The plate of malnutrition and diseases

Monocultures narrow down our food choices and our nutrient intake. One example is corn. We may not be conscious of it, but – disguised as it is by different tastes and appearances – we largely eat corn when we consume these products: cereals, breads, muffins, pancakes, soft drinks, peanut butter, taco shells, and salad dressings. Furthermore, food from monocultures has a lower nutritional value than agroecologically produced food, as it is grown on poor quality soils that require significant quantities of chemical fertilizers.

The current dominant food system also exacerbates poor nutrition. From over 6,000 food species being grown for food, fewer than 200 make substantial contributions to global food output.

What is even worse is that only nine plant species (sugarcane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, sugar beet, and cassava) account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s total crop production. This monoculture-driven loss of biodiversity results in the homogenization of our diets: we eat foods from the same small number of staple crops, which drastically reduces our nutrient intake.

Monocropping also makes us more vulnerable to zoonoses or diseases that jump from animals to humans, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. This happens when forests are cleared for more crops, making us lose plants, wildlife, and other life forms that would otherwise buffer us from a reservoir of pathogens that cause zoonoses.

Furthermore, the dominant food system makes us ill due to its strong promotion of ultra-processed foods which are high in fat, sugar, and salt. The consumption of ultra-processed food triggers different forms of malnutrition and related non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes.

Are we free to decide what we eat?

How can we regain power to be able to take decisions regarding our food systems?