As 2015 closes, it is easy to feel daunted by the future - even overwhelmed. In a year that saw the world pass the historic 400PPM of atmospheric carbon for the first time in a long time, and with global temperature records seeming to be broken on a now regular basis, it is easy to feel alarmed by the mounting climate “canary”.
For those of us in global health, things at first seem less dire. Over the past decades we have made much progress on reducing poverty, infection and hunger - to the point that in 2015 less than 800 million of us went hungry each day. A number that is still too high, but one that reflects the enormous gains made over the recent decades. In stark contrast though and of growing concern to doctors, governments and international organisations alike, a staggering 1.9 billion people on this planet now wake up each day overweight - and half a billion obese.
Finally, as I talked with colleagues and peers throughout the world in 2015, I got a sense that the third big concern on people’s minds is a lack of community thinking and connection in societies. A breakdown in the fabric that binds us together. The very interpersonal connection and trust that will be needed to find the combined vision and fortitude to overcome our great climate and health threats.
With all this in mind, last year I led a small group of young, pro bono Melbournians to fundraise, organise and stage a massive public festival about our future. Instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, we looked beyond problems and welcomed more than 4000 people on 11 December to the largest convention space in Australia to discuss and rethink the path we are all on. We began to turn what have become the biggest conversation killers - climate change, obesity, social connection - into new conversations for change.
Centred around food and our food systems, the festival had a simple message - let’s come together and rethink who we are and where we are going, through food. Food systems are a major driver (if not the major driver) of climate emissions; they’re a major challenge and opportunity for our health; and they’re a fabulous way to reconnect societies across borders, cultures and political viewpoints.
We all need to eat - and we are what we eat.
If you didn’t make it to festival21, I want to share with you just five take home messages for your New Year’s resolution. Simple things we can all do to unlock the potential on our dining plates and create a better future for us, and our planet, through food.
1. Eat with your neighbours
Do you remember being young and having that wonderful older friend next door who would bring cakes and biscuits? That someone who you would join for dinner or a cuppa after school? It’s time to revive this tradition.
Imagine if everyone in our city had dinner with one of their neighbours this month. The potential impact on social isolation for the elderly, or community mental health, or even community safety and security would be enormous.
Nayran Tabiei explained how this simple act of kindness and connection could unlock so many added benefits. Why not extend a neighbourly invitation in 2016 and open your door to something better?
2. Buy food, not products
Navigating the food landscape to decipher what is healthy, sustainable and affordable is not always simple, but speakers like Joost Bakker, Madelaine Scott and Keith of The Digger’s Club suggested three easy rules for toasting to a better future.
First, buy local, fresh and in season. These are often the cheapest foods in the supermarket and in abundance. They will usually have travelled less miles to your plate and if you stick to a diet based on fruits and vegetables in season - it can be affordable, convenient, healthy and delicious.
Second, is to buy food and not products. Inspired by the 2014 Dietary Guidelines of Brazil, the message is to buy things that are in their natural, complete state and make these the staple of your meals. Add products and condiments (like salt and oil) to taste, but base your meals on things with one ingredient - food.
Finally, Madelaine a 20-year old organic egg farmer called on everyone to rethink their sourcing of meat and eggs: eat less but always eat quality. Buying fresh eggs and meat from farmers like Madelaine may cost a little more, but the quality and sustainability of the food reflects this price. Finding great suppliers and enjoying an infrequent and appreciated meat meal is likely best for your health, and certainly best for the planet.
3. Eat Mindfully - and eat with others
We often eat a chocolate bar or down a morning coffee with little or no thought to the time and energy that went into delivering that mouthful. The army of hands that touched the coffee bean before it was picked, dried, shipped and roasted. The thousands of kilometres from the cocoa farms in Africa or the refineries in Europe before it met with an entire day’s work for some generous Jersey. The attention and technology that went into growing the nuts, drying them, shelling them. If we stop and think for a moment how much work goes into every mouthful, we might slow down a little. We might eat a little less. We might not waste so much.
In addition, science suggests that if we eat with others we eat more slowly and in some ways eat more healthily. Switch off the phone, put away the laptop and engage with those at your table.
To learn more, head to Smiling Mind.
4. Waste not
One in three mouthfuls of food worldwide will go to waste, and in countries like Australia, the UK and the USA, much of that waste lies with the consumer. In 2016, make this the year of less waste.
Learn to pickle and preserve when foods are in season, cheap and abundant.
Make a list when you go shopping so that you don’t buy more than you need, or things you don’t want.
Finally, cook from scratch and learn to adapt recipes to what you have in your cupboard, rather than what you have in your cupboard for each recipe.
5. Let food be thy litmus
Finally, food is not just about what and how we eat, it is also a great litmus test for how our societies are tracking. Inequality in access to food and the quality of the food we eat often reflects the social and economic inequalities in our communities. Google what a food desert is and find out how you can tackle this problem in your community. Support great organisations who are reusing food and reducing waste, or using food to tackle poverty.
As a new year begins, don’t feel overwhelmed or numbed by the challenges we face as a global community. It is OK to feel worried, but use this to mobilise action. Rethink what and how you eat, and the structures and policies which afford food to those around you.
Use something you love to make that urgently needed impact on the issues we find hard to address.
Have a happy and safe 2016.
Bon appétit to us all.