116: Setting The Table for a Food Revolution
Welcome to the first episode in a brand new series on The Future of Food!
About this episode
Today, this episode coincides with a very important international gathering, the first of its kind at the United Nations. Known as the UN Food Systems Summit, formally, it is also called The People’s Summit.
During this ongoing series we will seek to unlock the many changes needed to enable each sector – government, corporations and citizens to ask themselves, “How can we contribute to a transformative movement for an inclusive, regenerative and circular society where access to nutritious food is a right we actually realize for every single person?”
But before we eat, we need to set the table. We’re joined on this episode by:
- Dr. David Nabarro, Co-Director | Imperial College of London Institute of Global Health Innovation, Senior Advisor | Food Systems Summit Dialogues, Strategic Director | 4SD Switzerland, Special Envoy of WHO Director General for COVID19
- Johan Rockström, Director | Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research
- Dr. Gunhild A Stordalen, Founder & Executive Chair | EAT
These incredible guests help us explore in-depth the challenges and opportunities our current food system faces, and show us why getting food right might just be the key to unlocking our path to achieving our 2030 goals.
Mentioned links from the episode:
- Global Citizen is streaming a 24 hour concert live from Central Park on Saturday, Sept 25
- Watch BTS do their thing at UNGA
- The 500-foot Sea Creature will be scaling the UN Facade this week
- Fridays For Future is hosting a Climate Strike on Friday, Sept 24. Find your local strike here
- Be sure to catch up on Climate Night which aired Live on Sept. 22
Paul: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism. I'm Paul Dickinson.
Christiana: [00:00:16] I'm Christiana Figueres, not Tom Rivett-Carnac. Where is Tom?
Paul: [00:00:22] Oh, we don't really know. It's a table for two. Christiana, this is the beginning of our fantastic new series on the Future of Food. Launched on the day of the UN Food Systems Summit at the UN General Assembly, with fantastic guests who are experts Dr David Nabarro, Dr Gunhild Stordalen and Professor Johan Rockström. So thanks for being here. Ok, Christiana. This is the first series in our fantastic Future of Food series. I'm very, very excited about that because food is so important and we can talk about that a little bit. But it is being launched this week at the UN General Assembly, which is very significant on climate change, I believe. Can you give our listeners a little bit of an indication about your take on what's going on right now?
Christiana: [00:01:10] Well, yes, but should we say something about the fact that Tom is not here because we can't just give him a free pass just like that?
Paul: [00:01:20] I agree. Clay has been thinking about giving us like a score for each time we come up with an appropriate food metaphor. I think, you know, Tom has drawn the short carrot. He's not here for this delightful snack. I believe he's missing out because he's attending to his - this is such rubbish.
Clay: [00:01:44] No, no, no, no. That's good. Good going. Good.Load More
Paul: [00:01:47] Let me try again. Let me try again.
Clay: [00:01:49] Ok, so you've got two points so far.
Paul: [00:01:51] So he's attending to the little one that he's cooked up, Zoe, at her school this evening. He's got to go and be a parent at the school meeting. And basically, he says that's more important than Outrage and Optimism. You know, you can make your own decision about his taste. So that's why he's not here.
Christiana: [00:02:10] I see, well.
Paul: [00:02:11] That's why it's not on the menu.
Clay: [00:02:15] Sorry, I really don't want to give you that one.
Paul: [00:02:19] They just keep coming.
Christiana: [00:02:20] Paul is on a roll here. Paul is on.
Paul: [00:02:23] I'm not sure where I'm rolling to, but I'm definitely rolling. Christiana, so can you give us?
Christiana: [00:02:25] I'm not sure if it's a Vietnamese roll, a spring roll, what kind of a roll it is, but you're definitely on a roll, Paul. But the fact is that Tom has had the brazen initiative to excuse himself from this conversation today, so we shall have to make him chop three times as many vegetables for next time.
Clay: [00:02:50] Nice.
Paul: [00:02:51] But Christiana, can you just give you a kind of summary of politically what's happening right now? We're so soon before the COP. It's the U.N. General Assembly. What's your interpretation of the geopolitical events that are happening right now?
Christiana: [00:03:03] Well, it's a very busy week in New York this week. It always is for UN General Assembly Week, where heads of state file in over several days to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. But that General Assembly Week is also the week in which traditionally something called Climate Week has actually also occurred. And that is a huge gathering of so many different actors from both the private and the public and the financial sector who come together to report to each other informally what they are doing to contribute to the current efforts on climate mitigation and adaptation. Add to that also this week, also in New York, there has been over quite a few years since I remember being there. The Secretary General has called for a meeting of heads of state, taking advantage that they're in town, to discuss climate change and a little bit in preparation for the upcoming COP that has been done by Ban Ki-moon and now by Secretary General António Guterres. What is new about this meeting that he convened is that he made it a round table. He made it an informal roundtable. So it is quite unusual because usually this is a pretty formal event with translators and very official scripts that are read out. But Secretary General Guterres has actually invited heads of state to come around the table and have a much more informal heart to heart conversation. He started off, of course, by calling for leadership from all G20 countries because it is those countries that hold 80 percent of emissions, and hence it is very important that every one of them actually come to COP26 with their ambitious cuts. But it was then followed by a series of statements from heads of state, mostly from small nation states who are the most vulnerable, raising their voice of consciousness to remind the larger countries that they are responsible for those emissions and that the smaller countries are the ones that are most impacted. So you had the Prime Minister of Barbados, you had the president of the Marshall Islands who's always had such a leadership role in calling everyone to account. And the President of the Marshall Islands said quite dramatically, the cliff is 2030. Nine years away. My own president Alvarado of Costa Rica, another small country, referred to a book written by Boris Johnson: The Churchill Factor. And he said that book emphasizes how one individual can make a difference. And he said, Now we need individuals, we need a Boris factor, we need an Antonio factor, we need a male factor, we need a Vladimir factor and in particular, we need a Biden factor. Now, what I thought was particularly typical of one of these heads of state is Paul, your prime minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting, let's remember, COP26.
Paul: [00:03:03] Big job.
Christiana: [00:06:30] He said COP26 will be staged in the full glare. Glare, that's an unusual word to be using of the global spotlight. And when the summit ends, when most of the world has committed to decisive game-changing action, it will be clear to all which of us has lacked the courage to step up. And then he said, the world will see and your people will remember and history will judge so you can look away. You can do the minimum. You can hope that if you feed the crocodile enough, it will devour you last. Or you can show leadership. Where does that crocodile come from, Paul?
Paul: [00:07:11] Well, I think I knew, but I looked it up. It is from Winston Churchill who said, an appeaser. I'll do the voice. An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. Or her. But yeah, I mean, like, that's the whole point. You can't appease climate change. It's going to come and get us. And by the way, I've got to say that from the little I know of this, Christiana, I hope you would agree. It's wonderful that Secretary-General Guterres actually offered the opportunity for real conversation between real people, rather than these sharing of prepared statements, because it seems like it could be like a breakthrough in diplomacy, right?
Christiana: [00:07:49] No, absolutely. Those are much, much more helpful because they allow everyone to speak much more, frankly, than the usual protocol allows. So very helpful. But speaking about crocodiles devouring, the other event that is taking place and starting today, which is unusual for the United Nations, is the UN Food Systems Summit, which is focusing on the role of food systems both for personal individual public health, but also for planetary health. And it has been the work of hundreds and thousands of people around the world focusing and organising this. And there is a lot of expectation and excitement about the fact that we are finally at the highest level at the UN in New York, focusing on an issue that is of prime importance both to our health and survival, as well as to planetary health and stability. So quite exciting this UN Food Systems Summit. So in order to bring our listeners into that conversation, we have brought in three experts to have a deeper conversation about the food systems challenge and what we are dealing with as the United Nations begins to turn its attention to this very difficult issue that has honestly not had the attention that it deserves. Because, frankly, Paul, how long can you survive without food?
Paul: [00:09:27] Christiana, food is absolutely vital. I eat it 100 times a day. I wish I ate it three times a day, which would be healthier for me. It is what we are, is who we are. But what I think is incredibly exciting, you know, last week we were talking about rewilding and I said everyone I knew that had any kind of land was rewilding it, and it was something that people could do. But I've also been reading fantastic comments from listeners and everyone's talking about like, What can you practically do? And food is at the absolute heart of what we can all practically do. It is the frontline of climate change where all nine billion of us, or seven billion or however many it is on our beloved planet, are inexorably linked. And that's what's incredibly exciting. Now, there are also some simply crazy statistics to set us up, like, for example, there is the almost unimaginable horror of hunger. You know, on an epic scale, somewhere between 720 and 811 million people are food insecure, 10 percent of the world population going to bed hungry each night. 265 million on the brink of starvation. These are unthinkably terrible things. And then the crazy reverse of it. Nearly two billion people globally are now overweight or obese. One statistic: Mexico alone, 73 percent of the population. And if we carry on at current dietary habits, 45 percent of the world's population could be overweight by 2050. So food is absolutely vital, absolutely essential to our very existence, and we're clearly getting it completely wrong. But we can get it right.
Christiana: [00:10:55] Yeah. And what is so evident and yet has been obscured for such a long time is the total overlap between healthy individual diet, personal diet, public health with respect to food habits and planetary health. We continue to think that those two things are completely separate, but there is a complete overlap between those two, which means if we get it right for one, i.e. if we get it right for us as individuals, we get it right for the planet. Because the right agricultural practices, the right food consumption patterns would actually cut off quite a sizeable number of emissions that are going up in the air unnecessarily. So again, we've spoken so much on this podcast about interlinking the different challenges, and this is not just interlinked, this is one and the same.
Paul: [00:11:59] Yeah, no, I couldn't agree with you more. And you know, I tend to think in terms of five massive revolutions: renewable energy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, dematerialization, and food. And food is the one that we're all very intimately involved with, I was just checking back in the catalogue, actually. Episode 25 of Outrage and Optimism. Back in October 2019, we had Ethan Brown on, the Chief Executive of Beyond Meat, and he was talking about up to 90 percent of land being liberated. If we can move from, you know, meat based diets to plant based diets, and that's incredibly exciting. This new kind of food science, which is linked to all these other issues like health, like animal suffering. You know, one of my trustees has actually been supporting things like the Yale University Law School's Initiative on Ethics and Animals, like can we really, you know, legally carry on treating animals in the barbaric way we do so? Just so many issues combining. But as you said, Christiana, at the centre of it is the health of us as people and the health of our planet, our biosphere.
Christiana: [00:13:09] So shall we go to our experts? We have quite quite a collection here of experts who have been devoting much of their life to precisely this overlap between diets, food systems and health and and climate.
Paul: [00:13:28] Ok, so let's talk about that. The three people who are joining us are, first of all, Dr David Nabarro, who has a number of key roles. He's co-director of Imperial College of London Institute of Global Health and Innovation and also special envoy of the World Health Organisation and director general for COVID 19. We also have Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, who's Founder and Executive Chair of Eat, a non-profit founded by the Stordalen Foundation, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Wellcome Trust to catalyze food system transformation. And we have Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research. So a fantastic lineup of real experts.
Christiana: [00:14:05] We will start off with a conversation that we actually had previously with Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, who way back when we had interviewed him, had also already referred to the challenge of the transformation in the food systems.
Paul: [00:14:22] So enjoy the interviews. We'll look forward to speaking to you on the other side.
Johan: [00:14:33] Since we started burning fossil fuels, you know, sometime in the 1850s, from that moment up until today, terrestrial ecosystems or land has been our best friend by absorbing on average per year, roughly 25 percent. 25 percent of our emissions caused by fossil fuel burning taken up by trees, biomass and soils.
Christiana: [00:15:01] That is the voice of Johan Rockström, a friend of this podcast and one of the most respected voices in climate science. Johan talked to us a few months ago, highlighting the fact that we are forcing ourselves past nature's tipping points as he calls them in his planetary boundaries theory. Johan is extremely clear that when it comes to agriculture, we have immense possibilities for tackling climate change, but this will require a more revolutionary way of thinking about how we use land and how we feed a growing global population.
Johan: [00:15:48] The more we burn, the more stress we put on the planet, the more planet Earth has been helping us by just absorbing more and more. It's just a proof of the biophysical resilience of the system. You stress it. It's been protecting us. The most important insight in this is that what have we also done during 150 years? Well, we have cut down forests, destroyed ecosystems and transformed it into agriculture, infrastructure and cities. So roughly 50 percent of the land area on planet Earth is today transformed, particularly into agriculture. Now, the big drama is that when you look carefully at the numbers, the 25 percent of carbon uptake, all of it is in natural ecosystems. So, agricultural land is actually the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Can you imagine just the drama that you have, you know, natural ecosystems, which is this tremendous carbon sink, but as soon as you transform it into food production, it actually turns into a carbon source. So agriculture is today roughly, you know, causing up to 24, 25 percent of global emissions. That includes both deforestation and the production of food. Just ploughing soils means that organic matter in the root zone gets more exposed to the sun and to the atmosphere, and burns off and releases carbon dioxide. So, you know, we have to recognise that that food is the single largest cause, I mean, single largest economic sector behind emissions of greenhouse gases. But not only that, food production is the prime cause why we're losing biodiversity while we are cutting down trees while we are consuming freshwater. 70 percent of the consumption of freshwater by us humans is for irrigation in food production. Food production is the biggest cause of why we are emitting nitrous oxide from from our overuse of fertilisers. So to put it very simple, food is the number one single culprit behind transgressing planetary boundaries and putting the planet at risk, which means that food can also be the single largest solution to our future, together with, you know, phasing out fossil fuels. So there is this urgency point of decarbonising the energy system, but also transforming the global food system. But as things stand today, food is a prime cause behind both climate change and undermining the life support systems in natural ecosystems. So but the good news is that this this little summary to you is also showing how much knowledge we have here. I mean, we have a good handle on both the causes, but also - and we can come into that - many of the solutions that are out there to to turn agriculture from being an emitter to becoming a part of the solution.
Christiana: [00:18:56] So that's the science. That is the why. The next voices you'll hear are experts Dr David Nabarro and Dr Gunhild Stordalen, both medical doctors dedicated to a comprehensive food system revolution. They're going to talk a bit more about how this could come about.
David: [00:19:17] Let's just start with one key fact. The world is producing more food for human consumption than ever before.
Christiana: [00:19:29] That is the voice of David Nabarro. He has over 40 years of experience in public health as a community based practitioner, educator, public servant, director and international diplomat. He holds a number of key positions, co-director of the Imperial College of London Institute of Global Health Innovation, senior advisor to the Food Systems Summit Dialogue, strategic director of 4SD Switzerland and Special Envoy of WHO Director General for COVID19. Give me a minute to catch my breath. After all that David has a unique insight into the intersectional nature of our global food system and its impact on areas of health, poverty, human rights and climate change. Here, he lays out the issues and talks about his involvement in the dialogues across the globe that led to the U.N. Food Systems Summit taking place right now as part of the U.N. General Assembly.
David: [00:20:43] Some would say that the way in which the systems which lead to the production, processing, distribution, consumption and then use of this food are really more tuned up and functional than has ever been the case. And so why on earth is there some suggestion that it needs attention now? And the answer is that the balance sheet is not right. The total value of what comes through the world's food systems, crudely calculated, is about 10 trillion dollars per year. But there's a downside to this, which is that actually the way we produce and use food has a total cost to the world. That's in excess of that. That's about 1.2 trillion dollars a year. And what that means when you ask the economists is it's simple that actually, despite all the great things that are happening in food systems everywhere, there's too many dis-benefits and they need attention. And in short, they are first that the way we produce our food and consume, it seems to be actually not very good for our bodies, like somewhere in the region of half of severe illnesses. And death in many parts of the world is linked either to too much or too little of ingredients from food. Basically, we're not doing our bodies good at all. And in some places, that's really evident in Caribbean islands or emerging in different parts of India. You see high levels of diabetes mellitus, particularly type two, high levels of heart disease, and these can be directly traced back to what people eat. The second thing that's not right is that most of the land in today's world that is shifting from forested land into land that's used for other purposes is land going into food production simply because of a voracious desire by humans and by the animals that belong to humans and certain other purposes for more and more food, particularly more and more grain.
David: [00:23:26] And if we link together the destruction of forests and then the damage to nature caused by pesticides and fertilisers, and then the emptying of aquifers caused by overuse of water from the soil, what does this leave us with? It leaves us with the recognition that nature is being damaged by food and damaged by the way we produce food in our food systems. Thirdly, an awful lot of food production leads to the emission of carbon dioxide. That's greenhouse gases. And yet an awful lot of those greenhouse gases could actually be captured by that beautiful power of photosynthesis, the capacity in leaves to capture carbon dioxide. And then lastly, we've got a problem of food systems in many places not providing adequate employment for people in rural areas, particularly poor people. So you've got rural distress altogether. It's just not right, and we've got to get it right. So whether it's about nutrition and health, or whether it's about the environment or whether it's about climate or whether it's about poverty reduction and in particular in that poverty reduction of women in poverty, we've got to mend it. Food systems can be got right, the rest will come right. Your food systems are not got right, the rest will go wrong.
Christiana: [00:24:53] That is such a helpful diagnosis. Thank you so much. That is so, so helpful to have it put out there. So clearly how all of those dis-benefits, as you call it - I'm not sure that that word really exists, but let's create it right here, it was created by David Nabarro - how many about those dis-benefits we're actually engaging in. So, so let's turn the tables around. Can you also give us in as beautiful a nutshell, what do we have to do to transform our food systems?
David: [00:25:26] First of all, what is food? Answer: it's what connects me to you or to anybody else around here. If we're together, we give food to each other. Food is at the heart of relationships between people, and sometimes we're nasty to each other with food. But mostly we use food to express love, to care. And also, of course, to nurture. And we must remember that that food is a part of us. Food is also a part of our relationship with the Earth, with the sea, with fresh water, with the air. It's at the centre of our relationship as humans with our planetary environment. But do we treat food like that when we talk about it? Do we treat food like that in big meetings when we discuss it as a global issue? No, we tend to treat food as a commodity that we trade on markets. The price of wheat, the price of beef, the price of sugar availability, whether or not the prices is going up because supplies are squeezed, all that stuff. And that's important, the economic dimension. But what really matters is that the future will be better if we replace and reposition food where it should be.
David: [00:26:46] As the key issue that connects people to each other connects people to the planet, and it is an absolutely vital requirement for our everyday lives like water. It is an essential good. So the first thing that we need to do is to reposition food. And then the second thing that we need to do is to get everybody who's got a stake in food to be part of the decision making about the future. It's important to have the ministers of agriculture there, but we need everybody. We need all the different ministries, all the different parts of society that are involved, all the different stakeholders, because without that, we will not get food to the right place. It won't make it too complex. What we see that it does is it makes sure that there is a collective engagement in the future of food and that's brought into how we govern food changes, the nature of decisions. And I hope Christiana, it will lead to an end to lurching from one extreme policy to another. And we have a holistic approach to food that takes us in the direction we need to be by 2030.
Christiana: [00:27:54] Well, that's such a beautiful encapsulation of the challenge. David, right, because food systems are, by nature, very complex systems. As you say, they need everyone to improve this, whether you are an eater or a producer or a transporter or a policymaker or anyone else, the fact is that we all come into contact with food. We all have a relationship. There's no human being that doesn't have a relationship with food because it is at the basis of our life. So how are you dealing with that? David, how is the U.N. Food Systems Summit engaging in that complexity and inviting all of us to embrace the systemic nature of food systems and thereby be able to move forward with these goals that you have so well delineated?
David: [00:28:48] Thanks, Christiana. I've taken a leaf out of your book, really. Once upon a time, you told me that if we want to make a difference on the things that really matter to people in our world, we have to be prepared to take on the hard stuff. There is not an easy street here and I think that on food systems, we're learning that it is going to be challenging, but also that it will be hugely rewarding. So let's start with the the stuff that puts us off. Number one, it's difficult. As you say, it's local. It involves a lot of controversy between different people who have rather varied roles in the food system, and so hard and complex is there. But then one of the things that we've learned is that actually humans are quite good at dealing with hard and complex issues. Otherwise, we wouldn't have survived this long and be doing so well, and we're great when we do it together, and we're great when we work with other people who've got an interest in what we're trying to do. And we're terrible when we work fragmented and isolated and compete and try to pull one over each other and generally are horrible to each other.
David: [00:30:02] And so my optimism when it comes to food, it's just borne out of the fact that Dr. Agnes, collaborator, the Special Envoy running this food system summit, said: I want everybody to feel engaged. When I say we took a leaf out of your book. I learned in climate work about Talanoa Dialogues. I learnt how vital dialogue has been to help groups of people come together and appreciate each other's points of view. Because if you're trying to get systems shift, we're never going to move. If we can't start to work out where other people are coming from. Because we're never going to be able to get everybody else to agree with us. But if we can be comfortable about where people are situated on a complex issue, at least there's scope for us working together and shifting the agenda together. So we organise these dialogues. Christiana, we thought there might be 30 or 40 countries interested. We thought we might altogether have, absolute maximum, a thousand dialogues by the time of the summit.
Christiana: [00:31:05] And what do you actually have?
David: [00:31:09] 148 countries,
Christiana: [00:31:12] there you go,
David: [00:31:12] and well over a thousand dialogues already and this is in the midst of COVID and it's nothing to do with us. It's entirely to do with the fact that this world has been woken up and shaken and really, really rattled around by what COVID is doing. Because remember, COVID is not going away. It's here to stay this virus, and it's a beastly, nasty virus that goes and does bad things to poorer people who don't have access to the lovely opportunities that we have to work from home and so on. So this COVID has actually focus the minds of decision makers everywhere, and they're saying it's not tomorrow's problem, it's not somebody else's problem. It's our problem and only us can deal with it. And so we've got people everywhere just talking about the future of food. And I actually do believe, Christiane, that it will make people working on food more easily able to relate to the climate community, to relate to the nature community, to relate to the nutrition community, because we will see that what we're working on touches so many other issues and that if we can get it right, it's truly transformative. And if we can do it by 2030, we might actually stop some of the other bad stuff that's going on all over the place.
Gunhild: [00:32:45] Thank you so much. Fantastic to see you again. And I'm thrilled to be on the podcast, seeing you over Zoom and talking about such critical topics.
Christiana: [00:32:57] You were listening to Dr Gunhild Stordalen, a driving force linking climate, health and sustainability issues across sectors to transform the global food system. She's the founder and executive chair of Eat, a nonprofit aiming to catalyse a science based food system transformation. In 2019, she was awarded with a U.N. Foundation Global Leadership Award for her groundbreaking work in helping shape the transformation of the global food system for people and planet. And in 2020, she was appointed to a leading role at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021. Not a bad resume and an exceptional woman whom I have long respected to kick off this conversation. And I asked her how her background as a medical doctor tied in to her work on the food system and climate change.
Gunhild: [00:33:55] Well, I mean, health professionals should really be about keeping people healthy and not only treating them once they are sick. So I think it makes a lot of sense and more doctors should really be involved in in public health and the bigger picture. And also focus much more on all the things we can prevent by addressing the root causes. And my favourite saying, or my favourite quote, by Einstein is actually: intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them. And we need more doctors to be thinking like geniuses and also about how we can make people stay outside the hospital, outside the outpatient clinics. And food is the number one driver of ill health and premature mortality. So it makes so much sense for doctors to really step up on food from a health perspective, but also because food is the biggest driver of climate change and environmental degradation that we will talk more about. And obviously, there is no health on adult planet, so more doctors, more health professionals please get involved and work with us for better health of people and planets.
Christiana: [00:35:20] So Gunhild, if food - the right food - is actually at the basis of our health and premature death prevention, and if food systems are also at the basis of climate, why do you think that it has taken so long? Not for you, because you have been at this for years through the Eat forum, but why in the public sphere? Why has it taken so long to grab the necessary and the justified and the urgent attention that should be placed to this very nexus of food systems, climate and public health?
Gunhild: [00:35:59] Well, that is that is a great question, Christina. And well, we first and foremost, we are not trained as systems thinkers. We have tended to approach so many issues in silos and we have really failed to connect the dots and see the big picture of food. We at the policy level, food has been basically owned by ministries and departments of agriculture. It has been reduced to a question about increasing production and maximising outputs of cheap calories, how to support farmers, etc. and what happens at the consumption end that has really been left to market forces. And when it comes to to other sectors, it's the same. Take the food industry. I mean, it's a famous saying that people are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food. And again, it's really a paradox that that doctors, myself included, we have hardly any nutritional training not about the health impacts and nor about the environmental aspects. So, so this is really, yeah, it's going back and really is all about the society being operating in silos and not seeing the big picture. But that, fortunately is changing very rapidly.
Gunhild: [00:37:40] And that awareness that food is a system and that we cannot we cannot tackle or deal with the issues of hunger of health, climate change, environment, livelihoods. We cannot deal with these issues separately because they are inextricably interlinked. And one blind step forward in one outcome may actually lead to two unintended step backwards in another. So it's really about addressing the system and achieving multiple objectives at the same time. And right now, I mean, the curves are going in the wrong direction. We have food systems that are leaving one in three people on our planet malnourished. If you count hunger and micronutrient deficiencies and obesity and food is driving, driving climate change and biodiversity collapse. And it drives inequalities. And then we are wasting one third of the food we produce along the value chain. So it's really broken systems that we are seeing as a result of this, of this silo thinking and also. Fortunately, that stakeholders, policy makers, governments are now waking up and seeing that food is the problem, but it also holds the potential to be the solution to so many of these problems.
Christiana: [00:39:06] And Gunhild this, you know, having to break through this silo, thinking and planning and acting is something that we have discussed on this podcast repeatedly because it applies to everything, right? It applies to everything that we do. To every human endeavor. We have to break out of this very crippling, narrow way of focusing on things. So thank you for bringing food and health into that broader paradigm. And in so doing, I note that you at Eat Forum partnered quite a while ago, with the Lancet to launch what you call the Eat Lancet diet, which is both for our personal health as well as for planetary health, and would love to know from you for our listeners. What are the main principles of that Eat Lancet diet that you recommend so that we can be healthier people and live in healthier home planet?
Gunhild: [00:40:15] So, so just let me start by by telling you that this was when we started Eat, Johan Rockström and I, back in 2013, there was no scientific answers to how to feed the world enough healthy food within safe environmental limits or planetary boundaries, and without any scientific answers. Without targets, it's really hard to make a plan. So that was basically the first thing we did to reach out to the medical journal, The Lancet, and set up this Lancet Commission. The good news from the researchers was that indeed, it is possible in theory at least to feed everyone enough healthy food without destroying the planet, but it will require a radical transformation of food systems everywhere. We need to shift the way we produce food to much more regenerative, sustainable food systems that works with nature rather than against it. We need to have at least half food waste and food loss. And last but not least, we need to shift to healthier, much more plant rich diets. So so that was basically the essence. And and there is important also for me to say that it's not one global diet. Not at all. This is again a reference diet, first and foremost, to really do the calculations at a global level. But it has a lot of flexibility. It can and must be indeed adapted and translated to different local conditions, local cultures, cuisines, et cetera. So and people have accused it for being radical. But I tell you, Christiana, there's nothing radical about that diet. Not at all. It's actually very close to the traditional Mediterranean diet or like our grandparents used to eat. So the only thing that is radical is what diets in many places of the world looks like. Based on ultra processed junk food, meat heavy and so on congealed.
Christiana: [00:42:34] You said at the beginning of that that it is theoretically possible and you went through the changes that we would have to undertake. But I also wanted to add to that the challenge of not leaving anyone behind because, you know, changing over to an electric car or in the case of this conversation, moving over to a plant based diet, you very quickly get the argument of, Ah, but that is a privilege of the few that is not going to be accessible, available to the majority of people who frankly as a result of poverty, have ill health. They have low crop yield. They end up being forced out of no a no fault of their own to buy the cheapest food, which is usually the worst food for the human body. So how do we put, you know, just transition is a very important issue in climate change and in decarbonisation, and it is also in the food system. How do we put justice into the transformation of the food system so that everyone can actually improve their diets?
Gunhild: [00:43:50] This is not about health and sustainability. First and foremost, this is about social equity and social injustice. And there is no transformation, as you are saying, unless that transformation works for the poor and again, this is fundamentally about justice, it's fundamentally about human rights. And the situation today is that three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. So, so the goal is to make it available and affordable and also attractive for people everywhere. And then we are over to the economics of food because there is nothing inherently more expensive about healthy foods than unhealthy foods, and the prices of food today is basically a result of the political economy. All the policy failures, of course, also a result of the aggressive marketing of unhealthy and sustainable food. But what is really needed is for governments to to put in place economic and other policies based on the true value of food. Because today's prices are ignoring or they do not account for the full positive and negative consequences of different food choices. And the results are predictable. I mean, we have food systems that are failing on health, climate, environment and on social injustice. So we really need coherent, holistic policies that are aligned and actually working towards multiple goals from agricultural subsidies through public procurements. Then all support dietary guidelines that are integrated and includes environmental climate aspects, and it needs to be supporting multiple objectives, including livelihoods.
Christiana: [00:45:58] This is a complex set of issues and a lot to digest. What is completely clear to me from listening to these experts and what will no doubt keep coming back in future episodes of this series is that our food system as a solutions frame has been neglected for far too long. We simply have to see agriculture as an inextricable part of the problem and utterly critical to the solutions we need now. It is a topic that feeds our outrage, but can it also feed the stubbornly optimistic can-do determination we will need in the next nine years?
David: [00:46:45] Isn't it important that COP26 climate and COP15 biodiversity take us further on? I really hope that the food system work can come in and give extra energy to the whole climate and biodiversity.
Gunhild: [00:47:03] I would say that is a little bit like crashing a wedding, but doing it in such a way that the newlyweds and guests actually find it's a welcome change for the better. After the initial shock, and obviously that is that is hard to put, but I would say that we are impatient optimists, but I have to show you as the final closing statement here. I actually took a new tattoo here the other day saying 'stop the bullshit' in French, to be a bit discreet, but it's really to roll up our sleeves and work together because if we get it right on food, it can be the most powerful medicine, the most powerful preventative medicine to improve the health of people and planets. And we have the knowledge we have the science, we have the solutions. The world understands that food is a system and we can turn it from problem to solution. If we decide to do so, so stop the bullshit. Let's get to work.
Christiana: [00:48:13] Stop the bullshit. I think we have the title of this episode.
Gunhild: [00:48:18] Yes, let's do it.
Paul: [00:48:36] Well, that was an extraordinary series of interviews and Gunhild saying 'stop the bullshit' is pretty in-your-face, and I've actually left Christiana after a delightful dinner and joined Sharon, who's actually going to explain a little bit about how we're taking this forward. So what did you make of all of this, Sharon?
Sharon: [00:48:59] So Paul, thank you for for having me at your table for one. I've pulled up a stool and I really want to ask you, you know, Paul, you've been through the climate debate in many, many forms for a very long time and your observations after having these sort of important conversations that we've had today. Why has the seemingly enormous complex challenge that affects every single person on Earth? Why has it taken so long for it to come to the fore for us to really start to unpack the complexity and understand the human rights challenges, the fundamental right to food, the rights of agricultural workers, the enormous resource challenges from the amount of water that goes into unsustainable agriculture to the land use issues. Why do you think, from all your years in this sphere, it's taken so long for us to really worry enough about the food system?
Paul: [00:50:06] Well, it's a great question, Sharon, and I think everyone would have a different answer. My own is that we have been simplifying the world in a sense, using technology, corporations increased logistical capability. My life experience, you know, is is that as I've got older, there's been more and more kind of exotic fruit, you know, fantastically wrapped up in my supermarket. You know, did it come here by airplane? Did it come a very long way? Everyone's saying, Well, you know, we want to lower prices and we want more choice and everyone's like lower prices, more choice. I want more and more and more, and I want to pay less and less and less. And the corporate system and increased technology has been providing that for us. And we just go off to the shop and we essentially kind of know the the cost of everything but the value of nothing. I mean, it's a bit of a cliche, but that's basically what's happened, whether it's the health issues of obesity, whether it's, you know, catastrophic damage to our environment. All of this is, you know, resulting in us having a sort of dangerous relationship with food. But you know, everything we've done we can undo, a super smart person once told me, if you have the power to stay as you are, you have the power to change so we can fix this. But we've just got to recognise the scale of the problem.
Sharon: [00:51:30] And speaking of the scale of the problem, one of the things that we've come to, the conclusion on here in the production team at Outrage and Optimism is that this is a time for a revolution. There is no more time for incremental change. If we're going to feed nine billion people before the middle of this century, we're going to have to change a lot of things pretty radically. What do you see as as the opportunities coming out of this really, really difficult, quite existential challenge, both in terms of climate change and water security? You know, hunger and poverty and the security issues that causes what do you think are the different circumstances that might might come together now to help us radically rethink the way that we grow, produce, distribute and share food? Are we going to step up to the plate and whose job is it? Who's serving it?
Clay: [00:52:33] Ok, OK. That was a baseball reference, but then you made it a food reference.
Paul: [00:52:39] This subject? I mean, you know, I understand, you know, you want us to, you know, get the ingredients together for an incredible conversation. You know, you have a recipe for success for us. And you know, you think that you can, you know, stir us into it into doing things the way you want us to do them and kind of flatten us, roll us out, you know, into some kind of cookie cutter serving. But that's not going to work because this subject's too serious.
Clay: [00:53:09] I think I think you misunderstand me. I don't want to fit you into a mould. I just want to get the scoop.
Paul: [00:53:16] You're playing too. That's what I'm noticing. All right. Look, in all seriousness, Sharon, and it's a great question. And and I think that the key here is our attention. You know, up until I was 29, I used to smoke cigarettes. I knew it was bad for me. I knew it was going to do terrible damage to me, but I was kind of addicted to it. But I put my attention on my own health, my own survival, my government has helped me because they increase the tax on cigarettes so they got more and more expensive. Later, governments helped smokers by banning cigarettes in public locations and restaurants and all the rest of it. And you know, it was basically a collaboration between the health people, the government and the citizens themselves. And at the heart of this, Sharon is where we put our attention. If we put our attention into: I just want to buy more and more for less and less and all I'm interested in is fast fashion and cars and, you know, flying around the world on holidays every weekend. And I want a new kitchen and a bigger house and whatever. If that's where we put our attention, then we are going to miss this. But if we put our attention on food and say, Wow, this is important, this is the biosphere, this is my body, this is my health. What is it, David Nabarro talked about? You know, the first thing we have to do is reposition food, and I think that's exactly right. You know, it is the most fundamental right of human has is to be able to eat and and you know, you can't finish better than with Gandhi, you know, there's enough for everybody's need but not enough for everybody's greed. When we accept that together, these problems will melt away and we'll have a wonderful, much better world, but we've just got to wake up and smell the coffee.
Sharon: [00:55:05] Well, thank you, Paul, that's a really good series of analogies, and I am heartily beaten over the head with your cooking pot on your superior number of restaurant and food analogies and puns.
Paul: [00:55:21] Thank you. My belly is swelling with your very kind compliments each one an amuse-bouche, a way of entertaining me with with these fancies. Clay, thank you for scoring us. Thank you all very much for listening this week. We'll look forward to being back with you on Friday for the update on how the summit has gone. Bye.
Clay: [00:55:46] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism. Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of our series on the Future of Food. My name is Clay. I'm Producer of Outrage and Optimism. And hey, congratulations, on making it to the end of the show. I'll reveal the winner of our dining metaphor analogies pun, you know, whatever game we played in a minute. But first, I want to say thank you to our guests this week: Johan Rockström, David Nabarro and Gunhild Stordalen. You can learn more about each one of our guests on this episode. You can connect with them, follow them and actually learn more about the UN Food Systems Summit. All the links for that are in the show notes. So last week, I said something along the lines of new season, new credits, new rules, you know, something like that. Anyway, I made a list of cool things happening this week, climate-related, and I thought I'd loop you in in case you want to check them out. As always, everything I'm about to mention has a link for you to click in the show notes so you can go check it out. Ok, here's my list: on Saturday September 25th, Global Citizen is streaming a live 24 hour concert. Artists like Coldplay, Billie Eilish, Camila Cabello, Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo, Nile Rodgers, many more will be there, so go check that out. Another thing I want to mention is BTS did this really strange but fun live performance at the UNGA. I'm sure all of us have a niece or nephew that are into K-pop, so feel free to send them the video and become the favourite family member. Also, apparently for New York Climate Week, there's this 500 foot sea creature that's supposed to be climbing the UN facade all week. Sarah Law was actually supposed to send me a video of it, but she didn't, which either means the 500 foot sea creature ate her, or she just forgot. She's probably working on the Climate Pledge or something. Fridays for Future is hosting a climate strike on Friday September 24th. On their website, they have a map showing every climate strike that's happening that day, whether virtual or in-person, and there's probably one happening around you. So go organise, show up. Oh, and last but not least, the late night television shows are doing a climate night. So Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Kimmel and others are doing this thing called Climate Night on Wednesday, which would be yesterday, but it's available on streaming services and YouTube the next day, which would be today. Apparently, each show will be dedicated to climate that night, which is really cool. And hey, listen, I love jokes, but I really hope the bands on the shows do something cool so maybe Reggie Watts or The Roots will do something. If anything happens, I'll talk about it next week. Again, check the show notes for the links to everything I just mentioned. Go enjoy. All right, the moment we've all been waiting for, the scores are in. So let's announce our winners. And yes, I was keeping score. Games are fun. So in fourth place with a score of 2, me. Congratulations me. In third place with a grand total of three, executive producer and special co-host on this episode, Sharon Johnson. Congratulations Sharon. In second place, but certainly first in our hearts. Christiana Figueres. Felicidades. Ok, cut the music. Turn the lights off. Here we go. E numero uno. Our first place winner who, despite all efforts, could not be stopped. With 13 points, Paul Dickinson is our winner. Congratulations, Paul. You win bragging rights on probably the next couple of episodes before we play another game. Enjoy the win, and honourable mention, I didn't actually anticipate this, but both Boris Johnson and Winston Churchill scored a point somehow. Thank you everybody for playing. That's a wrap on this episode. Stay tuned for another episode around Friday for a follow up on the U.N. Food Systems Summit with Dr Agnes Kalibata. And next week, another episode. See you then!