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Revisiting the Future of Foods During the Global Pandemic

Food waste

Amid COVID-19, we have seen the global pandemic’s impact on our food supply. Empty shelves, excess /shortage of supplies all happened at the same time. The food prices index has risen significantly since the global pandemic1. The report “Household Organic Food Waste ‑ COVID‑19” by Dr. Charlebois et al. indicates that an average Canadian household disposes of 2 kg of food weekly, and the number might increased by 13.5 % since the start of COVID-192. That is an incredible amount of food waste Felicia Loo (our guest author for this article) writes.

Moreover, according to the United Nations, the world population is projected to grow from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 20504. The increase in the number of population means that we need to have sustainable ways to ensure we can feed 2.4 billion more people worldwide, on top of any current food issues.

The rising cost, availability of food, and food distribution are visible challenges that we face together as a global community. Here are a few socio-economic factors that affect how we feed our future:

Resources Availabilities:

Many of our lands are no longer suitable or available as agricultural land (transformed into modern buildings and cities), decreasing the amount of available underground water, diminishing the crop yields due to pests and diseases and climate changes. These factors are further complicated by decreasing farmers working at the farm and growing the crops and livestock.

Urbanization:

Besides, the big food corporations own many small farms that used to be community-based, changing traditional farming of plants and poultry. Today, the younger generations have less exposure to farming and barely recognizing the food production scene. We used to grow up close to farms growing chicken and produce. Now, it is rare to see a chicken coop in the city. Our next generations may not have seen and know how to identify the appearance of the plant of carrot, papaya, banana plants etc. Have we traded the future of our next generations for urbanization?

Then, there is another question. What happens to the food we grew today?

Food Waste:

As an example, USDA estimated 30-40% of edible food is wasted. How? Food can turn into waste from the moment it was harvested3. The crops and livestock are living organisms. Although they may seem lost its life during harvesting processes, the crops and livestock are subjected to a natural chemical process that affects their safety and quality. The natural chemical deterioration process continues to occur unless the condition is not favourable for the reaction, usually through temperature control such as refrigerations.

The damaged crops and livestock then, are rejected as waste and ended up in the landfill. Further, waste can occur during processing as food companies reject food products that are not in-compliant with the specifications eg. the wrong size, looks crumbly. At the consumer level, the food may not be consumed before the expiry date and dispose of extra foods into the garbage.

Some consumers are confused regarding the best before date and expiry date when discarding food. Food with best before the date may be consumed after the labelled date if they do not possess health risks. A simple quality check for food with best before date is recommended to ensure that the food texture and taste are almost similar to those that have not exceeded the best before date.
So, what is the whole concept of designing future food?

To me, designing future food means looking at the aspect of nutrition and the socio-economic and cultural perspectives of the locals. Nutrition is an essential aspect of growth and sustaining life’s requirement for building healthy communities. The origin of nutrients is from our land, either absorbed directly by the plant or indirectly by the livestock through their feeds. In other words, food grown on the land with poor nutrients will end up having poor nutrient value and vice versa. Are we getting the most nutrient out of our crops?

The importance of local foods is highlighted due to the carbon footprint. However, certain local foods that belong to the developing countries, such as cassava, have poor nutrients, but that is what the locals consume. Instead of substituting the local food with nutrient-dense food, fortification with nutrients missing in their typical diets such as iron and iodine provides nutrients using an acceptable food vehicle. I think the saying “there is nowhere like home” also refers to the local communities’ social-cultural uniqueness. This uniqueness can be preserved by adapting to the local communities to place nutritional intervention strategies.

The imbalance of family income also affects food affordability, resulting in hunger and food consumption with low nutritional value. These are concerning as it mainly linked with wasting, underweight and stunted growth. Meanwhile, some higher-income family prefers to consume more meats as they have more spending power. Access to fast foods and food containing high fats, proteins and refined carbohydrates also contribute to the current food situation. Coupled with the lack of exercise, many non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases are linked to poor dietary habits.

The rise of plant-based protein meat shifted consumer demand to a more plant-based diet and slightly away from meat. It is hype, or is it a trend?
Some other novel introductions of future foods include lab-grown meats and insect farming. In certain countries, insects are commonly consumed as food. Insects are categorized as a good source of protein. Lab-grown meats and seafood are still under testing but would you give it a try? Can it be a substitute for the current option?

In conclusion, designing the future food model is very specific to each community as every community is unique. There is no one model that fits all in designing future food models. Changes in dietary habits and the sustainability of our food production system along with the current and upcoming food technologies play an equally important role in defining not only the quantity of food to feed the future but also the quality of future foods from a health and community perspective.

References:

  1. Food price index posts first monthly increase of 2020. (2020, July 08). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/international-business/article-food-price-index-posts-first-monthly-increase-of-2020/
  2. Household Organic Food Waste COVID 19. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.dal.ca/sites/agri-food/research/household-organic-food-waste—covid-19.html
  3. Why should we care about food waste? (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.usda.gov/foodlossandwaste/why
  4. World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html

Writer profile:

Felicia Loo, CFS, is a Certified Food Scientist and registered SQF Consultant. Graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BSc. Food Science along with a minor in Commerce, she is keen to help small and medium food business thrive in their food safety management system (i.e. meeting Return of Investment for investment on food safety program). She has worked with numerous food businesses, including natural health products, bakeries and desserts, fruit juices production, fresh produce, confectionery and many more to develop customized and improved food safety programs. She has worked with multiple food safety and regulatory schemes such as SQF, ISO 22000, Primus GFS, Organic, Kosher and Health Canada (Natural Health Product). During her free time, she enjoys writing food blogs and photography.

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