Conversations for Change at the Sustainable Foods Conference
The Sustainable Foods Conference, held virtually November 18-20, featured panel discussions from industry leaders and experts on a myriad of topics related to food sustainability. Among those were systemic, agricultural, and nutritional concerns. The panels covered topics such as agriculture and technology, waste, alternative proteins, and nutrition. FoodTechies Finland was happy to serve as a marketing partner for the event.
There were common threads throughout the discussions which indicated shared perspectives and goals. Many speakers judged the progress of the current food sustainability efforts throughout industries by the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in light of the UN Food Systems Summit scheduled for late 2021. At each point, the importance of interconnectivity between industries was emphasized.
Indeed, it seems that the Sustainable Development Goals have little chance of being met by 2030 without a radical overhaul of the current food system. This point was illuminated on Wednesday’s panel, Food and The SDGs. Speaking on the panel, Robin Willoughby, the UK Campaign Director of Mighty Earth, referenced a recent poll published by The Financial Times indicating that up to 16% of Britons had experienced food insecurity in 2020. This statistic is in direct opposition to the Sustainable Development Goals which include pledges of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, reduced inequalities, and strong institutions. It would be irresponsible to suggest that there might not be other solutions to these specific social problems. However, when compounded with the realities of inefficiencies in the food system, underlying flaws become more apparent.
The fact is that food production, transportation, distribution, and waste accounts for approximately 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, 70% of freshwater harvested globally for usage supports agriculture, as opposed to industry and households according to Our World in Data. The Sustainable Foods Conference highlighted a global disconnect between what people need, what the planet can bear, and where food is going.
However, there are barriers to sustainability. Some of the barriers are political, financial, and cultural. The “Funding the Future of Food” panelists named potential solutions, including consumer education, product competitiveness, and a shift in cultural mindset towards understanding nutrition as a powerful health tool. As Robyn O’Brien, Co-founder of rePlant Capital, so succinctly explained, “We are not stuck in the systems we have inherited.”
The nuanced discussions at the Sustainable Foods Conference facilitated conversation about the nature of inefficiencies in the food system, and the challenges industry leaders face when using collaboration to solve them. The need for cooperative innovation and out-of-the-box thinking was spotlighted. Are our barriers what we’ve been told they are? For example, is it true that we do not have the ability to feed the global population, or is that assumption conflated from the fact that we currently do not? Only by innovating around barriers can we attempt total collaboration between economics, tech, agriculture, and diet.
Discussed at length in the “Alternative Proteins” and “Funding the Future of Food” sessions was the role of business in this radical shift towards the SDGs. The challenge of business will be to balance value and profit between producer and consumer in a rapidly changing environment. But are those not the very conditions under which a free market supposedly thrives? By meeting the customer where they are - providing viable and acceptable alternatives to footprint-heavy foods such as beef - business can serve as the link between consumer demand and ecological responsibility.
Ultimately, all sectors affecting food will need to work together to finance and implement the changes needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Perhaps the greatest impact will be realized when a multitude of techniques are adapted for different food production methods in different areas of the world.
The Sustainable Foods Conference was an inspiring and informative experience. The open and collaborative environment facilitated transformative conversations with the potential to spark cooperative development in the field of food sustainability. The next Sustainable Foods Conference will be a highly anticipated event!
Join the conversation by pre-registering for the next event and accessing recorded sessions on-demand at sustainablefoodsconference.com.
Three Million Go Hungry in UK Because of Lockdown. Staton, B. Evans, J. The Financial Times. London. April 2020.
Food Production is Responsible for One-Quarter of the World’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Ritchie, H. Our World in Data. November 2019.