How to Transform Food Systems? Welcoming the Launch of New Resources

A shocking new report has determined that “a rapid and unhalted growth of greenhouse gas emissions could force one-third of global food production beyond the safe climactic space by 2081–2100.” This is just the latest clarion call for confronting the fragility and urgency of the anthropocene, especially as it relates to one of our most fundamental sources of sustenance, culture, and well-being: food. 

It’s easy to feel paralyzed in the face of such daunting and catastrophic odds. COVID-19 has been a moment of reckoning for how we are pushing health and planetary boundaries to their limits. And yet there is hope. The Global Alliance has embraced hope, inspired by community groups, innovative policymakers, progressive private sector players, social entrepreneurs, and others who are responding with creativity, adaptability, and resilience. 

Today we launch two new contributions to the field of those committed to food systems transformation: 1) How to Transform Food Systems: 7 Calls to Action and 2) Principles for Food Systems Transformation: A Framework for Action

Two primary themes run through and connect these materials:

First, we know what we need to do. Solutions abound and are being embraced by individuals and organizations around the globe: inclusive, participatory approaches to governance; research for the public good; accounting for the environmental, social, and health impacts of food systems; unlocking investments – both public and private – toward ecologically-beneficial forms of farming, nutritious, sustainable, whole-food diets, and resilient livelihoods and communities. These and other Calls to Action have been elevated time and again by our members, partners, allies, and others to address the critical underlying structures that hold back much-needed food systems transformation. We need to heed these imperatives for action. 

Second, principles must be our guide. They are both the destination and the compass for food systems transformation. Every step we take towards change leads us in a certain direction. Too often the direction is ill-understood, or not acknowledged, or contrary to where we need to go to address the health, economic, and climate crises we face. The kind of transformational change we need — that challenges the status quo and transforms “deep structures” such as policy and governance regimes– requires an explicit set of principles that both challenges us and helps us realize fundamental equity, health, and resilience.

Take some of the big debates over the future of food such as “fake” meat, international trade and long-supply chains vs. localization, ultra-processed foods, production regimes. As we consider the options for food systems to, at the very least, do no further harm to people and planet, and at most provide pathways to protect and restore our relationship to the earth and each other, we need to be asking ourselves if these actions lead us toward greater diversity? equity? resilience? health? And, what’s more, we need to ask these questions not as singular inquiries, but as a set of mutually reinforcing and equally important considerations since we know we cannot have resilience without equity, or health without diversity. The Global Alliance has been using a principles framework since its inception to define our collective destination and to guide the actions that will lead us there. 

Acting on our mission to transform food systems and our belief in the deep and lasting change that dialogue can bring, we’re sharing these new materials and encouraging readers and users to take them up according to their mission, expertise, objectives, and willingness to engage in a radical journey to transform the future of food.

Is it daunting? Yes. Imperative? Yes. Feasible? Yes. But it requires nothing less than staring the cold, hard odds of a desolate future in the face, creating a vision for the future built on equity, health, resilience, and diversity, and judiciously embracing these calls to action and these principles – not politics, vested interests, bottom lines, or self-interest – for navigation and guidance. 

I was once asked skeptically and perhaps a bit cynically: “who can argue against principles?” Indeed.

Ruth Richardson
Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food