How can we rebuild stronger food systems after the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has dramatically shifted societies and economies almost overnight. With people still out of work and the food supply chain being disrupted, hunger and food insecurity continue to be exacerbated. In this time of rebuilding, we must rethink the way we produce, distribute, and consume food to support a more resilient and sustainable food system.

The pandemic has highlighted flaws that already existed in the food system and made them much worse. Hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry each night while food expires on shelves. Poor nutrition leads to health problems which make individuals disproportionately susceptible to negative effects of COVID-19. These issues must be addressed.

As we rebuild following the pandemic, we will have the opportunity to correct some of the deficiencies in our food system and better prepare for future disasters. New technology, new information, and new ideas can lead to big changes that make food systems stronger. Here’s what can be done:

Focus food chains on supplying healthy food. Increased production of healthy food expands access to nutrition and improves the efficiency of land use. Curbing the overconsumption of highly processed and animal foods in wealthier countries will improve health outcomes. A well designed shift in production and consumption will also yield large economic gains in reducing healthcare costs.

Allow local and regional actors to play a larger role in their own food systems. Shifting towards local production promotes biodiversity, reduces environmental impact, and promotes community engagement. Local production also means local jobs which provide individuals with a means to purchase food. Shortening the supply chain means that there are fewer links that can be broken or processes in which problems can occur. Innovation in technology and distribution help us connect production with consumption more directly by encouraging more farm to table options. Large grocery store retailers like Whole Foods are making it a point to source from local farmers and farmers markets have grown by more than 6% since 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Incorporate regenerative farming practices. Incorporating more sustainable farming practices will make our food supply more resilient and less prone to environmental disasters that can cause major food shortages. Conversely, food production (especially the raising of livestock) is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting regenerative farming will make our food systems more robust and able to withstand fluctuations in the economy and environment.

At the heart of solutions to our food system, we must rethink how food is produced, distributed, and consumed. Incorporating new innovative ways to increase healthy food access and incentivize better farming practices will allow for a more resilient and equitable food system. Help us as we work with food access programs, farmers, grocery stores, and community organizations so that we can combat hunger, increase food access, and create a flourishing food system.

To participate in Food Connect’s efforts to help individuals experiencing hunger due to COVID-19, click here.

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