Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.  Our Actions are our Future.

That’s the theme for World Food Day 2020, and in addition to being “spot on” in terms of message content, it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

As my colleagues know, I am easily inspired by any and all efforts to create a more sustainable global food system, especially those involving food waste reduction, improved nutrition, and innovations to successfully feed 10 billion citizens by 2050.

I am still energized by the first annual recognition of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, which we celebrated just two weeks ago on September 29th.  Special thanks to Sara Roversi and the Future Food Institute in Italy for playing such a pivotal role in bringing #FLWDay to fruition.

And World Food Day, October 16th, is an ultra-special day for me on the calendar.  Every year it takes on a meaningful new theme based on the most pressing current food system challenges, such as hunger, nutrition, water, biodiversity, poverty, climate, or migration (you can see the full list of annual themes since 1981 here), and yet at the same time it only seems to grow in importance, always supporting the Food and Agriculture Organization’s mission of creating a food-secure world. 

In fact, World Food Day celebrates the establishment of FAO in 1945 – so this year marks 75 years of work to provide food and nutrition for all.  We have a long line of people to thank for contributions to food security over those years.

On reflection, it seems very fitting to me that FAO was born in a period of extreme disruption – the end of World War II – a time of unparalleled need to rebuild and provide sufficient access to nutritious food to hundreds of millions of global citizens.  And 75 years later, despite considerable great work, innovation, and progress, we find ourselves in a different era facing a different form of disruption – yet still with the urgent need to provide proper food and nutrition to billions of global citizens, and still with the need to rebuild better.

But today’s juncture includes an additional frame:  We have to rebuild in a way that not only addresses immediate food security needs but also creates a path to feeding 10 billion global citizens by 2050 in a sustainable manner – a path that involves living within Nature’s boundaries rather than beyond them, one that reins in Agriculture’s negative impact on the environment and climate while promoting equity rather than perpetuating inequity.  One that reduces extensive waste and allows us to address root causes of poverty.  One that, borrowing from the Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric, allows us to achieve one-planet prosperity and the global security that comes along with it.

These are big themes, and I am merely scratching the surface here, but the Sustainable Development Goals provide the large stepping stones for that essential pathway.   

This year when I reflect on World Food Day, it’s difficult not to dwell on the many negatives associated with the disruption caused by Covid-19 – the increase in food waste early on, the increase in global hunger, the increase in plastic waste in multiple sectors,  the rise in nationalism that hinders cooperation for solutions, security threats from food insecurity, and much more. 

But as always the purpose of World Food Day, and the history behind it, brings great comfort to me.  The idea of a specific day designed to rally global attention to the imperative of feeding humanity is not only comforting, it’s restorative and inspirational.  Just three small words, World – Food – Day, and yet they represent possibly the most important humanitarian need on the planet.  It’s energizing.  And as I write this, the fact that the World Food Programme just received the Nobel Peace Prize is not lost on me.  Such recognition is comforting, too.

So this October, as I do annually, I reflect on what World Food Day means to me.  It starts with caring deeply about our fellow global citizens.  In these Covid-induced times of separation, everything seems to begin there.  It involves the desire to build community – specifically a healthy, sustainable global community based on a sustainable, equitable food system.  That’s the essence of building back better, creating healthy people and a healthy planet.  It involves bold commitment and demonstrated action at national and international levels, across governments and business, to caring for global citizens by meeting humanitarian needs, building sustainable communities, and creating shared value.  And doing so with urgency.  Because as renowned-chef Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen notes, when we are talking about food and water for people, “the urgency of now is yesterday.”  That’s the appropriate action frame for rebuilding our food system.  And last, it involves a new level of enduring global collaboration to meet all of the social and environmental challenges wrapped up in the Sustainable Development Goals.  Collaboration based on the simple, powerful premise of doing the right things for humanity because it’s the right thing to do.

So today I find myself viewing World Food Day 2020 through four key words: Caring, Community, Commitment, and Collaboration. 

And on deeper reflection this year, I realized that at such a critical juncture in history, it’s very important to go further and tap into the thoughts of several food system leaders around the world, amplifying the power of World Food Day by sharing their thoughts as well.

I am privileged to work every day with many committed food system leaders who continually inspire me through their pioneering work to lead positive change for a more sustainable food system, and I am very grateful for their contributions here.   

So for a range of compelling thoughts on the meaning of World Food Day from leaders all across the world’s food system, including an opportunity focus, waste reduction, access, equity, nutrition, hunger, climate, resilience, individual action, changing production and consumption patterns, education, and cold chain, read on – and prepare to be inspired as they share what World Food Day 2020 means to them.

World Food Day Thoughts from World Food System Leaders

Sara Roversi, founder of the Future Food institute and President of the Future Food Network, sees opportunity in World Food Day, a chance to focus on the positives, recalibrate and re-charge.  Her humble leadership and boundless energy are inspiring:  

“There are days when the complexity of our food systems can feel overwhelming, too big and too far reaching.  The challenges inherent in rescuing our food systems are connected to so many players, often in opposition to each other, that at times it seems a Herculean task.  But for me, World Food Day is an opportunity to pause and to take stock.  It is a day to recognize how far we have come, to appreciate the global community of food heroes who are all working on this together, and to be energized by new people just awakening to this cause.  While there is still much work to be done, I am also humbled to be a part of this movement and inspired to continue pushing for real and sustainable change.”

Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank and winner of the 2020 Julia Child award, also sees opportunity in World Food Day – the chance to promote the work of dedicated individuals leading positive change all across the food system:   

“For me, World Food Day is another chance. Another chance to highlight the individuals and organizations around the globe who are working – both loudly and quietly – for a hunger free world.  Farmers in Kenya who are growing indigenous crops, fisher folk in Ghana who are drying fish to feed their communities throughout the year, women farmers in India who are growing crops without agrochemicals, young advocates in the U.S. who are working to end the climate crisis, activists in Brazil who are working to save what’s left of the Amazon, Indigenous leaders all over the world who are protecting plant and crop diversity, enlightened policy makers in Europe who are creating better agricultural policies, and so many other stories of people finding ways to nourish people and the planet.  World Food Day is an opportunity to keep amplifying their voices and getting them out to a wider audience who can be inspired.”

Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, reflects on the central nature of food in our lives, the gaps resulting from the pandemic, and the challenges of hunger and food waste, and the importance of achieving Target 12.3:

“Food is such an important part of all of our lives and World Food Day is a reminder of that. 

It makes me think of wonderful times when family and friends have come together to share a meal – happy days filled with love for those around you when the creation of a meal for everyone is a demonstration of care, love and support. This year those thoughts are more poignant as we can’t meet up as we once did and we have to look forward to times when we can add to those happy memories. 

However, I am also acutely aware of the weaknesses of our food system and the fact that many people do not have enough healthy and nutritious food. That is a shocking situation for us to be in. We also know the pressures that our food system is putting on the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water. So, World Food Day motivates me to do more to try to ensure we meet SDG12.3 and achieve a halving of global food loss and waste.”

Ludovica Principato, Food waste scientist and Sustainability researcher and educator, succinctly brings critical themes of access, equity, and nutrition together, with a link to the importance of minimizing food waste:

“To me, World Food Day means making food accessible, equitable, healthy, and nutritious for all. Food that is grown in a sustainable way and that enriches the local communities should not be wasted at all.”

Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Global Food and Agriculture Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University, reflects on the importance of sustained commitment and action to end hunger and malnutrition:

“To me, World Food Day has become a habitual, ceremonial day to reflect on and draw attention to those who suffer from hunger and food insecurity.  This week, the UN World Food Programme received the Nobel Peace Prize on their work to combat hunger but the fight is not over.  This World Food Day will be a time to recommit to ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms amid the challenges of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Andrew Shakman, President and CEO of Leanpath, notes the complexity of the global food system and the need to close the gap on global hunger to achieve a sustainable food system: 

“To me World Food Day provides a moment to reflect deeply on the ongoing, massive impact of global food insecurity; the complexity and impact of our food system; the progress we’ve made; and the gap between where we stand today and a future without hunger and with a truly sustainable food system.  There’s so much to do and this milestone reinforces that gap and energizes action while still reminding us of how far we’ve come and how many are aligned and working to drive this critical change globally.”

Silvia Gaiani, Researcher and Consultant at the University of Bologna and FAO, reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on the food system and how we as individuals can take action to create a more sustainable food system:

“The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Association (FAO) was established on 16th October in 1945. To commemorate this day, World Food Day is celebrated every year.  The 2020 edition is calling for global solidarity to help all populations, and especially the most vulnerable, to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to make food systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing volatility and climate shocks, deliver affordable and sustainable healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers. 

All of us, albeit in our own small way, can assist in the fight against hunger globally.

We can contribute to a better global food system by knowing where our food comes from and essentially becoming ‘food literate’, by making pressure on our political leaders so that they fulfil their legal obligations arising under the “human right to food.”  And we can also help to reduce hunger, particularly in our own communities, by wasting less food.

Food should be re-conceived as a common good (and not a private one) in the transition toward a more sustainable food system that is fairer to food producers and consumers.”

Richard Swannell, Director of WRAP Global, reminds us of the need to change production and consumption patterns, and also points to the great potential in individual action:

“We know that food production and consumption has a huge impact on our planet.  It is responsible for around 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions; it uses up 70% of freshwater resources and it is destroying habitats, putting thousands of species around the world at risk of extinction.  And the climate change it contributes to is provoking extreme weather patterns which are damaging food production in the short and long term.  On top of this, we squander a third of the food we produce every year – over one billion tonnes of it.  This simply has to change.  World Food Day is when I reflect on the scale of this challenge for us all and think of all the good work that is going on around the world to change the way we produce and consume food for the better. 

I also think about how we might all play our part in this change.  For example, if everyone in the UK didn’t waste any food at home for just one day, it could have the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as planting half a million trees.  Think what would happen if we all did this around the world on World Food Day – in our homes and in our workplaces.  And then think if we did this every day – the  difference we could all make now and for our collective future.  These would be small changes for us which would make a massive difference to our world.”  

Jonathan Bloom, noted food waste expert and author of American Wasteland, points to the need to properly value our food and change our behavior and actions to protect our planet:  

“In a time rife with division, World Food Day reminds us how much we all have in common.  We’re all eaters.  Some people not to the extent that they’d like, sadly.  Yet, given the burgeoning reality of food insecurity, it’s all the more vital to appreciate and maximize our food while reforming the systems that provide it. 

After witnessing the precariousness of our health and that of our planet this year, it’s evident that we must change our food systems.  With little and/or subpar food, there is no health.  Yet much of our food production imperils our already-ill-planet.  World Food Day reminds us what we can do to help–savor our food, be a food saver (avoiding waste), and be a savior of our food systems (in ways large and small).” 

Lisa Kitinoja, founder of the Postharvest Education Foundation, focuses on the importance of education and training to reduce food loss and waste, and is energized by collaborative efforts to create sustainable food systems:

“For me, as founder of The Postharvest Education Foundation and as a global postharvest extension educator, I spend the entire year training young people, writing about the causes and sources of food loss and waste, mentoring those who are working in the field in developing countries, and promoting solutions for reducing postharvest losses.  The annual World Food Day celebration is the time the rest of the world tunes in and spends some time and energy on addressing these issues, discussing their ideas for solutions and sharing success stories.  This year I will be attending online webinars and a wealth of side events during the week of Oct 12-16, including those hosted by Ceres2030, FAO, WRI, GCCA, Borlaug Dialog, CFS, Post-harvest Innovation Lab, GAIN, Project Drawdown and Food Tank.  It is exciting to see how the topic of FLW reduction has taken on increased importance during 2020, and how we are all working together on creating better and more sustainable food systems.”

Last, Mark Mitchell, Chairman of Supercool Asia Pacific, brings in the importance of the cold chain to reduce global food loss and waste:

“World Food Day is the peak event used by the FAO to highlight the importance of food to humanity and what it takes to feed our global population while highlighting problems and failures to achieve it.  Any of us from the cold chain industry can’t help being touched by the challenges associated with this issue.  

The global figures supplied by the FAO are screaming at us to do something.  There are still 2 billion people who do not have daily access to safe nutritious food, global hunger has steadily increased since 2014, over 30% of the food we produce is never eaten of which 14% is lost between production and the wholesale market.  There are several economies and global food supply channels where these kinds of losses do not occur simply because a robust and compliant cold chain is in place.  So the improved cold chain that we speak of, if it is to be the solution provider we need, is one that is implemented where there is none, and vastly improved where it exists with broken links and lack of compliance. 

World Food Day provides us with the inspiration to reflect on our own initiatives and those of the FAO which must continue to focus on shifting the balance of food supply so that every child and adult in the world has equal access to daily nutritious meals.”

Making Meaning, Moving Forward:

So there you are, a compelling set of thoughts on the meaning of World Food Day from world food leaders who are actively engaged in creating a more sustainable food system and a more secure world through their work.

I hope all of these thoughts, and the celebration of World Food Day itself, inspire you to reflect on the meaning of World Food Day, and to consider how you can become a change agent for a more sustainable food system.  For as FAO notes, we all have a role to play, and everyone can be a food hero.

So until next year, let’s all grow, nourish, and sustain, together

Because our actions truly are our future.