By Anne Asselin
The unprecedented crisis we are experiencing presents a unique opportunity towards sustainable food.
To do this, we need to work together on supply -production- and demand -consumption.
The unprecedented crisis that we are experiencing is forcing us to reinvent ourselves, and in particular to reinvent food. It is of course about thinking about production practices, as many experts point out. But not only. The crisis also questions our consumption patterns, and we have in our hands the opportunity to build sustainable food systems. To do this, we need to work together on supply (production) and demand (consumption).
Towards agricultural practices that are respectful of nature and ecosystems.
The crisis has enabled us to realize how precious farmers are in our societies. They cover an essential human need. However, we hear calls for a paradigm shift in agricultural production, for a shift from « agro-industry » to « agroecology ».
What does agroecology mean? It’s about cooperating with nature to produce in a sustainable fashion. Agroecology techniques are precise and the subject of numerous scientific researches. They respect living soil, crop rotations, ecosystems and the services they provide, such as pollination. They do not exclude the most advanced techniques and innovations: digitalization, precision techniques, artificial intelligence …
However, changing production methods will not be enough to achieve healthy, affordable and sustainable food systems. In parrallel, we need to reinvent our consumption and our diets.
Reinvent our consumption patterns
During this period, we changed our consumption patterns. The majority of consumers have shopped from their local supermarket, drives or via short circuits. They cooked, discovered recipes and homemade dishes. We almost instantly went from « a plentiful food offer » to a « better » food.
Food companies can and should seize this opportunity. We are in a context of changing diets. In a September notice, the French Ministry of Health recommended more plant-based products, especially more legumes, polyunsaturated fatty acids and nuts, and less meat.
This development has a triple bottom-line.
First, as already mentioned, nutrition and health.
Second, it has major benefits on the environment: studies carried out in various European countries (see for example WWF Livewell) show that it is possible to reduce the carbon footprint of our diets by 30%, without major disruption of our eating habits.
Third, it allows consumers, who are increasingly demanding and connected, to benefit from food that is better for their health and the environment at reasonable cost. Food must remain accessible, in an economic context which appears to be gloomy.
Towards a 2 degrees trajectory
Food accounts for around 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It is not only by changing our production practices that we will achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The WWF Livewell study in the UK has shown that our diets need to shift to meet this trajectory. The good news is that it is moving in the same direction as recommendations for health and nutrition: more polyunsaturated fatty acids, more legumes, more nuts, and less meat.
A systemic approach
Consumption and production are closely intertwinned. Supply adjusts to demand as much as demand adjusts to supply. Food is shifts are to be thought within « long term ». It takes a year for a farmer to produce, and crop rotations are an additional constraint in anticipating demand. Consumption trends are therefore constrained by this same time frame. Hence let us not wait to reinvent, along with production, more virtuous consumption patterns : for our health and for the environment. Let us anticipate the underlying trend and reconcile consumption and production now for a healthy and sustainable food, affordable to all.