A shift in food choices: towards a “westernization” of our plates
Our food consumption depends on a large set of factors connected to food availability, accessibility and choice. Since the Second World War and due to an average better quality of life in developed and emerging countries such as the United States, China, Brazil and India, our meals expectations have changed. We now eat richer and bigger meals. This rise of calorie intake is linked to an increase in sugar, fats and animal products and a simultaneous decline in cereals, potatoes and pulses. Food products are also becoming more processed and ready-to-eat. To put it simply, we are assisting a ‘westernization’ of our diets or a convergence of the world eating patterns.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that an additional 2 billion people will live on the planet by mid-century. Today’s global population is already getting wealthier in countries such as India or China and will force the agriculture system to adapt and innovate in order to meet the 28 percent food supply increase that 2 billion people require and reduce its impact on the environment. In addition to the problem, it is predicted that 40 percent of the world’s population will transition to a diet heavier in meat, eggs and dairy by 2050. Feeding animals crops use a lot of calorie energy, including emissions from fertilizer or transportation. Ruminants like cows often require more feed produce, produce more waste and need higher level of energy input. Getting calories from animals dramatically impacts the environment much more than having a plant-based diet.
The shift towards more animal product in our diet has modified the way we use food crops and land. In order to meet the high demand, more areas have been cleared to raise cattle for the meat industry.
Only 59 percent of the worlds calorie production is used for food that either directly comes from crops or from animals that have eaten those crops. The rest of the world’s calories goes toward animal feed or industrial uses like bioenergy2 (maize is used in the US for ethanol production or sugarcane is the biofuel crop in Brazil).
As a consequence, this evolution towards transformed or processed food generates an increasing ‘distance’ between consumers and agricultural products. The challenge would be, thus, to change the diets of the world’s growing middle class which has a huge impact on our health and on the environment.
2 Bioenergy refers to electricity and gas that is generated from organic matter, known as biomass. This can be anything from plants and timber to agricultural and food waste – and even sewage (GoodEnergy, ‘What is Bioenergy?’).
How To Help?
At the individual level, you can create a weekly meal plan to buy just what you need. The Feed Feed website proposes weekly meal plans depending on your type of diet. You can also use website like Eat by Date to truly understand whether your food has expired and then composting it instead of throwing it in the trash.
You can even get involved with groups like Food Not Bombs which have local branches all over the world that recovers food from local restaurants and stores and give it to those in need.
On the food supplier level, solutions like eliminating buy-one-get-one promotions, donating food that’s not fit for sale or using boxes and props to maintain the illusion of abundance. ReFED Is a multi-stakeholder non-profit committed to reduce U.S. food waste. It proposes 27 of the best opportunities or a ‘first-of-its-kind economic analysis’ to help stakeholders across the food supply chain to meet the national 50% reduction goal by 2030. It goes from ‘consumer education campaigns’ to ‘standardized date regulation’ and ‘trayless dining’. On the policy level, it means standardizing food labels to accurately reflect the science behind foodborne illnesses; educating consumers and expanding compost systems. Addressing food waste problem means tackling both climate change and hunger in the process
is a zero-waste chef, author and presenter and worth to be followed on social media. He tries to inspire people through recipes to waste less food and ‘encourages awareness around the food we put on our plate, where it comes from and what happens when we waste it’.
is an online platform that fights food waste by proposing weekly vegetables and fruits boxes that can be delivered to your home. The website is working with growers and farmers and rescue fresh and seasonal fruits which are destined to trash because of their non-conventional shape size or because of a surplus of production.
is an App that connects establishments with daily food surpluses with people willing to save them in exchange for reduced prices. With over 9.5 million users and 17,000 associated establishments, this app has helped saved 10,092,382 food packs.