The United Nations projects that by 2050 the world’s population will be just shy of 10 billion people. The concerns with that projection include: Will there be enough room for that many people, and how will we be able to feed that many people?
One meaningful way to meet the ever-increasing food needs is through a more sustainable food production system. Although there are always costs associated with change, getting the message out about sustainable food practices will pay off for everyone who grows, produces, markets, and eats food.
Concerns About Food Production
As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) looks at the future of food production, they are focused on these key areas:
- Quality of soil
- Adequacy of land
- Availability of water
One major concern about producing enough food to feed the world is the fact that 95% of all food is grown on land with little room to expand. Soil degradation is a result of the overuse of land. If this pattern continues, the ability of the land to produce adequate food becomes more and more limited. Furthermore, water availability continues to decline, impacting food production, as well as consumer needs.
In 2019, the United Nations Secretary General reported that the global loss of available land for food production is approximately 12 million hectares every year.1 Some of this loss is due to the impact of climate change on soil degradation. However, overuse is a significant contributing factor.
Getting Consumers on Board
There are many reasons why our current food system will not work to feed the growing world population. Still, shifting to a more sustainable food system is possible. Key components of change include:
- Consumer education about the state of our food system and the urgent need for change
- Shifts in diet patterns away from animal foods and toward more plant-forward diets
- An effort to reduce food waste
- Better utilization of agricultural technology
Consumer education is paramount, and the reality is that all aspects of food production need to be a part of the education. Knowledge of how food gets from the farm to the fork is limited for many consumers. A better understanding of how farmers care for their land and animals can help consumers understand that safety in food production is a priority.
For example, perceptions around insecticide and pesticide use are often not based on what really happens on a farm. For some, that’s a barrier to adopting a plant-forward diet. Consumers need to know that farmers today can use less pesticide on their crops due to improved technology that accurately identifies where their use is required.2 Previous generations often sprayed whole fields to address pests because they did not have the technology to pinpoint the plants that needed treatment.
Farming websites can provide facts and visual information to educate consumers about what happens on the farm.2 Partnering with farmers allows them to share their stories. It is an effective way to get the message out about food production and safety.
Another area where consumers need education is the issue of food waste. According to the NRDC, up to 40% of the food produced for human consumption in the U.S. is wasted!3
Food waste means that all aspects of food production are also wasted. That waste includes the energy used in farming and production, the water, the soil, and any added chemicals, whether organic or conventional. In addition, transportation costs, marketing costs for space in the grocery store, consumers’ costs in gas, time, and effort to bring food home and then throw it out — are all components of the problem of food waste. Food waste hits consumers’ wallets far more than they realize.
The other aspect to consider is that the wasted food ends up in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Consumers worry about GHG from cars and cows, but few consider how wasted food plays a significant role.
Sustainable Food Marketing and Education
It is time for food companies, farmers, ranchers, and registered dietitians to partner to increase marketing efforts and share the facts about sustainable food production. Consumers need general education about long term effects of food waste, along with more practical information about how food waste impacts their daily lives. Education points should include:
- How food is produced from the farmer
- How ranchers manage, care for, and treat their animals
- The value of technology in creating sustainable food
- How the nutrition of the food is enhanced with better production techniques
- The environmental and dollar cost of food waste
- How to plan shopping lists and menus to avoid food waste
Working together to better understand the costs and effects of the entire food production system can help meet the increased need for food for the growing world population.
- United Nations. https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sgsm19680.doc.htm
- Illinois Farm Families. 3 Myths about Sustainable Agriculture. https://www.watchusgrow.org/2020/03/02/3-myths-about-sustainable-agriculture/
- NRDC. Food Waste. https://www.nrdc.org/food-waste
About Connie – Connie is a Registered Dietitian with extensive experience communicating in the food and nutrition space. Taking the science of food and nutrition and translating it to simple messages, new products, or exciting menus is her expertise. Making nutrition messages clear, accurate, and engaging aids all consumers.