By Danielle Nierenberg and Thais Bassinello
When it comes to the future of the food system, it's hard not to be discouraged. Nearly one billion people are hungry, and another 1.5 billion are obese or overweight. All over the world, people waste 1.3 billion tons of food each year. And according to the International Panel on Climate Change, humans are to blame for an increasingly hot, dry and natural disaster-prone planet.
But Food Tank has compiled a list of 14 reasons to be hopeful about the future of the food system. Share these with your networks to spread the message that the food system is changing for the better.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
1. The next generation is learning more about where their food comes from than their parents did.
In the U.S., initiatives like The Kitchen Community, The Edible Schoolyard Project, The Sylvia Center and The FARM Institute are getting kids involved in learning about food from farm to fork. In Costa Rica, young people are learning integrated farming and natural resource management at EARTH University. In Uganda, the Forum for Sustainable Agriculture in Africa and Project DISC are teaching youth about sustainable farming. In Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand and the Philippines, the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) is implementing teaching gardens for elementary school students.
2. Food for public school lunches is coming from more sustainable sources.
School meals are a common public food service implemented across the world. Many countries have implemented reforms to improve the nutritional quality of school meals by seeking out more sustainable sources for the students’ food. In Brazil, for instance, at least 30 percent of food for school meals must be purchased locally from smallholder farmers.
3. More food waste is being composted.
On average, all of the member states of the European Union composted 15 percent of municipal waste in 2011—in the Netherlands, the proportion of waste composted was more than twice the average. In the U.S., San Francisco has undertaken widespread public composting and recycling programs, and now manages to divert 78 percent of its waste from landfills.
4. Permaculture projects are thriving all over the world.
Smallholder and family farmers stand to gain higher, more nutritious and more sustainable yields from permaculture practices—and so can individuals and families simply growing produce in their backyards. Today, there are an estimated 850,000 grassroots permaculture projects in 160 countries, according to the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia.
5. In one of the most obese countries in the world, obesity is on the decline for low-income children.
Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in more than half of the U.S.—two-thirds the states and territories surveyed—low-income children between the ages of two and four exhibit lower rates of overweight and obesity than they did just three years ago. In six of the states and territories surveyed, the rate of decrease exceeded a full percentage point.
6. Food aid is changing—and supporting developing countries’ economies.
Recent research has indicated that cash donations or vouchers may be more effective than in-kind donations when it comes to food aid. World Food Programme (WFP) initiatives such as Purchase for Progress and Home-Grown School Feeding are already opening new avenues for consumers in developing countries to use donated funds to buy from small-scale farmers and producers.
7. New forms of food governance, such as food policy councils, are gaining popularity.
According to Food First, the first food policy council was created more than 20 years ago in the U.S., and there are now more than 200 in North America alone. These councils can directly influence national and local legislation—in Brazil, the National Food and Nutrition Security Council advises the President directly on the formulation of food policies.
8. Cities are becoming greener, and urban and peri-urban agriculture is spreading.
As the global population becomes increasingly urbanized, eco-city initiatives are implementing new and innovative ways to make urban areas more environmentally sustainable, particularly when it comes to food production. There are approximately 180 eco-city initiatives in the world, according to the International Eco-Cities Initiative at Westminster University, and that number is on the rise. The city of Malmö, Sweden, which was a finalist for the 2012-13 European Green Capital Award, has undertaken an initiative to make all food purchased in the city organic by 2020. In the U.S. alone, 11 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to increase access to urban land for agricultural production in recent years. In Africa, there is overwhelming evidence that urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry contributes to improved livelihoods in Kampala, Dakar, Dar es Salaam and other cities.
9. Many governments are guaranteeing women’s right to land ownership.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for at least 43 percent of basic household and commercial food production. Guaranteeing land rights, as well education and training, for women is key to improving food security on the continent, and several national governments are already taking action. Ethiopia, for example, has implemented legislation that protects a woman’s right to land in the event of divorce or the death of her spouse.
10. More and more consumers are concerned with sustainable eating.
“Organic,” “locally produced,” “free-range” and “seasonal” are all terms that are becoming increasingly commonplace in the grocery store vernacular. From 1990 to 2010, sales of organic foods and beverages in the U.S. alone have ballooned from a total value of $1 billion to $26.7 billion. As of 2010, 11 percent of all fruit and vegetable sales in the U.S. were organic.
11. Farmers markets are growing.
Farmers markets, excellent sources of local and organic produce for city dwellers, are becoming more and more popular. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of farmers market directory listings in the U.S. grew by nearly 300 percent between 2000 and 2013. In Australia, the number of farmers markets doubled between 2004 and 2011.
12. New technologies are helping farmers and eaters produce and consume food more sustainably.
Last week, Food Tank featured a list of 23 apps for mobile devices that consumers can use to help grow, buy, and eat food more sustainably by identifying local farmers markets, cutting down on food waste and providing information on regional produce available by season. And in sub-Saharan Africa, there are more than 650 million mobile phones that are regularly being used to convey information on market prices, weather reports and sustainable farming practices. These help smallholder farmers get better prices for their goods, prepare for natural disasters and increase their yields.
13. Artists all over the world are bringing attention to the need for change in the food system.
In September, musicians John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Dave Matthews performed at a music festival in upstate New York to benefit FarmAid, an organization supporting family farming in the U.S. Filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia directed Symphony of the Soil, a documentary that emphasized the role of soil health in a healthy food system. The Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway is currently showing an exhibition by photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, which illustrates the vastly different foods that families from all over the world eat in one week.
14. There is more and more evidence that sustainable, small-scale farming can feed the world.
Many reports—the landmark International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), Food and Agriculture: The Future of Sustainability and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Save and Grow, to name a few—have found that the answer to a more food secure world isn’t bound to complicated or sophisticated technology. Rather, it lies in organic, environmentally conscious farming practices that nourish the Earth. Many case studies from around the world have shown that small-scale farmers using organic practices are able to achieve yields that are equal to, and often in excess of, those of conventional farming operations.
Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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By John Letzing
This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."
The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.