Guest blog by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food
Food touches us at a very personal level: it binds us as families, it brings communities together, and it nourishes us. Food is also a commodity, with its global production and trade cutting across some of the most pressing issues we currently face as a species — climate change, poverty, public health, displacement. Our food and agriculture systems are amazingly resilient and diverse. And yet they are also fractured and too often not sustainable – increasingly, food production is depleting our natural resources, good and nutritious food is not available to all, and our global markets take away from, instead of build, our local economies.
At the Global Alliance for the Future of Food we have come together to address these critical issues. As a strategic alliance of foundations, we aim to leverage our resources and develop frameworks for change that enable us collectively to accelerate the transition of food systems from those marked by hunger, pollution, water scarcity and declining food crops towards those that are more sustainable, secure and equitable.
To get there, we must address the economics of food and advocate for fair and transparent food accounting. Through support to initiatives like Food Tank and TEEBAgriFood, we aim to make transparent the economic distortions in food systems by developing frameworks that value both the positive (carbon sequestration, pollination services, health) and negative (CO2 emissions, diabetes, farmworker exposure to toxins, ocean acidification) “external” costs of food production, distribution, and consumption across global systems. As HRH, The Prince of Wales said in his well-known Future of Food speech, what we need “is something very simple … to include in the bottom line the true costs of food production … it has never been needed more.”
Another priority for us is making the connections between food systems and their impact on human health and well-being. We’ve recently commissioned an international panel of experts, IPES-Food, to synthesize current research on health impacts as they relate to specific food systems, with an eye to exploring the political economy underlying decision-making and where major sources of market failure lie. We believe this work is critical for developing proactive measures that can promote policy and practice to prevent disease and protect health, and for shifting public understanding of how intimately our health is connected not just to what we eat, but how our food is produced, processed, transported, prepared, and sold.
We face significant challenges, but history shows us the astonishing things we can accomplish together. As the poet Seamus Heaney says, “the longed for tidal wave?can rise up,?and hope and history rhyme.” That’s why we’re initiating a project called Beacons of Hope, the aim of which is to gather evidence that a sustainable, secure and equitable future of food is feasible and attainable, to bring together the voices working in this space, and to share the stories of success and hope.
This work is time-consuming and enormously challenging but both essential and urgent. As independent foundations, our priorities pull us in different directions. However, on the issue of the future of food our differences diminish as we commit to play our individual and collective parts in food systems reform.
Who should we be watching for inspiration, ideas, vision about the future of food??
For inspiration I think we should be watching other jurisdictions that are doing things well.?The example that immediately comes to mind is Belo Horizonte in Brazil that launched a campaign?aimed at ending hunger by making food a right of citizenship. What was innovative about this campaign is that it wasn’t uni-dimensional – just focused on food aid for instance – but instead incorporated a holistic approach to local food production, agro-ecological practices, mutually supportive local and national policies, economic and market development, and the list goes on.?This was a systems-based approach initially focused on hunger in one city but that had multiple benefits for the whole country.
What is your comfort food?
My favourite comfort food is soup – almost any will do, but see a few of my favourites here. ?As Tamar Adler says in one of my favourite books😕?“There is great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good … Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found?ways to eat and?live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.”
About the Author
Ruth Richardson is the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a unique coalition of foundations committed to leveraging their resources to help shift food and agriculture systems towards greater sustainability, security, and equity. In this capacity Ruth serves on the Steering Committee of TEEB for Food and Agriculture led by UNEP, and on the Advisory Committee of the Global Urban Food Policy Pact. She also sits on the Board of Ecojustice – Canada’s only national environmental law charity with a 25-year track record of winning legal victories for people and the planet.
This blog is part of the Future Food series. We wanted to know: what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going, and what can we do to change the course? Over the next six months, we are handing the microphone over to 12 leading food thinkers in Canada to help answer these important questions.