Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

14 Reasons to Be Hopeful About the Future of Food

14 Reasons to Be Hopeful About the Future of Food

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 CommunityThe Edible Schoolyard ProjectThe 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 KampalaDakarDar 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.


A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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