Soup cans don't grow on trees. Of course some of the ingredients inside them do, as well as in the ground and on plants and vines. But by the time all those natural products reach your stomach, too often they've undergone processing, been transported hundreds (or thousands) of miles and generally bear little resemblance to the organic state they came from.
Yes, the over-industrialization of the food industry has put so many steps between the consumer and the product that most of us have forgotten the most elementary principle of food: We're human beings who rely on the earth for nourishment.
If this same earth is suffering today, it's largely due to the fact that our current food systems operate under the cold calculation that natural resources are a good to be exploited. But in the long term, the availability of these goods rely on a circular process of respecting the natural order.
It's about the planet, and so much more — an environmental revolution in the food sector means saving jobs from disappearing to machines as well saving our own health by increasing nutrition and decreasing pollution. This holistic vision was outlined by environmental activist Sunita Narain in her recent talk "Climate Crisis And Its Impact On Our Lives' (which can be watched here) at Slow Food's 2020-2021 Terra Madre virtual conference: "We can see the impact of climate change happening in our lives today. It is affecting the poorest, most marginalized and the farming communities."
Here are some new initiatives guiding us to a food future that can both better nourish the human race and respect the planet:
Governments around the world are pushing for measures to speed up the energy transition and slow down climate change. One way of doing so is through a so-called Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives aimed at accelerating the transition to climate neutrality, including a clear plan of action that involves important reforms to the agricultural sector:
The United States' Green New Deal, spearheaded by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2030. Part of its objective is to combat the harmful effects of industrial food corporations by supporting family farming, and investing in sustainable agricultural processes and technologies that improve soil health and reduce emissions. It remains to be seen if the Administration of Joe Biden will prioritize such measures that also promise to create jobs and food security.
The European Commission's Green Deal is similar to its American counterpart: It aims for zero greenhouse emissions in the EU by 2050 through inclusive measures that stimulate the economy and ensure food security. Three of the nine policy areas within the deal focus heavily on the food industry: biodiversity, Farm to Fork (sustainable food systems) and sustainable agriculture. It also includes a 50% reduction in the use of hazardous pesticides by 2030 and maintaining organic farming on 25% of agricultural land by 2030. Yet the Green Deal's current challenge is reforming the Common Agricultural Policy — which accounts for almost 40% of the entire EU budget — to align with its objectives.
The biodiversity of our planet is shrinking — and with it, the very ecosystems that keep the earth healthy and functioning. But a growing number of projects are fighting to keep native, endangered species blossoming by educating citizens on the situation and what they can do to help:
Preserving plants: Ark of Taste is a project launched by The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity that catalogues disappearing food products, which often include endangered plant species. Today, more than 5,000 products have been catalogued from 150+ countries. The catalogue allows the Slow Food Foundation to subsequently activate campaigns and other processes to save these dwindling crops.
Backyard biodiversity: David Goulson, an activist and professor of biology at University of Sussex, is helping to fight the growing decline of wild pollinators. In addition to his multiple books on the ecological importance of bees and pollination, his YouTube channel is a free resource on how individuals can encourage biodiversity in their own gardens through tips like identifying weeds, information on which types of trees to plant, and attracting butterflies and recipes using home-grown ingredients.
When respected, the natural world is a bountiful place. Yet when viewed only as a means to make money, natural resources quickly become scarce — especially when it comes to food. More methods around the globe are being designed to work with and not against the land:
USA: The NGO Zero Foodprint cleverly aims to both save soil and sequester carbon in one fell swoop. Founded by award-winning chef Anthony Myint, the project asks the customers of participating restaurants to donate 1% of their bill to the fund, which then provides grants to farmers to switch to regenerative farming practices, which both avoids the permanent destruction of soil and fosters a healthy type of soil that soaks up carbon.
Japan: Water is one of the most crucial resources to both farming and agriculture — and has become increasingly scarce. In the Takachiho-Shibayama mountains, however, the agriculture and forestry system uses an irrigation technique system who's development began in the 1600s and sources more than 1800 hectares of rice paddies in a sustainable manner. The system boths draws from mountain wells and catches rainfall, which helps prevent hillside erosion. Furthermore, the community recycles the excrement of their livestock to fertilize their crops — a great example of short-circuit sustainability in action.
Terra Madre is an event organized by Slow Food, Regione Piemonte and Città di Torino.