By Janet Henderson
The last two and a half centuries of industrial and technological development have allowed our global population to grow exponentially. There are many who argue that the only way to meet the dietary needs of a growing global population is to go further down the path of agricultural industrialization, using technological solutions such as herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering of crops as ‘silver bullet’ solutions to the serious problems we face in producing sufficient quantities of food to feed a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.
But the industrial approach to food production is incredibly energy intensive, and agriculture alone, without even mentioning transport, is responsible for about a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture must change and adapt.
Slow Food believes in an approach to these challenges which is conscious of the whole system of food production and much more respectful of social, cultural and ecological contexts in which agriculture exists. We do have options. Here are three of them:
- Stop wasting food. It is estimated that at least 35% of all food produced globally is wasted, most of it in the wealthier, developed nations. This represents massive amounts of wasted resources (water, fuel, fertilizer and human labor) and greenhouse gas emissions produced pointlessly. By reducing this colossal amount of waste, we could feed 2-3 billion more people without any increase in resource consumption or deforestation.
- Eat a little less meat. We, in the wealthier, developed nations (and, increasingly, in countries such as China and India) are relying on animal products for too many of our calories. Much of the global agricultural land base is being used to grow animal feed rather than growing food for humans. If we are going to have a serious conversation about agricultural sustainability in the context of a growing global population, we will have to think seriously about eating smaller amounts of animal products.
- Localize your food supply. Shorter supply chains generally mean greater efficiency in terms of energy invested and often result in financially beneficial outcomes for both producers and consumers. Buyers co-ops, farm-gate and direct-from-farm sales, farmers’ markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are all great options to explore in terms of shortening the supply chain between yourself and your food producers and putting fresh, locally produced food on your plate while growing a strong, localized food economy.
Slow Food is committed to engaging in the challenging debate about both the present and the future of agriculture. We see great potential in some of the technological solutions, which may be applied both to food production and to our modern lives in general, to make our way of living more sustainable. But even more crucially, we acknowledge the necessity of making important cultural changes happen which will result in a more equitable, more ecologically-oriented and healthier food system.