ExperienceHow do we design a food systems that help us to feed the growing population? | SFPM CONSULTING

August 16, 2020by Felicia Loo

I like to share the visible and hidden challenges of feeding the future. According to the United Nation, the world population is projected to grow from the existing 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 2050. The increase in the number of populations means that we need to have a method to ensure we are able to feed 2.4 billion more people on the globe, on top of stopping hunger.

Example of some of the current dilemmas are many of our lands are no longer suitable or available as agricultural land (transformed into modern buildings and cities), decreasing amount of available underground water, decreasing the crop yields due to pest and diseases and climate changes. These factors are further complicated by the decreasing amount of farmer, working to farm and grow the crops and the livestocks.

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Then, there is another question. What happens to the food we grew today? Just as an example, USDA estimated 30-40% edible food is wasted. How? Food can turn into waste, from the moment it was harvested. The crops and livestock are living organisms. Although they may seem lost its life during harvesting processes, the crops and livestock are subjected to a natural chemical process that affects its safety and quality. The natural chemical deterioration process continues to occur unless the condition for the process is not favourable for the reaction, usually through temperature control such as refrigerations.

The damage crops and livestock then, are rejected as waste and ended up in the landfill. Further, waste can occur during processing as food companies reject food products that are not in-compliant with the specifications. At the consumer level, the food may not be consumed before the expiry date and dispose of extra foods into the garbage. Some consumers are confused regarding best before date and expiry date when discarding food. Food with best before date can be consumed after the labelled date as they do not possess health risks. A simple quality check for food with best before date is recommended to ensure that the food texture and taste is almost similar to those that have not to exceed the best before date.

Designing future food also means looking at the aspect of nutrition and the socio-economic and cultural perspectives of the locals. Nutrition is an important aspect of growth and sustaining life’s requirement for building strong communities. The origin of nutrients is from our land, that is either absorbed directly by the plant or indirectly by the livestock through their feeds. In another word, food grown on the land with poor nutrient will end up having poor nutrient value and vice versa. Are we getting the most nutrient out of our crops?

The importance of local foods is highlighted due to the carbon footprint. However, certain local foods that belong to the developing countries such as cassava have poor nutrient but that is what the locals consume. Instead of substituting the local food with nutrient-dense food, fortification with nutrients missing in their common diets such as iron and iodine provide nutrients using an acceptable food vehicle for the locals. I think the saying “there is nowhere like home” also refers to the social-cultural uniqueness of the local communities that we live in. This uniqueness can be preserved by adapting to the local communities that we wish to place nutritional intervention strategies.

The imbalance of family income also affects the affordability for food resulting in hunger and consumption of food with low nutritive value. These are concerning as it particularly linked with wasting, underweight and stunted growth. Meanwhile, some higher-income family prefers to consume more meats as they have more spending power. Access to fast foods and food that contains high fats, proteins and refined carbohydrates also contribute to the current food situation. Coupled with the lack of exercise, many non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases are linked to poor dietary habits.

Some other novel introductions of future foods include lab-grown meats and insect farming. In certain countries, insects are commonly consumed as food. In fact, insects are categorized as a good source of protein. Lab-grown meats are still under testing but would you give it a try? Can it be a substitute for the current option?

In conclusion, designing the future food model is very specific to each community as every community is unique. There is no one model fit all, in designing the future food models. Changes in dietary habits and the sustainability of our food production system along with the current and upcoming food technologies play an equally important role to define not only the quantity of food to feed the future but also, the quality of future foods from health and community perspective. I am pretty sure that I have not to share them all. Please provide more comments on other considerations to feeding more people.

by Felicia Loo

Felicia Loo, CFS, is a Certified Food Scientist and registered SQF Consultant. Graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BSc. Food Science along with a minor in Commerce, she is keen to help small and medium food business thrive in their food safety management system (i.e. meeting Return of Investment for investment on food safety program). She has worked with numerous food businesses, including natural health products, bakeries and desserts, fruit juices production, fresh produce, confectionery and many more to develop customized and improved food safety programs. She has worked with different food safety and regulatory schemes such as SQF, ISO 22000, Primus GFS, Organic, Kosher and Health Canada (Natural Health Product).