When too much isn’t enough: Does current food production meet global nutritional needs?
Scientists suggest we're producing too much unhealthy food, and growing too little of the good stuff. If everyone in the world were to eat the recommended amount of vegetables, fruit, and protein, there wouldn't be enough to go around. This finding comes from a new study at the University of Guelph, Canada, that delves into the question of how we're going to feed a burgeoning global population while providing proper nutrition.
Researchers found that current global agricultural production does not align with nutritional experts' recommendations. The researchers calculated the number of servings per person on the planet that is produced right now: 12 servings of grains, 5 of fruits and vegetables, 3 of oil and fat, 3 of protein, 1 of milk and 4 servings of sugar.
They contrasted that with the dietary recommendations outlined by the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate (HHEP), which recommends that 50 percent of one's diet consist of fruit and vegetables, 25 percent whole grains, and 25 percent protein. If global agriculture were to align its production with this model, it would need to provide 8 servings of whole grains, 15 servings of fruits and vegetables, 1 serving of oil, 5 servings of protein, 1 serving of milk, and zero sugar per person per day.
Such a switch would cause upheaval in the agricultural industry, since many developed nations have subsidized corn and grain production for years and poured money into researching these crops, far more so than fruits and vegetables; but as study co-author Evan Fraser said, "What we are producing at a global level is not what we should be producing according to nutritionists." The surplus of these less-than-healthy crops is presumably contributing to the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
Next, the study examined what the land use implications would be for altering the global diet to fit the HHEP model. While the land required to produce grains, sugar, fat, and oil would decrease, the amount needed for vegetable and fruit would have to increase by 171 million hectares. Ultimately this would result in "50 million fewer hectares of arable land because fruits and vegetables take less land to grow than grain, sugar, and fat."
Pastureland, however, is a big problem. Right now 3,433 million ha are used to graze livestock and increasing meat consumption to HHEP levels would require an additional 458 million ha. This is not sustainable and reveals the importance of finding alternative protein sources as the population grows. The study authors do not think global vegetarianism makes sense:
"In parts of the world where malnutrition is still prevalent, increased consumption of livestock products can help improve the well-being of the rural poor. In addition, animal agriculture and animal-based diets are culturally important for people around the world. Hence, meat consumption will continue, but cannot persist at today’s levels without major consequences."
A best-case scenario would see a reduction in meat consumption to around 20 percent of one's protein intake, similar to how many people in India eat. In this scenario, global agriculture would need only 53 million ha more arable land and 209 million ha more pastureland.
The scientists see three pathways going forward, all of which can be implemented in conjunction with each other. First, there has to be a shift to proteins that use less land and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Second, science and technology must be used to increase crop yields. This can be driven through innovation in urban farming, vertical farming, hydroponics, etc. Third, food waste must be slashed, and individual household efforts do add up. The authors conclude:
"Feeding the next generation is one of the most pressing challenges facing the 21st century. For a growing population, our calculations suggest that the only way to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, save land and reduce greenhouse gas emission is to consume and produce more fruits and vegetables as well as a transition to diets higher in plant-based protein."
Here at Archiblox, we encourage folks to get down and dirty to grow their own food! Growing your own fruits and vegetables might seem overwhelming to most, but it’s much simpler than it sounds. (Plus, you won't have to trade in your urban or suburban lifestyle for a life in the sticks in the name of self-sufficiency or savings.) All you need is a few square meters of outdoor space, a water source, and a little patience.
If you aren't convinced, here are just a few of the key benefits of backyard gardening:
Reduce Your Environmental Impact
Backyard gardening helps the planet in a plethora of ways. If you grow your food organically (without pesticides and herbicides), you’ll prevent unnecessary water and air pollution. When you grow your own fruit and veggies, you'll also be reducing the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from the processing and transport of fresh produce.
Improve Your Family's Health
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is important for maintaining your family's health. When they’re growing in your backyard, you won’t be able to resist them, and their vitamin content will be at their optimal levels as you bite into them straight from the garden. Parents, take note: countless studies found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown produce were more than twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—and to like them more—than kids who rarely or never ate homegrown produce. Getting your children involved in the process, will help them gain a greater appreciation of everything that goes into growing the food, and set them up for healthy habits later on in life.
Enjoy More Flavoursome and Nutritious Food
Fresh food is the best kind of food! How long did your food travel from the farm to your table? How long has it sat on your supermarket shelf? You simply cannot compare the flavor of organic, homegrown tomatoes to the taste of store-bought ones. The superior taste of your homegrown food will compel you and your family to eat more healthy, fresh produce that your bodies require.
Growing a Sense of Pride
The immense feeling of achievement you'll experience watching a seed blossom, eventually becoming the food on your family's place is second to none.
Growing your own food is one of the most purposeful and important things a human can do - it's work that directly helps you thrive, nourish your family, and maintain your health. Caring for your plants and waiting as they blossom and "fruit" before your eyes is an amazing accomplishment!
Community & Sharing
Urban farms are popping up everywhere, with locals feeling encouraged to grow their own food, whether it's a few tomato plants or a full permaculture-designed backyard. However, nature can be unpredictable, and sometimes you end up with too many tomatoes, but not enough basil. Or you might not have enough space to grow the produce your heart desires. Luckily enough there's a growing movement of food swapping.
Some food-swapping families can save up to $2,500 off their annual grocery bill by growing their own and supplementing other items by swapping. “Free, local and organic food is unarguably the best kind," says Laurie Green, who runs 13 nationwide groups under the Crop Swap umbrella. “Share economies such as our Crop Swaps facilitate the building of local community connections, help to reduce waste, promote knowledge sharing and enable individuals to make cost efficiencies.”
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