Our food system is broken. According to the United Nations, around 1/3, or 1.3 billion of tons of food gets lost or wasted each year (UN, 2022).
Despite this, there are efforts across the globe that seek to address the problems within our food system. Paul Myers is the has his PhD in epigenetics from the University of Liverpool and he is the co-founder and managing director of Farm Urban. In 2016, Myer appeared on a TED Talk to share his thoughts on how humanity can improve the broken food systems.
Myers starts off by describing the major health challenges of the 21st century. Some of the challenges include diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health conditions. Myers talks about the Western approach to medicine has been one that is a top-down approach. Whereby, funding is placed in the hands of large corporations and they are responsible for finding cures for diseases. Yet, on the macro level, society disregards the need to invest in healthy habits such as diet, exercise, and rest.
Myers moves to discussing the logistics of food production around the world. He cites examples within the fishing industry that became apparent during his research. Every year, the world takes about 90 million tons of fish out of the oceans. For every one kilogram of fish that people eat, 10 kilograms are caught. After the fish are caught around Norway and Russia, they are sent to China to be gutted. Next, the fish are sent to South Korea, frozen in ice blocks and sold into the supply chain. After this, the fish arrives in the U.K. and the E.U. as Atlantic Cod. Consumers assume that the fish was caught right off the coast and processed within their borders or in a neighbouring country.
Myers also cites the logistic problems within the current model for lettuce production. There are very few places in the world that can produce lettuce year-round. Furthermore, lettuce must be transported across continents to sustain demand. Myers points out that after the transportation process, most of the lettuce is not suitable to eat, and this results in 60% of all lettuce being thrown away into the garbage.
Equally important, one must remember that this production system is entirely dependent on fossil fuels. The wasted fuel that is used to transport the food that we don’t eat is a large concern, considering the current climate crisis.
In light of these issues, Myers and one of his colleagues, Jens Thomas, found the company Farm Urban. The company is focused on creating systems that allow people and the planet to thrive together in balance. They have created a social enterprise that grows lettuce for the city of Liverpool. Additionally, they have also created small scale aquaponics systems that allow people to interact with food production (Figure 1). Aquaponics is a loophole system whereby the plants clean the water for the fish and the fish provide nutrients through their waste for the plants.
Myers explains that the current way in which food is produced does not allow for any connection to the food source. He discusses his frustration as a father trying to encourage his daughter to eat vegetables. His frustration led him to install one of the aquaponics systems that he was working on. From this moment, his daughter began to take care of the plants and the fish in their house. After she took an interest in the growing process, she began to eat vegetables. Through this process, Myers realized that the food was not the issue, it was the fact that his daughter was disconnected from the production of the food.
Myers ends his TED talk by discussing the marketing of unhealthy food. He states that bad products have great marketing and good products have no marketing. Additionally, no one ever got rich from telling someone to eat salad.
Myers is but one example of someone that is trying to change the way in which we think about and consume food. His example offers us a practical approach to reconnect people with their food source.