Climate action can start with every meal – Food Tank
What goes into the price of our food? There are several things that make up the number we see on our grocery receipt, such as the price of farm inputs, materials used for packaging and transporting to grocery store shelves. But the price tag does not include the cost of healthcare for the millions of people with food-related illnesses, nor the contributions of the food system to water and air pollution, reduction in biodiversity or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These are just a few of the hidden costs of our food, and while they don’t show up at the checkout, we all pay for them.
In the United States, this true cost of food is three times what consumers are currently spending. The United States as a country spends US $ 1.1 trillion a year on food. However, according to The recent Rockefeller Foundation report, which uses the True Cost Accounting (TCA) framework to quantify the external costs of the food system on human and environmental health, the true cost of food in the United States is US $ 3.2 trillion.
As President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Raj Shah recently presented to Fortune“It is only by understanding what our food is really costing us that we can understand – and have the incentive to – change the system so as to avoid outages like the pandemic.” Tackling the hidden costs of the world’s food systems is a cross-cutting solution that would improve global nutrition, save billions in health spending and help tackle the climate emergency.
Growing a better food system first requires facing up to the hard facts. If left unchecked, the true cost of food will continue to rise, with much of the growing bill attributable to the role the food system is playing in fueling the climate emergency. To avoid disaster for future generations, we need to transform the way we produce food and fundamentally change the way capital flows throughout the system. For example, by applying the true cost to public programs like school meals, we could discern the value of serving more nutritious and sustainably produced products and compare that to the costs of current less healthy and sustainable alternatives. This type of analysis is a powerful political argument for revealing the real cost savings of certain programs.
The time is ripe and urgent for change. Policy makers from around the world are currently meeting in Glasgow to discuss progress on climate action at COP26. Ahead of the event, IPES-Food, Nourish Scotland and their partners launched the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration, a commitment from cities, regions and governments to fight the climate emergency through integrated food policies. Arguing that a world at 1.5 degrees Celsius could be reached if changes in food systems were a priority, WWF published a manifesto which sets out the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of actions such as dietary changes, reducing food loss and waste, and shifting to nature-friendly agriculture, each of which can be quantified using of the TCA.
Many governments are already beginning to consider and address the external costs imposed by today’s food systems. In Denmark, they introduced a tax on pesticides aimed at reducing negative effects on health and the environment. Others are accelerating the development of new tools to reduce GHGs, such as China, which is launching the world’s largest carbon market this year.
These approaches to covering the true cost of food must keep equity at the center, as marginalized communities, especially black and indigenous communities of color, often bear a disproportionate burden of these true costs. Governments must take action and implement solutions that better support marginalized communities, especially black and indigenous people of color and small producers, through local purchasing incentives, reduced income. producer debt, increased workers’ wages and expanded health benefits.
But politics is only a necessary path to change. Transforming the food system requires enabling producers themselves to access and afford more nutritious and sustainably produced foods. Businesses now recognize that encouraging regenerative practices can benefit both farmers and their bottom line. Businesses can look to Annie’s Homegrown to invest in regenerative farming practices, General Mills working with farmers to grow various crops that can also be cash crops, and Dr. Bronner’s encouraging farmers around the world to grow organic ingredients.
Meanwhile, new technologies and innovations are embracing this systems approach to food. Do Good Foods’ closed-loop system takes 160 tons of surplus groceries each day, turns that food into animal feed, and then sells low-carbon protein to U.S. consumers. And Treasure8 takes large streams of waste and recycles it into safe, tasty and healthy products for large-scale distribution.
Philanthropic organizations spend billions on problematic areas that are implicitly linked to food systems, yet food has rarely been explicitly addressed in funding strategies. Today, philanthropy is also rethinking its evolving role in the climate emergency. Barely launched at COP 26, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) between the Rockefeller Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, the Bezos Earth Fund and other partners to invest US $ 10 billion of committed capital to accelerate investments in green energy transitions and renewable energy solutions in developing and emerging economies . This will include a focus on the agriculture-energy nexus and will create, enable or support over 150 million jobs and drive economic growth over the next decade.
These are the success stories we need to encourage increased engagement and more unconventional collaborations between government, business, academia, NGOs, farmers and consumers for a better food future. With a systems approach to food, solutions can drive positive changes in and across multiple sectors, from reducing healthcare costs and GHG emissions to boosting the local economy.
The climate emergency is impacting every eater across the globe, and no single person or organization can fix our broken systems on their own. But there is hope. The pioneers are proving that we can meet the true costs of the food system while increasing the benefits for producers, businesses and consumers.
To truly address the climate emergency and move towards a more nutritious, fair and regenerative, less expensive and less risky food system, we must continue to break more silos at the national level. It is our collective responsibility, and the planet and future generations depend on it.