How Farmers are Creating Resilient Local Food Systems

The food system depends on a healthy environment, but poor agricultural practices are responsible for environmental degradation. Beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent of honeybee colonies during an average winter—likely due to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Soil degradation is occurring at staggering rates, with soils being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished. And up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.

The increase in food prices in 2008, Russian wildfires brought on by excessive heat and drought in 2010, and, most recently, the worst drought in more than 100 years in California—all are warning signs that farmers and farmers’ groups, global food producers, industry leaders, researchers, and scientists must address the planet’s food security in the face of weather volatility and climate change.

This week, Food Tank and The Lexicon of Sustainability are spotlighting farming and resilience through The Food List, a cross-media messaging campaign that provides the vital tools needed for fixing the food system.

Farmers depend on just a handful of crop varieties: according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), approximately half of farmland—more than 60 million hectares, or 150 million acres—in the U.S. is planted with corn or soy. This lack of diversity limits farmers’ ability to adapt to varying weather patterns and climate change.

“The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word,” wrote food author and activist Michael Pollan.

A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. “With 80 million more mouths to feed each year and with increasing demand for grain-intensive livestock products, the rise in temperature only adds to the stress. If we continue with business as usual on the climate front, it is only a matter of time before what we [saw] in Russia becomes commonplace,” said Lester Brown, U.S. environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute.

Family farmers and food revolutionaries are working to create this paradigm shift by restoring ecological resilience in their local communities. Many farmers are diversifying their cropping systems and working together on projects to preserve biodiversity in fields and on plates.

According to Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, Soil Health Division director for the U.S. National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers are improving soil’s “ability to take in and hold ‘water in the bank.’ They’re even creating wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while decreasing risks from extreme weather and harvesting better profits and often better yields.”

Here’s how family farmers, food heroes, and organizations around the world are working to create resilient local food systems that are immune to the shocks of climate change and ecological disturbance.

Adapt-N is an interactive tool developed by researchers at Cornell University, designed to help corn growers reduce nitrogen applications based on site-specific recommendations. The website is part of a suite of decision-support tools from Cornell to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change in the U.S.

DivSeek, an international partnership launched in January 2015, use big data to catalog the physical and genetic information held within international gene banks, and to make it available online. The initiative, involving 69 organizations from 30 countries, enhances the productivity and resilience of global crops by giving breeders and researchers access to information through an online portal.

In the Philippines, Dr. Wilson Cerbito, Assistant Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture, addressed the First Agriculture Summit on May 7, 2015, noting the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. The event outlined strategies for improving productivity of rice and root crops through technologies and practices that promote ecological resilience.

Full Belly Farm received the California Leopold Conservation Award for its land stewardship and conservation efforts. Judith Redmond, a manager of the farm, demonstrated resilience in the face of extreme drought by changing her crop choices, implementing drip irrigation, and reducing her reliance on groundwater. The creek that usually irrigates her crops ran completely dry last year, but Redmond was still able to water her land using micro-irrigation.

La Red de Guardianes de Semillas (The Network of Seed Guardians) is preserving rare plant varieties and culturally important seeds in Tumbaco, Ecuador. The community model for seed-saving fosters the exchange of cultural knowledge between small farmers, trains growers on permaculture techniques, and works to preserve biodiversity throughout Ecuador. The coupling of cultural heritage and biological heredity in something so small as a seed gets at the heart of the resilience concept: the more biologically and culturally varied a system, the more buffered it is against disturbance.

The Lexicon of Sustainability is spreading the word about agricultural resilience through information artworks and inventive media campaigns. Douglas Gayeton, multimedia artist and the organization’s founder, emphasizes that “there are farmers who believe in biodiversity instead of monoculture. Farmers who build soil fertility without depending on chemicals. Farmers who go beyond organic.” By defining terms such as true cost accounting, The Lexicon of Sustainability seeks to describe a vision for resilience through engaging stories.

Who do you know about that is creating a resilient local food system? We want to know! Share them with me at


Feeding Nine Billion Video 3: What Policies Can Make Our Food System More Sustainable?

Presented by Evan Fraser , the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada


Hello, my name is Evan Fraser and I work at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada.

As anyone who has followed this video series knows, climate change, population growth, and high energy prices mean that many experts worry farmers will struggle to produce enough food for us all over the next generation.  But there are other ways of looking at the problem.

For instance, huge amounts of data show that the modern food system is extremely wasteful.  Inefficient irrigation means that we squander vast amounts of precious water[1], while many farmers apply more fertilizer than plants can use[2]. These excess nutrients runoff fields and pollute rivers and lakes[3]. What’s worse, Westerners waste about between 30 and 50% of the food that we buy.[4]

Surely if we simply cleaned up our act, we wouldn’t worry so much about the future of our food system, right?

Economists give us a way to think about this problem by talking about “negative externalities”.  Negative externalities[5] are costs of producing food that the market doesn’t account for. For instance, if a farmer doesn’t pay for the water he or she uses, then the value of the water would be “external” to the price consumers pays for the food and hence there would be no incentive for the farmer to conserve this resource.

Similarly, if a farmer pollutes a river,[6] and the price of the food from that farm doesn’t include the price of cleaning up the river, then the cost of pollution is another negative externality.

These hidden costs mean farmers who waste resources or pollute the environment actually do better economically than farmers who steward their land. For instance, if farmers don’t pay for the water they use, then a farmer who uses inefficient irrigation may be able to offer consumers cheaper food than a farmer who spends her or his money investing in more efficient watering systems.

In the 1990s, a group of scientists calculated that externalities like polluted water, damaged habitat, soil erosion and food poisoning imposed £2,343 million of costs on UK society alone in 1996[7]. The British Royal Family was not amused: Prince Charles regularly talks about the future of farming where he argues that “…we need to include in the bottom line the true costs of food production – the true financial costs and the true costs to the Earth”[8].

Many argue that because of negative externalities, policies are needed to ensure that farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers pay the full cost of producing our food.  There are a number of ways of doing this. One way is to pass laws that make farmers pay for the things they use from the environment.  Mostly, this has been tried in irrigated farming systems where countries have experimented with charging farmers more for the water they draw from aquifers or wells. Where these programs have been tried, they generally are quite successful in encouraging conservation.[9]

Another way is by paying farmers for “ecosystem services”, which is a fancy way of saying “the things that the environment gives us.”  For instance, the European Union has policies that pay farmers for maintaining wildlife habitat and biodiversity[10].  This is useful because it creates an incentive for farmers to tolerate wildlife that might otherwise simply be seen as a pest because they disturb crops.

A third approach is to tax pollution or waste.  This may be a particularly useful strategy in terms of getting consumers in the West who throw out a huge amount of the food to become more efficient.[11]  [12]If policies are enacted that make us bear the full price of our food, then it stands to reason that food prices will go up. And if food prices rise it also stands to reason we will throw less out, making the whole global food system more efficient.

But while such approaches may sound ideal, there might be unintended negative consequences.  In particular, policies that force consumers to bear the full cost their food might also cause a rise in food insecurity and malnutrition for those consumers who could not afford to pay more for their food. So while it is vitally important for policy makers to develop strategies to correct negative externalities, such strategies must go hand in hand with other policies to protect the poor from the negative effects of price rises.

But that’s all for now. If you are interested in learning more, you might be keen to check out my recent book Empires of Food.  Also, you can find me on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter where I regularly post about issues relating to global food security. And the website has annotated scripts along with references and our blog.

I hope to see you again, but until then, thanks for watching!

[1] This publication by the USDA outlines some of the major ways in which agriculture is inefficient in its water use. This publication also provides some suggestions for maximizing the efficiency of irrigation. “Inefficient Use of Irrigation Water.” Natural Resources Conservation Service. United States Department of Agriculture, Mar. 2012. Web.

[2] Nitrogen is an essential component of our modern food system. This National Geographic article demonstrates our reliance on the element, as well as the environmental problems that are arising due to over-application of nitrogen fertilizer on farmland.

Charles, Dan. “Fertilized World.” National Geographic Magazine May 2013:

[3] Agriculture can have serious consequences for water systems; some of these threats, and the science behind them, are outlined in this FAO document. “Fertilizers as Water Pollutants.” Corporate Document Repository. FAO, n.d. Web. 15 July 2013:

[4] Our global food system allows for billions of tonnes of food to be wasted, yet hundreds of millions of people go hungry. This report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers identifies some of the major causes of this waste, as well as suggesting possible solutions to the problem. Global Food – Waste Not, Want Not. Rep. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Jan. 2013. Web. 18 July 2013.

[5] For a longer description of externalities refer to:

GREGORY, D., JOHNSTON, R., PRATT, G., WATTS, M., WHATMORE, S. 2009. Dictionary of Human Geography (5th ed.). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp 235-6.

[6] Manure spills from large scale hog operations have been a persistent problem all over the world.  An example of this from around Ontario (where I’m from) is in the Chatham-Kent district, where 4 major problems occurred between  2006 and 2013. Spinoff economic and quality of life impacts are listed here: HENRY, TOM. (2013) Toxic algae could hit third of W. Lake Erie. The Blade.

[7] This academic journal article evaluates the impact of UK agriculture on the health of humans and the environment in the state. You can access the full text at the link provided below.

Pretty, J. N. et al. “An Assessment of the Total External Costs of UK Agriculture.” Agricultural Systems 65.2 (2000): 113-36.

[8] HRH The Prince of Wales is a well-known advocate for environmental protection, and a strong supporter for the development of a sustainable food system. Here, you can read the transcript of a speech he presented at Georgetown University on the subject of sustainable agriculture. Mountbatten-Windsor, Charles.

“A Speech by HRH The Prince of Wales to the Future for Food Conference, Georgetown University, Washington DC.” Future for Food Conference. Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Prince of Whales. 4 May 2011.

[9] In his book, Green Markets, T. Panayotou makes the argument that economic growth can occur without endangering natural systems. Panayotou, Theodore. “Policy Success: Water Pricing in China.” Green Markets: The Economics of Sustainable Development. San Francisco, CA: ICS, 1993. 112-13.

[10] In order to provide for both successful urban growth and a sustainable local food system, the European Union has enacted the a large suite of policies to encourage the preservation of the natural world, why still allowing for economic growth in the farming sector. The Common Agricultural Policy a Partnership between Europe and Farmers. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012. European Commission, 2012.

[11]  In Canada we can measure food waste as the difference from what we produce, and what we process, distribute and sell. This waste is estimated to be more than 27 billion CND or more than 2% of our GDP, more than what Canadians spent in restaurants (2009), slightly below Canadian agricultural exports (2007), more than Canadian agricultural imports (2007), and greater than the combined GDP of the world’s 32 poorest countries (2009).

For a full discussion see  GOOCH MARTIN, FELFEL ABDEL, MARENICK, NICOLE, 2010. Food Waste in Canada opportunities to increase the competitiveness of Canada’s agri-food sector, while simultaneously improving the environment. Guelph Ont: Value Chain Management Centre, George Morris Centre.…

[12] For a broader international discussion of food waste, refer to Segrè Andrea. 2012. Transforming food waste into a resource. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.

Foodie books – entertaining informing and reaffirming importance of food and agriculture

Brace yourselves, its a long one

Food Tank has selected 20 books that entertain, inform, and reaffirm the importance of food and agriculture. From sustainable seafood to ethical eating to field guides for food activists, these books highlight innovative and creative methods that are creating a better, more sustainable food system while educating and informing eaters and consumers.

The authors and editors on the list cover some of the most pressing issues around food justice and sustainable eating.

American Catch by Paul Greenberg

In 2005, five billion pounds of seafood were imported into the United States. Greenberg takes a deep look into the seafood hubs of the U.S. and attempts to explain why 91 percent of the seafood North Americans eat is, in fact, imported. Through analyzing current crises, oil spills, and mining projects, Greenberg present solutions for a more sustainable future.

EAT UP: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture by Lauren Mandel

This book has compiled case studies, resource checklists, and interviews with experts in order to help readers transform their rooftops into a fully functioning green space and a way to feed their family. There are three sections covering rooftop gardens, rooftop farms, and the rooftop agriculture industry that cater to various scales, goals, and skill levels. If you have ever dreamed of transforming your roof into a green space, this is the expert guide for you.

Ethical Eating in the Postsocialist and Socialist World by Yuson Jung, Jakob Klein, Melissa Caldwell

Buzzwords like organic, free range, and local have gained popularity, and eaters are focusing more on how food is produced and cultivated. This book explores the concept of “ethical food” and how the movement started in postsocialist and socialist societies. More specifically, it covers food systems and consumption of food in Bulgaria, China, Lithuania, Russia, Vietnam, and Cuba.

Feeding Frenzy: Land Grabs, Price Spikes, and the World Food Crisis by Paul McMahon

McMahon traces global food trends throughout history to identify patterns that may have contributed to current turmoil in the global food market. In some countries, obesity is rising at alarming rates while food is scarce in others. McMahon outlines the patterns that exist in a “feeding frenzy” and presents actions to create a more sustainable food system.

Food Between the Country and the City by Nuno Domingos, José Manuel Sobral, and Harry G. West

This book analyzes how the concepts of country and city in relation to food have changed the dynamic of how food is produced and sustained. This book looks at food on all production scales using ethnographic studies of peasant homes, small family farms, urban gardens, community gardens, state food industries, and large corporate supermarket chains.

Food Consumption in Global Perspective: Essays in the Anthropology of Food in Honour of Jack Goody by Jakob Klein and Anne Murott

Honoring the 1982 work of Jack Goody and his book Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, this book looks at the evolution of food in a global context. As food is becoming more homogenized across the world and more restaurants and corporations are becoming transnational, there is a dramatic shift in the food people consume. This book compares locally and culturally specific methods of cultivating and eating food with transnational processes.

Food for City Building: A Field Guide for Planners, Actionists, & Entrepreneurs by Wayne Roberts

After serving as the manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council for ten years, Wayne Roberts chronicled his experiences and interactions with local food experts in the Food for City Living guide. Roberts has helped improve public health and environmental awareness in his community, and now he shares his experiences with readers.

Green Chefs: The Culinary Creatives Changing How We Eat by Brooke Jonsson

This three-volume electronic book was compiled by chefs who are using innovative methods to integrate new and exciting local foods into their established cuisines. Jonsson pairs personal recipes with in-depth interviews with expert chefs. Readers can begin to understand the passion and intrigue behind the dishes they will soon create.

Green Kitchen Travels: Vegetarian Food Inspired by Our Adventures by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl

Frenkiel and Vindahl journeyed around the world with their daughter Elsa in search of delicious, nutritious vegetarian and vegan food. From hunting for vegetarian restaurants in Beijing to bean sprout pad thai for lunch in Thailand, this book is a compilation of their experiences with easy-to-find ingredients and simple recipes.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey by Samuel Fromartz

From Berlin to Kansas, Fromartz searches for the perfect loaf and shares his love for bread. He chronicles his experience in France working at a boulangerie, where he created a deeper understanding of bread from seed to table. During his travels he met with historians, farmers, sourdough biochemists, millers, and more. This book is a result of his journey and takes a deep look into the story of handmade bread.

The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World by Andrew Winston

According to Winston, the way companies currently operate will not allow them to keep up with the current and future challenges of climate change, scarcity, and transparency. He suggests companies need to make “the big pivot.” Winston provides ten strategies for leaders and companies to be sustainable and successful for the future using stories from Unilever, Nike, Walmart, and other major companies.

The Carnivore’s Manifesto: Eating Well, Eating Responsibly, and Eating Meat by Patrick Martins with Mike Edison

It can be difficult for meat-eaters to find ethically produced meat. Factory farms and fast food restaurants offer quick meals, but at what cost? Patrick Martins, founder of Slow Food USA and Heritage Foods USA, has much to say about sifting through all the packaging nonsense and determining whether or not meat is sustainably produced. With this knowledge, Martins encourages readers to engage in more sustainable consumption.

The Handbook of Food Research by Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco, and Peter Jackson

This book is a collection of essays from sociologists, researchers, and academics discussing food psychology, politics, history, geography, and economics. It contains some of the most recent and groundbreaking research in food science. Experts investigate topics such as the way globalization affects the food supply, understanding famine, the social meaning of meals, and more.

The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier

Les Jardins de la Grelinette is a 1.5-acre farm in Quebec, Canada run by Jean-Martin and Maude-Helène Fortier. Through their low-tech, high-yield cultivation practices they provide produce to more than 200 families. This book focuses on their methods of growing better rather than growing bigger.

The Political Economy of Arab Food Sovereignty by Jane Harrigan

Harrigan researches the global food price spikes from 2007 to 2011 as a trigger to the Arab Spring Revolution in 2011. This book provides a political and economic analysis of the history of food security in the Arab world, including the geopolitics of food. Harrigan examines food sovereignty in the Arab world and how it has driven domestic food production as well as land acquisition overseas.

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson

This book focuses on soil, an often overlooked resource. According to Ohlson, 80 percent of the carbon in the world’s soil has been lost. This book argues that soil is “our great green hope” and that by reestablishing carbon-fixing microbes in the soil, the Earth has a chance at reversing some of the effects of global warming.

To Eat with Grace, a selection of essays and poems from Orion Magazine

Orion Magazine has selected past articles and poetry that best exemplifiy what eating with grace truly means—staying connected with fellow humans. Personal relationships and connections can sustain eaters just as much as the food one eats. To Eat with Grace shows how there are many different ways food can nourish the body.

Waste Matters edited by David Evans, Hugh Campbell, and Anne Murcott

An alarming 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally each year. The authors of this book look at waste through sociological, economic, and cultural lenses in order to give the reader a full understanding of the current waste problem. The book explores issues such as social practices, the way food and waste are circulated in society, and dumpster diving. It highlights various initiatives and programs that aim to decrease the presence of food waste globally.

What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Dr. Danny Chamovitz

People do not often consider plants as having “awareness” of the environment around them, but Dr. Danny Chamovitz, a biologist, would disagree wholeheartedly. By analyzing plant biology and diversity, Dr. Chamovitz is able to ascertain parallels between humans and plant species. He concludes humans may be more similar than the reader would think.

Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies edited by Emma-Jayne Abbots and Anna Lavis

This book explores the intersection between food and body. Why We Eat, How We Eat recognizes eating as a tool for building relationships, silencing hunger, and more. This multi-disciplinary approach to how people eat may illuminate new ideas and perspectives that readers have ignored in the past.

FOOD TANK’s Summer 2014 Reading List

Food Tank has hand-picked 18 books that educate, inspire, and inform us—and make us look forward to cooking, eating, and sharing what we’ve learned. They highlight sustainable agriculture and farming practices around the world, and they give us ideas about how to eat healthier, safer, and more fairly produced food.

From Ava Chin’s Eating Wildlya journey into urban foraging, to The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook, which incorporates inexpensive staple foods with locally-grown and seasonal produce to create healthy and nutritious meals, they are all interesting, intriguing, and definitely worth a read this summer.

These books and reports teach us where our food comes from, how farming can both influence and mitigate climate change, and what we need to do to change our eating habits so that we can have can have a hand in alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty in our communities and across the globe.

Here are Food Tank’s 18 summer “must reads” for your tablet or bookshelf.

Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature by Jules Pretty

This book takes an in-depth look at the issues enveloped in the agriculture and food systems. Pretty emphasizes changing behaviors and reforming policies in order for an agricultural revolution to take place. He draws on stories of successful agricultural transformation in both developing and industrialized countries, calling on the next agricultural revolution.

Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together by Faith Gilbert

Gilbert designed this 54-page guidebook through interviews with 42 start-up and established collaborative farm projects across North America. She gathered input from 18 professionals and advisors as well as 50 publications in cooperative development, farm business, finance, land access, and more. This book highlights processes that make collaborations effective and functional in order to provide mutual satisfaction and benefits.

Don’t Cook the Planet: Deliciously Saving the Planet One Meal at a Time by Emily Abrams

An 18-year-old activist from Massachusetts, Abrams’ new cookbook features 70 recipes shared by celebrity and all-star chefs, including actor, producer, and eco-activist Chevy Chase; MasterChef judge and acclaimed chef Graham Elliot; and Stephanie Izard, Top Chef star and executive chef at Girl & the Goat. This cookbook offers recipes and tips on how to minimize your carbon footprint. Abrams hope to impact her generation through this cookbook by featuring positive food choices.

Eating Wildly by Ava Chin

Follow Chin in this touching and informative memoir as she forages for food in New York City. Chin is an “urban forager” on the quest for eating better, healthier, and more sustainably, regardless of location. She takes the reader on an emotional journey—finding solace in parks and backyards, where she connects with rare and delicious edible plants. Her experiences in nature enliven taste buds and stir emotions.

Fields of Hope and Power by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé

“Fields of Hope and Power” is a chapter from the upcoming Navdanya book on agroecological movements, living democracy, and the limits of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and industrial agriculture. This chapter takes an in-depth look at food scarcity and how agriculture and climate affect this issue. The Lappés investigate how the farmers at Navdanya have contributed to setting up the largest direct marketing fair trade organic network in India.

Food Systems Failure: The Global Food Crisis and the Future of Agriculture by Christopher Rosin, Paul Stock, and Hugh Campbell

The authors provide a critical assessment of the global food system during the heightened food crisis and the problem of feeding a growing population. This book explores contraindications in policy and practice that hinder solutions to the food crisis. Case studies expose neoliberal policies involved with the production end of the food system, which provides insight into the current challenges for feeding the world. Rosin, Stock, and Campbell provide alternative strategies to create a more just and moral food system.

Foods for Health: Choose and Use the Very Best Foods for Your Family and Our Planet by Barton Seaver and P.K Newby

Seaver and Newby have created a science-based guide to healthy eating for the whole family, which features tips, food pairings, and sample menus. The authors take the reader on a culinary tour of 148 foods that have high nutritional value and the least environmental impact. This book teaches readers how to prepare healthy food and meals while making the best choices for their body and the planet.

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown

Brown exposes the planet’s volatile food system with eroding soils, rising temperatures, and countries competing for land and water resources. He writes, “Food is the new oil.” Political uprise and food scarcity are concerning issues, which Brown addresses and for which he presents solutions.

Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras by Tanya M. Kerssen

This book explores the history of agribusiness and land conflicts in Northern Honduras. In the Aguan Valley, Honduran peasants battle large palm oil producers and fight for democratization of land, food, and political power. Kerssen shows how peasants in crime- and drug-laden communities are leading a strong and inspiring movement, with no signs of backing down.

In the Garden: A Botanically Illustrated Gardening Book by Sandra Lynn McPeake

Great for the coffee or kitchen table, this book includes basic growing information and detailed images of vegetable growth cycles from seedlings to the inside of veggies. McPeake provides gardening tips about supplies that growers will need and how to keep a gardening journal. Learn to share and grow with this illustrated guide.

Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America by Douglas Gayeton

A guide to more than 200 agriculture terms explained by experts in the field and complemented by stunning visuals, this book explores rebuilding local food movements. Gayeton traveled the United States, taking photos and learning from today’s top sustainability practitioners, to create this reference book.

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung

This book will make you stop and think about your eating habits and patterns. Buddhist monk Hanh and nutritional expert Dr. Cheung discuss how to become more aware and mindful of our bodies, drawing special attention to how we eat. This book explores the physical, emotional, psychological, and environmental factors which control our weight.

Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity by Barbara Burlingame and Sandro Dernini

This publication, by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), investigates the link between sustainable diets and biodiversity. It addresses the relationships among agriculture, health, environment, and food industries—indicating that the most sustainable diets have low environmental impacts. This text can be used as a reference for policy, research, and action.

Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide by Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox

This book is a collection of profiles, interviews, and essays that feature 60 innovative community-based projects around the globe in diverse climates. Birnbaum and Fox visited communities all around the world looking for ecological design systems. From urban gardeners to native seed-saving collectives to ecovillage developments, the common thread that weaves these thriving communities together is permaculture systems.

The Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook by JuJu Harris

This cookbook incorporates Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) staples along with seasonal produce to create easy and delicious recipes. Harris, Arcadia Culinary Educator and Mobile Market Outreach Coordinator, wanted to create healthy and nutritious recipes around WIC provisions. What started out as a simple compilation of recipes has turned into a successful business venture. Harris plans to offer a Spanish version later this year.

The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock by Tony Weis

Weis discusses the “meatification” of human diets and the adverse impact it has on the earth and human health. Weis believes the conversion of grain and oilseed into meat is inefficient in a world striving to provide a basic diet to those chronically hungry. He explains why the growth and industrialization of livestock production is a central part of industrial capitalist agriculture.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber Coming Soon!

This book explores Barber’s vision for a new future of American eating. After a decade of research on farming communities throughout the world, Barber concludes America’s food needs a radical transformation to ensure the future of our health, food, and land. From his restaurant’s kitchen to farmers’ fields, Barber’s experiences led him to propose a “third plate”—a new pattern of eating rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm.

We the Eaters by Ellen Gustafson Coming Soon!

Gustafson explores how eaters and consumers can transform the global food system by changing what is on their dinner plates. The book investigates the global industrial food system using the classic American dinner as a template and provides actionable solutions to start ripple effects of change. The book’s manifesto is: If we change dinner, we change the world.

How Reducing Food Waste Could Ease Climate Change

Producing the food we throw away generates more greenhouse gases than most entire countries do.

reblogged from national geographic food series

Picture of workers harvesting celery in Greenfield, California

Workers harvest celery in Greenfield, California. The energy that goes into the production, harvest, transportation, and packaging of wasted food produces more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

More than a third of all of the food that’s produced on our planet never reaches a table. It’s either spoiled in transit or thrown out by consumers in wealthier countries, who typically buy too much and toss the excess. This works out to roughly 1.3 billion tons of food, worth nearly $1 trillion at retail prices.

Aside from the social, economic, and moral implications of that waste—in a world where an estimated 805 million people go to bed hungry each night—the environmental cost of producing all that food, for nothing, is staggering. (Read more about causes and potential solutions to the problem of food waste.)

The water wastage alone would be the equivalent of the entire annual flow of the Volga—Europe’s largest river—according to a UN report. The energy that goes into the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of that wasted food, meanwhile, generates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the U.S. and China. (Read about the author who’s waging a war against global food waste.)

John Mandyck, the chief sustainability officer of United Technologies, a U.S.-based engineering and refrigerated transport firm, says that food waste can be mitigated by improving the “cold chain,” which comprises refrigerated transport and storage facilities. His company hosted the first World Cold Chain Summit in London last November. This week, Mandyck is in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Summit, where he’s talking up the problem of food waste. He answered questions via e-mail from Davos.

Why does the issue of food waste seem to slip below the radar?

We tend to take our food for granted in the developed world. Since food is so plentiful, we aren’t aware of the tremendous amount that’s wasted and the impact that has on world hunger, political stability, the environment, and climate change. Yet when it comes to looking for ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions, food wastage is a relatively easy fix—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak—and it is literally rotting on our tables. It doesn’t require any new technology, just more efficient use of what we already have. (Read about the effort to rethink “use by” labels on food.)

Food could hardly be a more important industry to humanity. Every living thing on the planet depends upon it. And yet a third of what we produce never reaches the table. Why are we so inefficient?

Food wastage comes in two forms. About one-third occurs at the consumer level, where we buy too much and throw it away. Approximately two-thirds happens at the production and distribution level. For example, a lot of food rots in fields, or is lost as a result of poor transportation networks, or spoils in markets that lack proper preservation techniques. We can make a big difference by transporting and storing our food under proper temperature conditions to extend food supplies.

What can we do better? Where should industry’s and governments’ focus be on reducing food wastage?

Governments can enact food safety standards where they don’t exist. This will jump-start the system to properly transport and store perishable foods like meat, fish, dairy, and produce. It will also ensure that more food is safe for consumption. Industry has a role to innovate and scale technologies so they are affordable in the developing economies. Industry can also serve a useful role by raising awareness of the impacts of food wastage.

What would be the dividends?

The dividends of avoiding food waste can be historic. We produce enough food to feed everyone on our planet today and the 2.5 billion more people to come in the next 35 years. We have to waste less to feed more. Farming already uses 38 percent of our ice-free land, compared to just 2 percent for cities, and uses 70 percent of our fresh water. We can’t keep growing more food, and continuing to waste as much, to feed more people. The environmental dividends are no less significant: lower climate emissions from a major source and more water efficiency to combat growing water scarcity.

And at the consumer level?

We can all take small steps that will accumulate to make a meaningful difference. Let’s buy just the food we need so we throw away less. Let’s accept that produce can be top quality and delicious even if it has a slight imperfection in appearance. Let’s bring meals home that we don’t finish in restaurants. Small changes will yield big results.

What exactly is the “cold chain”?

The cold chain is the network that transports and stores perishable foods like meat, fish, dairy, and produce under proper temperature conditions to avoid spoilage. It involves technologies like marine container refrigeration, truck-trailer refrigeration, cold storage warehouses and rooms, and food retail display cases.

Are there clever new technologies that could help improve that chain?

There are effective and affordable technologies to track and monitor food in transit to ensure it’s being maintained within the proper temperature parameters. It’s a proactive way to prevent spoilage at the distribution level. New entry-tier technologies are also being deployed to provide affordable truck refrigeration units for emerging markets like India. On top of that, environmental technologies like the use of natural refrigerants and energy-efficient technologies are lowering the environmental footprint of the cold chain.

How does one make these cold-chain technologies affordable in the poorest countries, where often the need is greatest?

We have to think differently. We can’t take today’s sophisticated refrigerated truck-trailer systems available in the U.S. and Europe and expect they can be immediately adopted in emerging countries. In many cases, the roads in these countries can’t accommodate large truck systems, the technical skill is not yet present to support the systems, and the economy can’t yet afford the systems. So we have to scale the technology to the local needs—smaller systems, fewer features, more affordable.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

author:  Roff Smith for National Geographic

In my opinion, we still haven’t made the connection between ”us” and ”them”, and it is up to you who you put in that category of ”them” or ”us”. Our food systems are connected in more ways than we care to see, no country on earth is self sustaining and as such we depend on each other for many resources, one of these being food. Why then is it that we make remarks like ” i am sure this piece of cheese will not benefit a school kid in africa”. oh, but it does. Perhaps this is not the best example to use, the point being, we cannot talk about food waste in isolation like it only happens in one part of the world. The developing world experiences food waste in the form of post harvest handling, the lack of storage and refigeration systems means alot of food is wasted. This is not voluntary. however buying food from the store (alot more than you can consume) and then going ahead to waste it, is a bit careless. How about having a go at foodsharing or inviting a stranger over for a meal? This way, you make a new friend and maybe avoid food waste?

This year, i am committed to saving as much food as i can from store bins and making a meal to share atleast once a month. I have also joined the foodsaver group to try and reduce waste this year. Will you join me?


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