Thank You for Eating

Monica Porteanu has written her fourth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she explores food security amid massive population growth. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 

Unless a major pandemic, war, or other disaster happens, the world population is projected to grow from about 7.5 billion today to a number in the range of 10 billion by 2050.

How would such growth be possible when, even today, there are large regions in the world struggling to provide basic needs, such as food to its population? This significant question is not only on the minds of many but also a strong focus for many organizations.

As a result of the abundant discussions, approaches, and actions, food has become a substantial political issue and one that is interconnected with multiple other even more significant debates. Major disputes that come to mind relate to the environment (e.g., habitat loss, soil degradation) and climate change. Resource (e.g., water, land) usage
and rights are equally important. More complications are brought onboard by international development, global trade, health epidemics, and societal problems (e.g. access to basic food, poverty, education and literacy, rising middle class in developing nations and their changes in taste and consumption). Last but not least, corporate
interests, food lobbies, and technocracies also add to the list of significant debates related to food.

It comes as no surprise that such a complex and disjointed food system is profoundly struggling. Estimates indicate that the global society wastes 24% of the food produced for human consumption, 28% of people overeat, whilst 28% of individuals are malnourished.

Some can afford to take the problem in their own hands by embracing various movements such eating local, following a specific diet (e.g. paleo, gluten-free), preoccupation with ingredients and nutrient factors, etc. And then there are the “foodies” with appetites for sophisticated ingredients, food designs, experiences, and entertainment.

On the other hand, those who can’t, scramble to find affordable options, which, many times comes in the form of fried, processed, loaded with salt and sugar food, thus continuously increasing health and other societal issues. How to tackle them?

Futurists imagine what food nutrients, gardens, and farms might look like several decades out. Activists have started talking about the Big Food, as an analogy to Big Tobacco. This is not a coincidence at all. After all, paraphrasing Hippocrates, food is medicine. Similar to how tobacco has generated severe health conditions, so does the current corporate and industrial food paradigm.

Consistent and persistent anti-smoking national policies have been hugely successful in North America, where the smoking rate is at an all-time low. How did we get there? As WHO points out, there are six measures responsible for the progress: “(1) monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; (2) protect people from tobacco use; (3) offer help
to quit tobacco; (4) warn about the dangers of tobacco: (5) enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship; (6) raise taxes on tobacco.” These measures have been implemented over several decades, resulting in the decline in smoking rates in adults from over 40% to about 15%. Can we imagine what a similar reduction in diet-
related diseases (e.g., obesity, heart disease, diabetes) would mean if similar food policies were implemented?

For countries like Norway, such imagination might already be a reality because of its recent introduction of a hefty tax on all sugary drinks, sweets and chocolate, chewing gum, and sweet biscuits. Other nations, such as France or UK have taken a timider approach by taxing only sugary/sweetened drinks. As a result, even Norwegians might still be able to satisfy their sweet tooth just by crossing the border.

In the meantime, when health gets personal, it hits you head-on and might change habits much faster. It has worked for many people. It certainly has worked for me in fighting cancer. It was two years ago, ironically, in the middle of an advanced Futures class when my own future was in question.

While it looks like I’ve beaten it so far, I credit this victory to a radical change in my approach to eating and drinking. It includes not only what, but when, how, and at what temperature, and learning how my body produces probiotics (and why they’re important), and exchanges energy with the environment. I also learned how little food I need if I get the essential nutrients. As a result, I am now exploring how I might grow what I eat indoors. As a starter, it looks like
even some veggies such as brussels sprouts are quite easy to grow. Sugar is not.

So, would a world void of sugar be possible? Furthermore, would a world in which the only food available is the one we grow at home be possible? What might that look like?

© Monica Porteanu 2018