The future of… our food system
“To transform the food system we need radical collaboration across the entire supply chain”
Welcome to “The Future of…” blog series, where we explore the dynamic landscape of innovation in various industries. In this chapter, we dive into the world of foods, uncovering the challenges faced by the industry and gaining insights from Sophie Dijkkamp and Marianne Thieme, two of our transformation strategists at Elemental. Marianne Thieme has proven to be able to turn her vision on climate, food and animal welfare into tangible impact. As co-founder and former party leader of the political party ‘Partij voor de Dieren’, she has forever changed the Dutch political landscape by broadening the scope of the public debate. Sophie Dijkkamp has been active as a management consultant in numerous industries, was the initiator of a sustainability movement with a previous employer and participated in the Nyenrode course Sustainability in Food and Agribusiness.
Here are their thoughts:
“What do you see as the biggest flaws of our current food system?”
The first flaw is an obvious one: the overexploitation of the environment. The food system is a major contributor to the emission of four of the five most powerful greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. Furthermore, the obsessive focus on production efficiency has caused mainstream agricultural methods to organise around monocultures and rely heavily on pesticide use, resulting in damage to many ecosystems.
Another flaw is the mismatch between what we should eat and what is produced. One third of the world population suffers from some form of malnutrition, ranging from undernourishment to obesity. In rich countries, most people eat more animal-based products than is good for them, and don’t meet minimum standards for fruit and vegetable intake. In the Netherlands, 80% of the food assortment in the supermarket is not part of the governmental nutritional advice (‘Schijf van Vijf’), because they contain too much fat or sugar.
Additionally, there is an issue with unfair pricing. People often think that organically produced food is expensive. However, the truth is that non-organic food products are priced too low. They do not include a fair compensation for the social and environmental resources that have contributed to the product. This results in the unjust reality where third parties have to account for the externalities of the food sector.
Food waste is another significant concern. We often come across the challenge statement “we need to be able to feed 10 billion people in 2050”. But in fact, almost a third of the all food produced for human consumption in the world is wasted and almost half of all arable land is used to feed livestock (for 1 kilo of meat, the average of 7 kilo of cattle feed is needed). The immense waste of food happens across the entire value chain, from production to consumption.
Lastly, there are issues with the unstable supply chains. As the corona pandemic and the war in Ukraine have demonstrated, global supply chains are extremely vulnerable to disruptions. Against the backdrop of global warming, biodiversity loss and increasing geopolitical tensions the importance of more resilient supply chains will only increase.
“Where do you believe the food sector is moving towards?”
The food sector of the future offers a diet that is healthy for both people and planet. In order to constitute an optimal diet for human health and environmental sustainability, this diet has a greater emphasis on plant-based proteins and fewer animal sourced foods than is currently the case. Meat, fish and dairy have relatively high environmental footprints per kcal compared to other food groups and have many animal welfare problems.
Additionally, in the near future, we pay a fair and true price for our food. A price that reflects not only the economic costs that underlie the production of food, but also the social and environmental resources that have been used.
Lastly, we believe the way our food is produced, processed, packed and transported will become more transparent. Organisations have to account for impact over the entire supply chain because of stricter regulations (such as CSRD), but also because consumers are increasingly demanding transparency. They want to know if their food is healthy, safe and sustainable. This, in combination with the abovementioned vulnerability of the current global system, will result in shorter, more integrated and more regionally oriented supply chains.
“If it were up to you to shape the future food system, what would you change?”
We firmly believe that if there would be a better match between what we should eat from a health perspective and what food is produced, many problems would be solved: health care costs would significantly reduce, land now being used for keeping livestock or growing animal feed could be rewilded with nature, stimulating biodiversity and storing carbon, and there would be more than enough food to feed the growing world population. Therefore, it is our mission to make the Netherlands the first country to officially adopt the planetary EAT-Lancet diet (link), to guide Dutch citizens to not only eat healthier, but also climate-friendly.
To realise this mission, we need to change and broaden perspectives, start new forms of collaborative action across the food system and think in possibilities rather than limitations. This is what we do best at Elemental. Our unique, creative approach makes people feel and experience new ways forward, rather than only rationally think about the future food system. With our co-creation tools and systemic thinking perspective, we unite people and organisations around a joint purpose and know how to make this purpose work.
We are currently forming a small network of different parties to join us on our planetary diet mission. Want to know more or join us? We would love to hear from you!
Did this article trigger further questions or inquiries otherwise? Please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like to directly speak with our transformation strategists Marianne Thieme and Sophie Dijkkamp? You may do so at email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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