Is Our Food Sustainable

Do you know where our food comes from? How long does it take to reach our tables? Why does it look picture perfect while lacking flavor? Is our food even sustainable?

According to a report by Oxfam published in 2014, most of the food and drinks we find in grocery stores are controlled by 10 companies (1). Big companies aren’t producing food in the traditional way. Their model is often driven by increasing efficiency and reducing cost. A typical supply chain model in food manufacturing industry requires multiple and complicated processes, before food can be delivered to our table. It includes sourcing the material from farmers all over the world, processing the mix in low labor cost countries, distributing the product by global-scale trading companies, and dispatching the finished goods to our familiar local retailers. Even in the most efficient supply chain models, if the food is not sourced or processed locally, it usually takes more than one week from farm to table. In 2013, a report suggested that agriculture (including transportation) represented around half of all human generated CO2 in the world (2).

Nowadays, people care more and more about health, nutrition and environment. Several research studies concluded that processed food is not good for health. The latest report from WHO published on 24th October, 2015 established a direct link between processed meats and cancer (3). Raw foods, increasingly popular, are considered a superior form of nutrition. By avoiding processing, we are reducing the time form farm to table, while maintaining the health benefits of our food. The Raw food movement is bringing us back to the essential definition of nourishment. However, we often hear our parents complaining that raw food is becoming tasteless, compared to what they ate in their childhood. It is common knowledge that fresh food tastes better and contains more nutrition (such as vitamin A, C), hence the need to search for a solution to source food in a greener, and “healthier” way. Sourcing food locally is part of the answer.

In July 2014, the UN estimated that 54 percent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, and this number is expected to reach 66 percent by 2050(4). However, traditional farms are often located in remote suburb areas. If food can only be sourced from areas most people don’t reside in, we cannot call our food “sustainable”.

The solution actually is in the problem itself.

Urban farms can be a viable solution. Conventional food sourcing strategy that only considers economies of scale and cost savings need to be revised. By starting up small scale urban farms such as community farms, backyard farms and rooftop farms, consumers can get much easier access to food producers. With much simplified farm to table processes, more and more people will have access to the knowledge on where our food really comes from, which has been lost. Understanding how our food is grown, and respecting those who grow it, equates to a sustainable healthy lifestyle.