The Power of the Plate

By Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen, Founder and Executive Chair of EAT and Dr. Sudhvir Singh, Policy Director of EAT

Through C40, cities around the world have made commitments to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and lead the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. They no longer ask “WHY,” but “HOW”.  City leaders are applying new solutions for healthier and more sustainable buildings and streets – on the ground, up in the air and down the waste bin. Now, it´s time for solutions to reach our plates!

It should be obvious. There is no way we´ll reach the Paris Climate Agreement without a major transformation of our global food system, as food production accounts for 11% of global GHG emissions, rising to 30% when food distribution and land use are included. Our food systems are also the major driver of biodiversity loss, deforestation and freshwater depletion. But food is also one of our greatest health challenges. In fact, poor diets are now posing a bigger threat to global health than tobacco, alcohol and drugs combined. Getting it right on food is critical for our entire future outlook, as food is, in one way or another, linked to all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, these interconnections don’t just make food a complex challenge: it makes it a powerful tool for change.

1.    Food connects human health to the health of the planet

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician stated: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” More than 2,000 years later, his statement rings truer than ever. According to the World Health Organization, up to 80% of cases of coronary heart disease, 90% of Type 2 diabetes, and one-third of all cancers can be prevented by changing to a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, and stopping smoking and harmful use of alcohol.  

Today, we know that “food as medicine” can come with many other positive side-effects, because what is good for people, also tends to be better for the planet. Researchers at the Oxford Martin School have found that a global shift to healthy, plant-based diets could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate-related damages of US $1.5 trillion.

Healthy diets from sustainable food production systems not only have the ability to help solve some of our most pressing global challenges, they can even help prevent them!

2.    Cities shape their citizens food choices, which in turn shape our common future

Changing what we eat is the single most effective measure we as consumers can take to improve our own health and reduce our personal carbon footprint. Cities can and will play a central role in transforming food systems. Even though most food is produced outside of cities, the majority of the world´s consumers are concentrated in urban areas. By 2050, 70% of the world´s population will live in cities. Whether through supporting urban agriculture, regulating how and where junk food is marketed and sold, using the purchasing power of city authorities, or deploying innovative waste management systems, cities offer many opportunities to promote healthy urban food environments that also reduce consumption-based GHG emissions. By making healthy and sustainable food available, affordable and attractive to all, cities can empower their citizens to contribute to a better future for people and planet every time they sit down to eat.

3.    Food connects people

Out of the 17 SDGs, some say the most crucial is number 17, dedicated to collaboration and global partnerships. To resolve our complex global challenges, we must join forces across disciplines, sectors and geographical borders.

Our organization EAT offers a science-led and inclusive platform for stakeholders to scale up actions towards a joint vision of ensuring universal access to affordable and good food, through more collaboration and better alignment.

A great example of this is EAT’s partnership with the C40 Food Systems Network, of which we’re particularly proud. The network’s 40 cities come together and inspire each other to pilot projects and exchange innovative ideas to improve the health of their citizens and help cut emissions.

For example, in Durban, South Africa, the city has set up agricultural hubs where urban gardens are thriving. In Curitiba, Brazil, the Nossa Feira program brings local farmers and their produce directly to the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Copenhagen, Denmark, is using their procurement powers to have their municipal kitchens set high standards for the 80,000 meals they serve every day.

Importantly, these cities are sharing their ideas, creating larger global impact. For example, London presented their social supermarket concept at one of C40’s meetings. That inspired Toronto to set up their own, selling food that would otherwise have gone to waste at discounted prices. It goes to show that the key to success is much like food itself: great things happen when people gather around a table.

Food doesn’t have to be the driver of some of our greatest global challenges. By working together, it can be turned into a cure for tackling, or even eradicating, them. At the 2018 EAT Stockholm Food Forum, taking place in partnership with the Government of Sweden on June 11-12, we will explore a range of solutions available for achieving healthy and sustainable diets for a growing global population. We know that collaborations and global partnerships, like the one between EAT and C40, are key to providing the recipe to achieving a deliciously healthy future for our entire planet.