Sustainable Food Systems

I must begin by apologizing for my delay in posting!  My studies and work with Food for Thought at Ithaca have been consuming more time than expected, however, better late than never I suppose!  This morning, I watched a lecture on the topic of “The African Food System and its Interaction with Human Health and Nutrition”  (links to online stream of lecture) presented at Cornell University.

Fred Noy/UN Photo

This lecture discussed how addressing sustainable food systems and food security must be reconceptualized.  The United Nations defines food security as existing “when all people at all times have physical and economic access to safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for a healthy and active life.”  Adequate nutrition is paramount to food security.  What’s important to remember about Plumpy’nut is that it provides children with short-term food relief.  It’s used in the most extreme of cases, and is vital to ensuring life-saving treatment for young children.  However, working toward the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and reducing childhood mortality will not be solved through Plumpy’nut alone.  Even though it may not be the complete and full solution, I don’t think this discredits its tremendous capabilities.  It’s important to realize that feeding a child Plumpy’nut is just the first step to achieving food security. This is what leads me to the Cornell lecture . . .

What I found most interesting about this lecture was the concept of “framing” the issue of food insecurity.  Many times, we rely on measuring caloric intake, hunger endpoints, or food security to determine the success of food systems.  However, if we define success strictly through these measurement techniques, we fail to take into account nutritional diversity and long-term impact.  Instead, in many cases these measurements have led to malnutrition, disease, or even obesity in countries once plagued by malnutrition. To really bring about change and improvement in hunger relief, this panel of lecturers emphasizes that we must integrate agriculture, food systems, and human health.

The Ithaca College chapter of Food for Thought has spent the majority of the year focusing on the Millennium Development Goals.  One overarching theme that has consumed our meeting discussions is the idea that the MDGs are not independent silos, as this lecture reinforces.  For example, one of our Ithaca College faculty guest lecturers discussed how food security and proper nutrition are integral to fighting HIV/AIDS.  Our members have made the connection that to even begin tackling the issue of achieving universal primary education (goal #2), we must also address improving maternal care (goal #5), eradicating extreme hunger and poverty (goal #1), and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases (goal #6).  This lecture further reinforced that in order to assure food security (goal #1), we must work toward ensuring environmental sustainability (goal #7).

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but learning about how these issues are integrated is a critical first step to addressing them.

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