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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds In February 2019, a commission of world leading scientists published a document on the Lancet, a nutrition and health journal, stating the urgency of a global transformation of the food system. It is indeed possible to feed a global population of nearly 10 billion people with a healthy diet, but only if we transform our dietary patterns by 2050. The food that we eat and the way we produce it determines the health of the people of the planet, and these major changes need to happen in a collaborative way to reduce food losses and waste, sustain healthy dietary patterns, and improve food production practises.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds To avoid further environmental degradation, the new reference healthy diet needs to consist largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, and includes a low or moderate amount of seafood and poultry. This means a significant shift from an animal based diet to plant and alternative proteins, which has to be linked to more sustainable food production within planetary boundaries that will regulate the state of the earth, climate change, land system change, fresh water use, biodiversity preservation, and a less interfering nitrogen and phosphorus cycle. Although we have all come to terms that something needs to be done to preserve our planet and stop environmental degradation on our behaviour and choices as consumers are a key to sustainability.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Perhaps not all of us have understood the importance of a dietary shift. What is our role in the food chain? Today’s consumer needs to be mindful of our food ecosystem to be able to rebalance our food chain before it collapses due to high demands and climate changes, which are already affecting crop use and composition. The most recent events, such as the climate change debate and the COVID-19 crisis, may have given us a nudge and helped us to understand better how connected we are and how important our choices are in relation to health.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds To develop new products, the food industry attempts to anticipate consumer trends and to capitalise on the next big thing by running large market testing and surveys, usually distinguishing various consumer groups, such as millennials or generation Zs. The most recent market studies indicate that consumers want to be more aware of where their food comes from and what it may contain. This also includes choosing products that are perceived as more natural, minimally processed, and contain well known ingredients. Of course, global food scandals have also eroded consumer trust. This trend for cleaner labels and less ingredients is also linked to the need for more transparency in the whole food supply chain, which comes hand-in-hand with digitalization.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds In other words, we’re not only more mindful, but we are also becoming more connected. The connectivity also creates many trends and personal opinions on what is good and bad for you and your health, which are not always based on data. Leading healthy and active lifestyles seem to go hand-in-hand with a demand for a more balanced diet. These more interested consumers welcome product modifications with positive nutritional effects, such as increased protein and fibre and decreased sugar. Products that offer health benefits are becoming more appealing, but the rule in a sustainable diet is still not a priority. Although wrong nutrition, such as overconsumption and under consumption, is an issue of sustainable development.

Skip to 4 minutes and 28 seconds After all, we still demand products tasting similarly to the original products instead of ugly, separated, and less delicious replacements. Moreover, consumers have become used to safe food and robust food supply in the last 30 years. And it will, therefore, be hard to compromise on. Healthy diets will need to align well with more sustainable diets, and we will need to proceed the two issues are connected. However, they are not yet jointly communicated. Some retailers have successfully introduced labels to communicate various kinds of ethical references. Not only to respond to consumer demands, but also, to distinguish the supply based on corporate social responsibility and various levels of caring. However, this is just the beginning.

Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds We need accurate methods to measure a food products carbon footprint. It is important to find ways to reduce the influence over diet on environmental erosion of resources. Healthy eating and a healthy planet go hand in hand. For example, a reduction of meat products in our diet may be the best way to improve healthy eating and reduce resource intensity. Impact of eating local food needs to be measured against the demands of production, as well as the impact of warehousing and transportation. What is impact of processing on the environmental footprint of foods? On the other hand, however, what is the effect of minimal processing on food waste and decreased shelf life? Those questions need to be answered using accurate methodologies.

Skip to 6 minutes and 14 seconds Today, around 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the food sector, but these numbers will need to be continuously re-evaluated as new technological solutions will become available to offset some of today’s shortcomings. Food consumption plays a crucial role in the issue of sustainability, and we the consumers play a pivotal role. Recent estimates suggest that food losses and waste amount to about 25% of the food produced globally for human consumption. Food waste can be at various stages of the food chain, in production or in the field, post harvest, for example, during storage, or during processing. In industrialised countries, however, food waste generation is highest at the distribution and consumption stage.

Skip to 7 minutes and 10 seconds Warehousing and transportation requires additional shelf life for food product and a continuous control of storage conditions, and a breakdown of the supply chain for reaching the shelf will result in food waste. Finally, volume discounters have created a culture of selling more for less, and this needs to be re-evaluated. Decreasing food waste will require using leftover food, as well as less ideal food. But consumers are not sufficiently knowledgeable about food safety issues. Purchasing smaller sizes is a solution to discourage overconsumption, but this measure will also lead an unhealthy overconsumption. Healthy eating recommendations call for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. But these are perishable, seasonal crops with a high ratio of losses and production and storage.

Skip to 8 minutes and 9 seconds Even though, today, there are major drivers based on sustainable and ethical concerns, consumers will always be driven by self-centred motives to rationalise our choice. For this reason, putting hand in hand our personal health and environmental sustainability may be your opportunity in the next decade.

Consumer Trends and Sustainability

In February 2019, a commission of world leading scientists published a document in the “Lancet” a nutrition and health journal, stating the urgency of a global transformation of the food system.

More than 2.5 billion people worldwide suffer from at least one form of malnutrition. Poor diets are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality across the world. Simulatenously, current food production methods are unsustainable with the agriculture sector contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions and a major cuase of soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and freshwater pollution. It is vital we trnasform the food system to deliver better health and environmental outcomes.

The Eat-Lancet Commission was tasked with using the best available evidence to determine a universal reference diet that would feed a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary boundaries that does not jeporadise the environment for future generations.

It is indeed possible to feed a global population of nearly 10 billion people with a healthy diet, but only if we transform our dietary patterns, improve food production practices and reduce food losses and waste.

The Planetary Health Diet

The EAT-lancet report sets out what its calls a healthy and sustainable diet, the Planetary Healthy Diet. This ‘new’ reference healthy diet is a largely plant based diet which consist largely of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, and includes a low or moderate amount of seafood and poultry; and little to no red meat.

This means a significant shift from an animal-based diet to plant and alternative proteins, which has to be linked to a more sustainable food production that will regulate the State of the Earth.

The Role of the Consumer

It is widely acknowledged that we need to do more to preserve our planet and stop environmental degradation and that our behaviours and choices as consumers are key to sustainability. However, prehaps not all of us have understood the importance of a dietary shift.

Today’s consumer needs to be mindful of our food ecosystem to be able to re-balance our food chain before it collapses due to high demands and climate changes, which are already affecting crop yields and composition.

To develop new food products, the food industry attempts to anticipate consumer new trends and to capitalize on the “next big thing” by running large market testing and surveys, usually distinguishing various consumer groups such as millennials or generation Zs.

The most recent market studies indicate that consumers wants to be more aware of where their food comes from and what it may contain. This also includes choosing products that are perceived as more natural, minimally processed, and contain well-known ingredients. Of course, global food scandals have also eroded consumer trust. This trend for cleaner labels and less ingredients is also linked to the need for more transparency in the whole food supply chain, which comes hand in hand with digitalization. In other words, we are not only more mindful, but we are also becoming more connected. The connectivity also creates many trends and personal opinions on what is good and bad for you and your health, which are not always based on data.

Leading healthy and active lifestyles seem to go hand in hand with a demand for a more balanced diet. These more “interested” consumers welcome product modifications with positive nutritional effects, such as increased protein and fiber, and decreased sugar. Products that offer health benefits are becoming very appealing, but their role in a “sustainable diet” is still not a priority, although wrong nutrition, such as overconsumption and underconsumption, is an issue of sustainable development.

Consumers still demand products tasting similarl to the original products and have become used to safe food and robust food supply over the last thirty years, and it will therefore be hard to compromise on.

Sustainable Diets

Healthy diets will need to align well with more sustainable diets, and we will need to perceive the two issues as connected.

Some retailers have successfully introduced labels to communicate various kinds of “ethical” references, not only to respond to consumer demands, but also to distinguish the supply based on corporate social responsibility and various levels of “caring”. However, this is just the beginning.

We need accurate methods to measure a food product’s carbon footprint, as it is important to find ways to reduce the influence of our diet on environmental erosion of resources. Healthy eating and a healthy planet go hand in hand. For example, a reduction of meat products in our diet may be the best way to improve healthy eating and reduce resource intensity.

The impact of eating “local” food needs to be measured against the demands of production as well as the impact of warehousing and transportation. What is the impact of processing on the environmental footprint of foods? On the other hand, however, what is the effect of minimal processing on food waste and decreased shelf life? Those questions need to be answered using accurate methodologies.

Today around a third of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the food sector, but these numbers will need to be continuously re-evaluated as new technological solutions will become available to offset some of today’s shortcomings.

Food Consumption

Food consumption plays a crucial role in the issue of sustainability, and we, the consumers, play a pivotal role. Recent estimates suggest that food losses and waste amount to about 25 % of the food produced globally for human consumption.

Food waste can be at various stages of the food chain, in production (in the field), post-harvest (during storage) or during processing. In industrialized countries, however, food waste generation is highest at the distribution and consumption stage. Warehousing and transportation requires additional shelf life for a food product, and a continuous control of storage conditions. Any breakdown of the supply chain before reaching the shelf will result in food waste. Finally, volume discounters have created a culture of selling more for less, and this needs to be re-evaluated.

Decreasing food waste will require using leftover food as well as “less ideal” food, but consumers are not sufficiently knowledgeable about food safety issues. Purchasing smaller sizes is a solution to discourage overconsumption, but this measure will also lead in unhealthy overconsumption. Healthy eating recommendations call for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, but these are perishable, seasonal crops with a high ratio of losses in production and storage.

Even though today there are major drivers based on altruistic concerns, consumers will always be driven by self-centered motives to rationalize our choice. For this reason, putting hand in hand our personal health and environmental sustainability may be our opportunity in the next decade.

What we would like you to do

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  • Do you find it hard to make sustainable food choices?
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Introduction to Food Science

EIT Food