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False solutions to hunger and malnutrition

Food is our lifeline, yet we are largely disconnected from it. Instead, we are trapped in the illusion that we have the freedom to buy and consume products that we supposedly want and need, but know little about.

The dominant food system and its plates of injustices

If someone were to spontaneously ask you where does the food you eat come from, would you know the answer? Do you know who grows it and how? What are the steps taken and the ingredients used to turn your food into meals? How does the food reach markets and stores before it finally finds its way onto your plate?

It is a little ironic that while our diets largely influence our health and wellbeing, we do not know much about the food that we put in our bodies.

While most of us can easily take decisions about our personal lives – for instance, what we want to wear, who our friends are, or where we want to go – we rarely take the time when it comes to choosing food that can sustain and improve our health and prolong our life.

Food is our lifeline, yet we are largely disconnected from it. Instead, we are trapped in the illusion that we have the freedom to buy and consume products that we supposedly want and need, but know little about.

Let’s get to know a bit more about today’s food system: how it operates, why it operates the way it does, and how it creates plates of injustice, as it pushes for infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources.

The Plates of Injustice

Our vision for food systems transformation

Before it lands on our plate, the food that we eat worsens hunger, causes disease, deprives and exploits people, and destroys the planet. Are there ways for us to get out of the dominant food system that causes these problems? Are there alternatives?

Below are five principles towards food systems transformation that can guide us on how we can reconnect with nature and eat without eating up our planet.

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First, protecting and regenerating nature must be at the core of this food systems change.

Nature knows best, and thus we shouldn’t alter or go against its process of replenishing or renewing itself. One way of doing this is through agroecology. This means that farms will cease to be treated as mere land resources, but will be managed as an ecosystem – a living body consisting of a community of organisms, plants, and animals harmoniously coexisting with soil, water, sun, and air.

Food systems anchored in agroecology must also push for social justice and food sovereignty, i.e. the right of peoples to determine what they eat and how food should be produced. It must likewise respect and uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples and peasant communities to their lands, ancestral domains, forests, pasture grounds, and water and coastal territories.

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Second, food systems must guarantee our health and wellbeing by ensuring the health of our planet on the whole.

We can only be healthy if our food is healthy, and our food can only be healthy if the soil where it grows is healthy, too. The soil can only be fertile and provide essential nutrients to plants if it is biologically diverse. This means that the soil must be home to a host of species and microorganisms and a host to different types of crops. Diversified local food grown on healthy soils must be strengthened as the basis of healthy and sustainable diets, composed of fresh, home-prepared, and minimally processed food.

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Third, the modes of production, employment, and exchange under transformed food systems must be in line with human rights.

All food system workers, peasants, and small-scale producers must be provided with adequate working conditions. Food grown or produced by exploiting and marginalizing those that make it can neither be sustainable nor healthy. Pesticides and other toxic substances used in food systems must be phased out. Local and territorial markets as well as community and solidarity-based initiatives for food production and exchange must be supported. Care work such as cooking, feeding, breastfeeding and caring for family members as well as non-living forms (e.g., seeds, poultry, livestock, fish, and flora) must be redistributed among women and men.

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Fourth, the transformation must address dimensions of culture and knowledge around food.

The wealth of traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers, and local communities needs to be preserved and kept through dialogue. The democratization of knowledge must take place. This means that knowledge should not be privatized under intellectual property rights. Research must be free from conflicts of interests and based on the co-construction of knowledge instead of placing scientific knowledge above other forms of knowledge. Children and youth must be reconnected with nature through traditional forms of food production and culinary culture.

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Fifth, we – the people – should be in the driver's seat of food systems transformation.

The human right to adequate food and nutrition is at the core of the governance of our food systems. All decisions and actions of governments in food systems must be transparent. Clear mechanisms must be in place, through which states can be held accountable, and corporations or their philanthropies harming the right to food and nutrition can be held liable. Public policies must respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of all people in food systems. Not corporations, but people – especially those who feed the world and suffer most from hunger and malnutrition – must be at the center of all public decision-making.

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Let us unite, organize, and instigate change in the dominant food system ‘from below’.

We can achieve this by:

  • Joining collective civic actions campaigning for people’s right to food and nutrition;
  • Calling on our governments to protect public policy spaces from corporate influence to ensure the meaningful participation of small-scale food producers and other groups most affected by hunger and malnutrition;
  • Urging our governments to place policies and other measures that support and protect local food systems that sustain nature, contribute to people’s health, and foster social justice;
  • Supporting alternative food networks such as community-supported agriculture/fisheries, cooperatives, and farm shops that create spaces for and drive the transition towards sustainable and fairer food systems;
  • Linking food rights activism to political and social movements that call for and work to transform the current profit-driven economic system.