding; they are critically analysing the issues we currently face, and identifying the most effective responses. So often, we see commissions come together to lament the issues at hand. That is not to say that such reports are of no value. Often half the battle is identifying the issue, though there is no doubt, an important step in this report is the forward direction that is offered. It is so refreshing to see a coherent and well supported report on how we might be able to enact change.

If you want to learn more, we strongly encourage you to check out the work of EAT foundation and have a read of the report yourself here.