Between overconsumption and feeding the hungry

The problems of overconsumption and feeding the hungry are two of the biggest challenges we face in addressing the sustainability of food. John Ingram raised a number of excellent examples which looks at the role of large corporations in food chains.

I like the point he makes about nutrition deprivation where two billion people globally suffer from what he terms as hidden hunger – the lack of nutrients such as Vitamin A, Iron, Zinc and other micro nutrients and how corporations have stepped in to produce food to address nutrient deficiencies. This notion in itself is a personal moral dilemma for me as I question if corporations are overstepping the boundaries of a natural food system when we should be investing in food technologies to enhance the production and transportation of “natural” food where possible to meet the needs of people. Does this produce an over-reliance on corporations to hook populations on to cheap, processed nutrition?Ingram closes with a diagram that best describes how we assign sustainability metrics to food systems using the Environment, Social and Economic (ESE) principles of sustainability against the food systems concept.

Sustainability Concept / Food Systems Concept

Social / Nutrition

Environment / Environment

Economic / Enterprise

While there are varying degrees of disagreement/agreement how the enterprise fits into this, I endorse this concept fully because it holistically links the economic and enterprise relationships within the system of production. Whether its community gatherers, co-ops, farmers or large corporations, they are still an enterprise which we rely on – who derive economic (intrinsic or extrinsic) benefits from the production of food. Without these actors, I can’t see a viable and effective food system existing.

Coming back to the point on over-consumption, Ingram poses a good question over how do we manage the debate around managing consumption and to adapt this in the face of environmental change. How do we persuade the masses just to eat enough instead of growing MORE to satisfy this hunger.

Ingram spoke at the 21st Conference of the Australasian Agri-Food Research Network organised by the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.