After many years living in the UK, it was amazing to arrive to Brussels with its fresh vegetable épiceries, regular local producer markets, and varied cosmopolitan food scene. Eating well in the UK could be a challenge as supermarkets and their tasteless vegetables were often the only easy and affordable options. So in the past 2 years my eating habits have changed a lot.
A driving force for changing how I eat has been the gradual realisation of the utter madness that is our current food system which is currently wreaking havoc on our environment: tomatoes and (tasteless) strawberries all year round, a whole chicken for a few euros, esparragus and avocados shipped from thousands of kilometers. The over abundance and cheapness of food has its origins in the 30s and 40s and the ensuing Green Revolution. Policy makers vowed to never again let a shortage of food affect their populations. Ecosystem services (healthy soils, fresh water…) were increasingly treated as mere resource to be exploited and farming started to resemble industrial production. This change was largely successful thanks to technical advances in seed breeding, synthetic fertilisers and chemical pest control, allowing a spectacular growth of food supply. To the point that we now produce enough food for some 10 billion people.
Yet out of our planet’s 7 billion, about 800 million are still undernourished and some 2 billion are overweight, of which 600 million are obese. And the system producing this food is very much unsustainable. It wastes the world’s most precious resources: soil and fresh water. The world might only have enough soil for another 60 years if current practices continue. Agriculture uses around 70% of the world’s freshwater consumption, and in many places, particularly those affected by drought, fossil water is extracted and aquifers are exploited beyond their replenishment capacity.
Beyond this unsustainable consumption of resources, agriculture as it is practised today also contributes greatly to the degradation of the environment and to greenhouse gas emissions. A major part of this is due to livestock rearing, with cows and sheep having the highest impact of all. One thing is certain: if the entire world keeps tending towards having “western” diets (high in carbohydrates, protein), then the outlook for our planet is bleak.