How do we change the current food system?

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In the times of today, the mission of educational organisation Food Hub — to boost the transition to a fair and healthy food system — is more relevant than ever. We asked founders and directors Joris Lohman and Joszi Smeets more about the future they want to create. ‘We have to take back our ownership.’

The impact of our current food system
: ‘Current research confirmed that the overall impact of our food system is the biggest cause of global emissions. Still I have to emphasise that we cannot directly link consumer’s behaviour to climate change. Calculating the exact amount of emissions caused by buying a certain product is nearly impossible. Every person that has touched the product before it has landed on your plate causes emissions. Let’s not forget the emissions caused by logistics and transport. Isolating these emissions can be tough — if not impossible — but we do know our current way of living is harming our planet.’

Joszi: ‘It is difficult to find that direct cause and effect. But that doesn’t mean we, as consumers, have no control. We have to keep thinking about our own responsibility and refrain from putting all our trust in the system. We live in a world in which a lot of important decisions are focused on making profit. Passively waiting for things to change creates an even bigger distance between ourselves and the food we consume.’

Taking back our ownership
: ‘The discussions about our future food system can be divided into two predominant parties. One says organic farming is our answer. I do not see that one-to-one connection. Sure, we have to eat less meat, but what substitutes will come for it? If people eat Peruvian avocado’s instead of a locally-produced steak, this is no improvement. Organic agriculture demands more land, meaning we have to give up parts of nature. Plus, manure is essential to produce crops, which means we need livestock.

The opposite party pleads for high tech solutions. High tech developments create a more effective way of farming for horticulture. However, it does not provide the same results for livestock.’

Joszi: ‘There is a lot to say about both parties. But to create a future proof system we have to meet in the middle.’

Joris: ‘The main problem is the imbalance in the system. Our production level in Europe is extremely high, whilst in other parts of the world people are starving. The size of our livestock industry encourages us to export unhealthy amounts of manure. To change this we have to tackle overconsumption in the West. Top down policies to reduce food waste can be useful change makers to begin with.’

Joszi: ‘I’d like to add some bottom up views. How we look at food is completely intertwined with our culture, our identity, our rituals and so on. We can hardly see food as it is: one of our basic life needs. The corona crisis reveals the systems’ true colours: we have become so dependent when it comes to our food. Our country’s import and export decides what is in our reach and what is not. We make jokes about people stocking up on canned food and toilet paper, but it is a clear example of taking back your independency. People want to feel as if they can survive without help of the government. The same goes for people that are producing their own food. I was told nearly every book about gardening is out of stock.

It is hard to predict what the future will bring, but we can see people have lost touch with what they eat and are now trying to get it back.’

What can you do?
Joszi: ‘Producing your own crops is not going to change the system. But knowing more about what we eat and where it comes from teaches us important values. Values such as taking care of yourself and others; you learn more about what your own country has to offer. This helps to make better choices in the future, for example by choosing locally.’

Joris: 'We have to stop expecting a simple solution, because the situation is extremely complex. I always tell people: consume less, reduce your animal protein intake and try to eat with the season. Do not torture yourself — eating can still be fun! — but try to make better choices. If you have to choose between mushrooms from Dutch ground or courgettes from Peru, go for the first.

If you are an entrepreneur based in Europe, I’d say: design new business models for the agricultural sector and help farmers to add value to their products. It can be hard for farmers to make a change and still make a living. Support them by thinking of ways to sell their products for a reasonable price.

Great examples of initiatives that shorten the food chains are De Nieuwe Boerenfamilie, Local2Local, Rechtstreex, Boerschappen, Boeren van AmstelRIJP and Boeren&Buren. They are all helping farmers to sell their products closer to home.’

Joszi: ‘Get your groceries at your local supermarket! They have been here all along, but these times have made it even more it evident how important they really are.’