Our Food System Isn’t Sustainable: A New Solution

Transformation of the global food system is urgently needed as more than 3 billion people are malnourished (including people who are undernourished and overnourished), and industrial food production is exceeding planetary boundaries — driving biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change through unsustainable practices.

Written By Dawson | Health Scientist | Optimeal Founder

7/13/19

New results from the EAT-Lancet Commission (a three-year project bringing together 37 professionals from 16 nations with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance) provide new goals for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system operating within planetary limits. The study recommends diets that consist of a wide variety of plant-based foods, and reduced amounts of: animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars.

Human diets are inextricably linked to environmental sustainability, and have the potential to nurture both. Modern diets and food production methods, however, push the Earth beyond its limits while contributing to the global health epidemic. This threatens us and our planet. Providing healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an urgent challenge as the population continues to expand— expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.

Dietary changes must be combined with improved food production and reduced food waste to overcome this challenge. The researchers emphasize the need for unprecedented worldwide coordination and commitment, as well as immediate improvements such as refocusing agriculture to create diverse plants rich in nutrients, and improved land and water management.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,”

-EAT Commision Author, Professor Tim Lang

The researchers argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. Based on the best available evidence, the Commission proposes a dietary pattern that meets nutritional requirements, promotes health, and allows the world to stay within planetary boundaries.

Compared with current diets, global adoption of the new recommendations by 2050 will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold.

“The world’s diets must change dramatically. More than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and disease,”

-Co-lead Commissioner, Dr Walter Willett, Harvard University, USA.

It isn’t just our diets that need to change, according to a landmark scientific assessment commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Industrial agriculture accounts for over 30% of all carbon emissions as well as 38% of the world’s total land area and 70% of global freshwater consumption.

Today, the majority of the American midwest is dominated by industrial agriculture—the system of resource intensive food production developed over a century ago, utilizing enormous single-crop farms and animal production facilities.

At its inception, industrial agriculture was hailed as a technological triumph that would enable a skyrocketing world population to feed itself. Today, a growing chorus of agricultural experts—including farmers as well as scientists and policymakers—view industrial agriculture as a dead end, a failed test to see how far industrialists could push the environment, public health, and rural communities before they would push back, an unsustainable food system that requires urgent reform.

Industrial agriculture relies heavily on monoculture farming—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale. Corn, wheat, soybeans, grains and rice are all commonly grown this way in the United States. The problem with monoculture farming is that it has remained mostly the same for the past 30 years, increasing in size to meet the demands of a growing population, but doing so without progressively scaling, or using technological advancements to improve efficiency, especially in terms of resource costs (land, water, and energy) and environmental impacts.

Monoculture farming also depends on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The fertilizers are needed because growing the same plant (and nothing else) in the same place year after year quickly depletes the nutrients that the plant relies on, and these nutrients have to be replenished somehow. The pesticides are needed because monoculture fields are highly attractive to certain weeds and insect pests.

Much of industrial monoculture’s harvest goes to feed livestock in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, where they are fed a high-calorie, grain-based diet, often supplemented with antibiotics and hormones, to maximize their weight gain. Their waste is concentrated and becomes an environmental problem, not the convenient source of fertilizer that manure can be for more diverse, less massively scaled farms.

Intensive monoculture depletes soil and leaves it vulnerable to erosion. Chemical fertilizer runoff and CAFO wastes add to global warming emissions and create oxygen-deprived “dead zones” at the mouths of major waterways and herbicides and insecticides harm wildlife and can pose human health risks as well. No matter what methods are used, feeding the growing population will have some impact on the environment. But industrial agriculture is a special case: it damages our land, health and climate on an unprecedented scale.

So what’s the solution?

Optimeal is a drinkable meal made from 30 fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. Formulated in accordance to the research done by the EAT-Lance Commission as well as studies conducted by the Nutrition Studies Research Group at The Stanford School of Medicine and top nutritionist globally, Optimeal will come in a variety of formulas to fulfill everyone’s unique nutritional needs. These formulas will be blended and spray dried at our facility and delivered as a convenient powdered mix that will be available in early 2020!

Eating a variety of colors is crucial for optimal health, this is because the color of a fruit or vegetable is caused by specific phytonutrients, and each color indicates an abundance of vitamins and minerals. According to the most recent phytonutrients report (based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys), 8 out of 10 people in the US fall short in virtually every color category of phytonutrients. Optimeal contains them all.

By utilizing a variety of high-quality, real food ingredients, our drinkable meals deliver a full range of nutrients to optimize your health. This is important because despite the average American now consuming 3,600 calories per day (an increase of 25% since 1961), an estimated 92% of Americans have a Vitamin Deficiency.

Our plant-based dry blend formulas are not only the best thing for your health, they are also significantly less resource intensive than traditional meal options. Our formulas are dried into a powder by removing air and water through spray drying our mixtures at a temperature just high enough to evaporate the water molecules but not any of the nutrients, this process reduces weight and extends shelf life all without any additives. Over time our supply chain will adapt to grow and process more of our ingredients in climate smart greenhouses and vertical farms, ensuring sustainability.

The ultimate goal is a self sustaining system that conveniently and affordably provides every human with the nutrients they need to perform optimally, with minimal environmental impact.

We also utilize IBM’s foodtrust network to track our ingredients on the Ethereum blockchain, creating unprecedented visibility and accountability in our food supply chain by connecting our farmers, processors, distributors, and customers through a permanent shared record of food system data. We use this data to optimize and improve our supply chain; reducing waste an environmental impact, and improving ingredient quality. You can view this data by scanning a code on your Optimeal to verify that the ingredients we used in it really are as good as we say.

Our broken food system won’t be fixed over night by a fancy new start-up with machine learning blockchain apps, it will require a global shift in our production and consumption of food. Optimeal aims to make this transition towards environmentally sustainable, nutritionally complete, plant-based meals more convenient and affordable for everyone.  

To support our mission follow us on social media (@optimeal everywhere) and join our email list (bottom of the page) to stay up to date with our progress. Thank you for reading!

References:

Whitmee S Haines A Beyrer C et al. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health. Lancet. 2015; 3861973-2028

Steffen W Richardson K Rockström J et al. Sustainability. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science. 2015; 3471259855

International Food Policy Research Institute 2017 Global food policy report. International Food Policy Research InstituteWashington, DC

2017 Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition Food systems and diets: facing the challenges of the 21st century. Global PanelLondon2017

Tilman D Clark M Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature. 2014; 515518-522

Springmann M Godfray HC Rayner M Scarborough P Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2016; 1134146-4151

Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development UNICEF World Food Programme WHO

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