This winter, while Eco Retreats has been closed, I’ve been supporting various projects in Africa, all related to the global food and agriculture system. Through my work in international development over many years, I have seen first-hand the interconnectedness between the poverty of millions of small-scale farmers across Africa and Asia, the growing global health crisis, and the rapidly increasing environmental degradation. Looking more deeply at our food system offers solutions to address all three at the same time – and it starts with our everyday food choices.
Below, our karma yogi Emma Eberhardt introduces some of the challenges present across our global food system and how we got here. In future blogs in the series, we will dive deeper into the issues and how we can respond as individuals to revolutionize the system – to improve our health, share economic benefits more equitably and feed an ever-growing population while staying within planetary resource boundaries.
“Our current food system optimises calories over nutrients, to the detriment of our health and our planet’s health. As economic prosperity rises around the world, the quality of our diets is deteriorating at an alarming and unprecedented pace. To date, one in three people around the world is malnourished. 12 million deaths were attributed to unhealthy diets in 2015. In economic terms, malnutrition costs $3.5 trillion annually, with obesity related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes adding another $2 trillion.
How did we get here? After the Second World War, Governments around the world came together to form global institutional organisations to eradicate famine and hunger, forming the multilateral system that we know today. Efforts such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals increased political will and financial support to establish a global food system geared towards eliminating hunger. These efforts were effective in reducing famine around the world, but together with subsidies, they have encouraged large scale industrial production of particular foods and food groups, especially grains (and grain-fed meat).
Detrimental effects caused by today’s farming practices include water and air pollution, soil degradation, loss of habitat and decreased biodiversity. Many species, including pollinators, soil organisms, and the natural enemies of crop pests are decreasing in number. The rapid decline in key ecosystem resources such as freshwater supply, reduction in natural protection against storms, increased flooding and other hazards, and the destruction of habitats for species such as fish and pollinators are threats to our life-supporting ecosystems, in turn threatening our food resilience.
Current agricultural systems are vested in economic and political interests, putting profit and quantity over people and quality. Food companies have invested heavily in marketing and increasing the availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor and ultra-processed foods. Farmers struggle to survive and thrive solely based on their agricultural businesses, in a system that rewards corporations more than those who provide us with food. EcoNexus reports that a handful of corporations now control world food production including animal feed production, livestock breeding, seed production, commodity production, processing, trade and retail, and fertiliser and pesticide manufacturing. Many resilient and nutritious local breeds and food crop varieties have been lost as a result.
On top of this, our 9 to 5 lifestyles in busy cities, with limited access to nature, leave little space for producing and cooking our own food. We have become disconnected from where and how our food is grown. Some of us rarely even fully taste our food: the practice of mindful eating has given way to multi-tasking, and cherishing meals shared with loved ones has given way to eating on the go.
We need a food revolution. It is up to us as conscious global citizens to make our concerns heard and to vote each time we shop for a better food system, changing the world one meal at a time. Let’s start this week just by taking the time to notice what we eat and how we eat it. Are we aware of the origins of our food? Do we know what is in the processed food we are consuming or feeding our families – have we checked for ingredients that may be harmful to our health, or to the planet? Are we eating mindfully, and feeling gratitude for all the people who have invested their labour to bring this food to us? How do we feel after we eat?
Please follow our upcoming blog posts for more info and practical suggestions how we can work together to co-create solutions and food systems that meet our needs today.”
One of the simple pleasures our guests enjoy at Eco Retreats is cooking slowly over an open fire, taking time to enjoy the food and sharing it with friends, family and colleagues in the fresh forest air. It’s a great place to pause and reflect on our life’s values and how we want to live in the world (and just have a great time relaxing in the stunning forest!!)
Stay tuned to find out more about our corporate retreat offering, as we work to catalyze positive global change by bringing business leaders together to innovate and create positive impact in a natural environment.
We open this year on 1st April – head over to www.ecoretreats.co.uk to book your slot today!