How can we achieve a dietary pattern that provides us with the many nutrients we need for health, in appropriate amounts, but that is also equitable, affordable and sustainable? And, how do we produce more food with fewer resources, such as land, water and fuel, to feed the growing global population?
These are some of the key questions that we face in the 21st century and which we need to find answers to, and quickly. The British Nutrition Foundation and many others from government, farming, food industry, academia and other sectors are working together on this important issue. The aim is to find solutions to these challenges that are evidence-based, realistic and will achieve the required impact both in the UK and globally.
This is an emerging area and we do not have all the answers yet. Though what we do know is that we need to start taking action now to secure a sustainable global food supply for future generations, and that all sectors of society have a role to play.
There are currently huge pressures on the global food system. The demand for food is increasing with the growing global population (which is expected to increase from 7 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050) and also with the increase in wealth in emerging economies, as this creates demand for a more varied, high quality diet (i.e. typically more meat and dairy foods). To simply produce more food using current production methods and technologies to meet this increased demand is unsustainable, as this would require more land, more water and more energy, which are finite resources. At the same time, climate change is occurring and will become increasingly apparent unless we take action now.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we are already consuming natural resources at a faster rate than the planet’s capacity to replenish them. The WWF calculates that if the world’s population consumed natural resources at the rate of the UK we would need three planets to support us, clearly illustrating that things need to change.
A recent government report by Foresight (2011) titled The Future of Food and Farming: challenges and choices for global sustainability defined sustainable / sustainability as:
'A system or state where the needs of the present and local population can be met without diminishing the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs and without causing harm to the environment and natural assets.'
Defining a ‘sustainable diet’ is a complex issue and there are many factors to consider. As well as environmental, social and economic factors, a key factor is that food is a basic need. A healthy, varied diet provides us with the energy and nutrients we need for health, normal body function and physical activity.
This emphasises the need for health and sustainability agendas to be considered in tandem, in order to achieve a sustainable and secure food supply for future generations that also supports public health.
The following pages cover some of the issues around healthy and sustainable diets: