Rethinking our diet during Covid-19 times

At Sparknews, we believe that they can also be great opportunities to adapt and rethink our relations with the world. As a team who wants to ignite new narratives that can accelerate the ecological and social transition, we can’t avoid asking ourselves what will be the shape of the global collective story emerging from the current worldwide sanitary emergency. In this week #SparkMinute, let’s focus on our diet with local examples of solidarity, of businesses rethinking their models, and of articles and opinions that can nourish our imagination.

Baby, gotta put food on the table – Jill Scott

We have all seen the images of supermarkets all over the world being stormed by anxious buyers, leaving aisles and shelves completely empty — and some of us can’t shake them quite off. An inevitable —and worrisome— question haunts us all: Will we soon run out of food? An indisputable primary need for all, food availability grows uncertain as supplies’ chains show their vulnerabilities, usual distribution networks become almost impossible to access, and foreign seasonal farmworkers are unable to cross borders. If there hasn’t been any food shortage just yet, the lurking danger lies in the intricate network that usually connects farmers with distributorsand retailers, both nationwide and internationally. This crisis is not likely to be the last for our food system. Each degree of global warming reduces wheat yields by 6%, rice yields by 3.2% and maize yields by 7.4% according to a study published by the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. These crops currently provide two thirds of humanity’s calories intake, not to mention millions of people’s revenues.

For a while now, there has been widespread debate about the best way to fill everyone’s plates — one that the coronavirus outbreak as certainly exacerbated. As access to food remains inherently associated with inequalities, it can also mean greater independence and resilience for many. That is why new models are emerging, trying to meet the world’s food demand and to preserve our natural resources at the same time. If one third of the food produced worldwide ends up getting thrown away each year, we can all agree that the most nutritious solution would be to avoid wasting food in the first place. Consuming local products can also help us prevent shortages and waste, even if international borders do not remain closed indefinitely. As we learn more about how poor diets can contribute to degrade the conditions of coronavirus patients, we can start thinking of healthier options instead of turning to processed foods for comfort — even though, let’s face it, the occasional chocolate bar is a guilty pleasure for all of us right now. Farmers should be able to make a decent living and get proper recognition for their essential work, including access to insurance, sick pay leave and safety regulationswherever they may still lacking. That way, perhaps, agricultural practices will become safe —or safer— and stop impoverishing our soil and poisoning our water streams with pesticides and other chemicals.

Once again, necessity might be the mother of invention. In the light of a potentially Dantesque disaster scenario, a fair number of stakeholders in the food industry are reinventing their jobs. This Native American ladyis sending out seed collections’ packages and teaching online gardening lessons. These small-scale European farmers are embracing digital technologies as a way to sell their products directly to consumers, while some North American farmers are joining forces to offer grocery delivery or grab-and-go-vegetable boxes directly from the farms. This Indian trans woman is feeding vulnerable people in her neighbourhood, this British newspaper is raising funds for a “Help The Hungry” campaign and this grandmother of six is crisscrossing the US in an 80,000-pound truck filled with fruit, vegetables, eggs and dairy products. Meanwhile, food networks are growing all over Europe and in the United States, making it easier for consumers to choose local and organic food. Ultimately, if the solidarity initiatives and models featured in this newsletter can help us remind that food is essential, we can all play a role to ensure that it does not become a luxury, especially during these particular times.

When organizations walk the extra mile

The British brewery Toast Ale was known for using surplus bread to produce their beer. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the B-Corp launched a ‘meal deal’ initiative, committing profits from their online sales. One meal is donated for every bottle or can of beer purchased.

Farmers are not the only essential workers in the food industry. Minnesotan grocery stores’ employees are now being deemed ‘emergency personnel’, so districts must make every effort to provide free childcare for these workers’ school-age children. An article to read on US News.

The American nonprofit Made In Hackey used to offer free community cooking lessons for vulnerable people. With help from the vegan meat company This, they have now started offering a free food delivery service, currently serving 350 meals a day. In Glasgow, the owner of the restaurant 1051GWR has adapted the kitchens to scale-up its meal-making capacity. While crowdfunding to buy raw ingredients and bringing volunteers on board, they have been distributing free meals to around 500 people a day.

In order to provide free rice for people out of work due to the coronavirus crisis, dispensers dubbed ‘rice ATMs’ have been set up across Vietnam. Hoang Tuan Anh, a Vietnamese entrepreneur, came up with this idea of a self-catering rice machine, capable of delivering 3 kg of rice per person each day. Donors and local governments provide the rice. On their first day open for business, the ATMs distributed 2.3 tonnes of rice to more than 700 people in Hanoi, and they will continue to serve people until the rice runs out.

Local initiatives against global disorder

All over Europe, local food networks are growing.Norwegian farmers are increasingly using Facebook groups to sell their produce from-farm-to-table. In Germany, farmers are selling their products directly to local stores. Online stores run by Polish local farmers are also booming, offering short food supply chain products — a promising change in consumer behaviour according to Euractiv.

On March 30, Philadelphia launched a no-questions-asked programme that has distributed more than 72,000 free boxes of food so far. The local government partnered with two food banks — Philabundance and Share Food Program—, which rely on donations from grocery stores, farmers, manufacturers and wholesalers, as well as the help of a rotating staff of up to 100 volunteers.

Let’s imagine further

It takes a whole world to create a new virus, not just China.” In this opinion beat for The Guardian, Laura Spinney —author of The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World— explains how viruses such as Covid-19 wouldn’t emerge in food markets if it wasn’t for factory farming, globalized industry and rapid urbanization. She looks back at the forces putting zoonoses in our path and underlines their link to the rise of industrial-scale farming concerns in China and the consequent marginalization of millions of smallholder farmers. You can read more here.

In his blog, the founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden, lays out what the coronavirus pandemic could mean for the future British food security. Drawing a parallel from the United Kingdom’s resilient food system during World War II, he presents the current ‘just-in-time’ distribution system and its vulnerabilities. It is a powerful call: “We must turn this potential catastrophe into an opportunity manifesting as a renaissance in the production, distribution and consumption of healthy, seasonal and local food.” And as consumers play a key role to change the system from the bottom up, it may be time to check if our relationship with food is entirely rational. Bee Wilson’s feature in The Guardian might help. Find out more here.

What should farming look like in 2050, so that everyone is fed and healthy? Our current diet might be neither tenable nor generalizable for 10 billion human beings. The French NGO Solagro published in 2016 a scenario —Afterres2050— taking into account both the future needs and the current limits of the French food system. The featured guidelines could become a great roadmap to rebalance our diets, generalizing multifunctional agriculture and forestry, cutting back massively on protein imports to feed our livestock, such as soy, and reducing avoidable waste in all production stages. An English translation is available here.

At Sparknews, are convinced that the coronavirus global outbreak will lead us to draw valuable lessons about our globalized economic system. Whether on matters like education, solidarity, biodiversity or our way of work, it will be up to us to return to the status quo once the health crisis is over, or to reshape everything. Discover our #SparkMinute on education, energy, and work.


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