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13 Ways To Cultivate a Better Food System in 2013

Image credit: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

As we head into 2013, many people will be thinking about plans and promises to improve their diet and health. But newer, bigger resolutions are needed for fixing our food system  real changes with long-term impacts in fields, boardrooms, and on plates all over the world. With nearly a billion people hungry and over a billion more suffering from the effects of obesity, these are resolutions the world can’t afford to break. We have the tools — let’s use them in 2013!

Grow in Cities: Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories — nearly a billion people worldwide produce food in cities. Urban agriculture has played a vital role in Cuba's food economy for twenty years; today, more than 50 percent of Havana’s fresh produce is grown within the city limits. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s aeroponic rooftop garden. And a growing number of urban farms and community gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly a dozen in San Francisco and Oakland alone are providing food-gardening and nutrition education, and local, organic produce to schools, restaurants and underserved communities.

Create Better Access: People’s Grocery in Oakland, CA and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts, giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce not typically available in their communities.

Fresh Moves

Image credit: Bob Stefko

Demand Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.

Cook More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills. But celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters and Bill Telepan are working with schools around the country to improve the quality of school lunches and teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.

Create Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.

Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.

Prevent Waste: In developed countries, roughly one-third of all food is wasted — in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives such as Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers; UK grocer Waitrose recently achieved zero waste by converting its unsold food into biogas; and farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.

Engage Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the Internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Food Corps

Image credit: Jerusha Klemperer

Protect Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has successfully persuaded fast food chains such as Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Chipotle, retailers including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and foodservice giants Aramark and Sodexo to pay a penny-per-pound premium to Florida tomato pickers.

Acknowledge the Importance of Farmers: Farmers are businesswomen and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance in preserving biodiversity and culture.

Recognize the Role of Governments: Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, have greatly reduced the number of hungry people.

Change the Metrics: Governments, NGOs and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.

Fix the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges — including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson are the co-founders of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, launching in January 2013. 


Danielle Nierenberg is an author and researcher based in Chicago and an expert on food and agriculture issues. Over the last fifteen years she's had pieces published in hundreds of publications around the world, including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune,… [Read more about Danielle Nierenberg]


Ellen Gustafson is a businessperson, social entrepreneur, and sustainable food system activist. She is best known for co-founding FEED Projects, as well as the 30 Project.


[Read more about Ellen Gustafson]


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