Food for thought

Gosh we have big challenges on this planet of ours. Just one is that of food. Did you know that one billion people now go to bed hungry each night?

That’s according to the Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), a think-tank founded in 2009 with the goal of analysing major global issues connected with food and nutrition. This is massively worrying. As Guido Barilla, chairman of the Barilla Group, notes: “Access to food is one of the first and most fundamental of all human rights. Where food is lacking, it becomes impossible to live with dignity, and the rights to a healthy life and peaceful coexistence are undermined.”

Ironically, as the organisation also points out, one billion people suffer from health problems related to obesity … and 30 percent of food is wasted.

There are two other challenges associated with food and nutrition. According to the BCFN, agriculture now contributes to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions – and young people are increasingly disconnected from how their food is grown, “making solutions to the global agricultural system seem even further out of reach”.

These challenges are highlighted in a fascinating book entitled Eating Planet – Nutrition Today: Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet (visit to obtain a copy).

So those are the major challenges; what are the solutions? We need to address the issue of artificial fertilisers and heavy pesticides. Yes, they boost food production in the short term. But they can create serious obstacles to feeding the world over the long term.

The book notes that environmental degradation – including water scarcity, soil depletion and deforestation – are all results of the industrialised agricultural system. These problems seriously compromise future generations’ prospects of well-being.

Part of achieving sustainable well-being involves an understanding of the environmental impacts of different types of foods.

To encourage this understanding, the Barilla Centre has devised the Double Food and Environmental Pyramid. This pyramid links the nutritional aspects of different types of food with their environmental impacts.

The global food system also affects issues of human health, including the incidence of disease, malnutrition, obesity, and diabetes. The book notes several unhealthy changes in dietary and lifestyle patterns, including an increase in calories consumed, a lack of balance and diversity in diets, a lack of education about health and nutrition early in life, and a significant reduction in the amount of time dedicated to physical activity.

The book emphasises the need to reconnect people with producing, obtaining, preparing, and eating their food. This involves the transfer of knowledge from older to younger generations about the production and preparation of food, the return to a healthy relationship with and appreciation of the land on which food is grown, the revitalisation of conviviality associated with food preparation and consumption, and the recovery of traditional flavours in the context of contemporary tastes.

In Italy, the University of Gastronomic Sciences is finding ways to combine the passion of food connoisseurs with the science of agriculture. The university conducts courses in food anthropology, food cultures, food policy and sustainability, and students participate in study trips to examine regional
food systems.

In developing countries, where rising average incomes are affecting dietary choices, it is important to provide access to and education about healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables before bad eating habits develop into deep-rooted cultural practices. Ensuring proper nutrition among infants and children can greatly improve overall health later in life.

We all know that a balanced diet – coupled with an active lifestyle – can reduce the risk of obesity, tumours, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. One extensively studied example is the Mediterranean diet, which characteristically emphasises a balanced consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, while limiting meat intake. A study completed by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition found that strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of developing a gastric carcinoma.

The book furthermore maintains that, in order to improve universal access to food, policymakers must address the “lack of transparency and responsibility in the commercial exchange of food around the world”.

This means, for instance, ensuring that production of crops to be used as biofuels does not interfere with the cultivation of crops for food. In Europe, 8,6 million metric tonnes of vegetable oil is used for the production of biodiesel fuel, and this continues to expand by 15 percent annually.

So there you have it: the challenges and some of the potential solutions. Now we just need to implement the latter …

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