Out of the lunchbox: food for thought

A brown-bag working lunch at the Pakhuis de Zwijger, with a twist

A dozen of NFP's partners hosted lunch tables.They did not prepare food - except for students of the Dutch Design Academy! - but prepared ‘food for thought’: topics or themes to discuss with their lunch companions that fit their objectives and those of World Food Day.  

 “There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi

Before getting down to the discussions and debate, participants were faced with their midday sustenance: centrepieces of brown bagged lunches of two varieties. There was the ‘Abundant XL’ and the ‘Meagre Meal’. Participants were asked to read the messages inside and look around them. For those who received a bag of plenty, the question was: is your lunch neighbour enjoying as much as you are? What are you willing to share? 

Whilst those with the smaller portions were asked 'do you think you deserve more? Maybe your neighbour wants to share? Do you dare to pick what you want from your neighbour’s lunch bag?'

Across the room there seemed to be a general consensus on how the bags were divided. “We want a fair distribution,” says Charles Michel, speaking for those who came to have lunch at his table. “The idea is we take everything out, see what we have and then everyone takes what they want.”

At the Netherlands Food Partnership table, the scene was similar. “I made an executive, top-down decision and emptied all the bags on the table,” says NFP’s Rojan Bolling. “Everyone took what they wanted.”

The numbers tell the story: Between 720 and 811 million people are undernourished worldwide, yet humans waste one-third of the total amount of food produced, and 17% of the food available for consumption. Another 1.9 billion adults aged 18 and older are overweight. 

But even in this simulation with half the bags on the empty side, these were abundant tables, with ample food enough to satisfy their 10-plus diners. “That’s the whole point,” says event moderator and bag-filler Lynn Zebeda from Dr. Monk. “There is enough food for everyone in the world, if we share.” Charles agrees. “I just want to let you know, we had leftovers.”

Food for thought - Lunch conversations

Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality - Orphan Crops
Host: Inge Tenniglo

Globalisation makes us think every crop (or ingredient) has grown in our backyard. But often we do not know the origin of the ingredients that are crucial to our lives. Think of tomatoes that originate from the Andes of Peru, Ecuador or Bolivia or kiwi’s from Eastern Asia.

Today’s diet of most people around the world is dominated by three crops: rice, wheat and maize. Out of more than 30.000 edible plant species in the world, only a few hundred contribute significantly to our food supply. About 95% of the world's food intake is provided by just 30 plant species. More than 90% of plant species have disappeared from the agricultural landscape. There are several reasons for this, but the main reason is the replacement of local plant species by improved plant species.

Improved plant varieties have greatly contributed to a sustainable increase of agricultural productivity. Though, preserving agrobiodiversity is crucial as genetic resources of local plant varieties and orphan crops are the natural foundation of adaptation strategies required in changing environmental conditions, especially in the face of climate change. Moreover, these crops are extremely important for many communities around the world: for food and nutrition security; for medicinal use; as part of socio-cultural traditions; and contribute to income generation.

Food choices and eating habits have changed dramatically in the past fifty years. Unhealthy eating habits are outpacing healthy and traditional eating patterns in many regions around the world. Associated with these trends is a decrease in the amount of diversity in our diet. Culinary innovation of orphan crops (like flour of cowpea beans in Senegal) have the potential to change eating habits.
 

foodFIRST - The personal is global
Hosts: Margret Azuma and Naomi Sterk

Explored the difference and similarities of the socio-cultural influences on food habits across the Global North and South.

Analysed the potential of blockchain technology in the agri-food sector to enable the traceability of information in the food supply chain and thus helps improve food safety and fair pricing and provide information on products' carbon footprint.

Discussed the limitations of reaching the SDG 2 goal of zero hunger in 2030 as a combination of economic and political structural inadequacies that need to be addressed.

Highlighted 'corruption' as an important point missed during the morning programme and the role it plays in maintaining the economic divide between most parts of the Global North and South. 
 

NFP/BopInc - Digital Agrifood Collective
Hosts: Rojan Bolling and Roald Klumpenaar

Lunch companions of different backgrounds shared their experiences with digital solutions or stated the opportunities it may offer.

International Association of Students in Agriculture and Related Sciences: see huge potential for youth, who are digital natives, but financial resources needed are lacking - often land access lacks as well.

Holland GreenTech: There is a huge opportunity to distribute our inputs, but there is a lack of successful apps to deliver to customers. There is a wide range of single-use apps, but we don't see an integrated solution.

Common Fund for Commodities: Some of the companies we finance are involved in digital agriculture, mainly related to inputs. Lots are also working on traceability. There are a lot of different niche solutions, but only about 8% are successful. We look for potential scalability.

WUR student public policy: I find this topic interesting, and may help my family of farmers in Zimbabwe. In my view any technology that helps farmers is good, if they see value they will spend money on it. A difficult question is how to deal with authoritarian governments that see a threat in the big networks of connected farmers through apps.

Leon Simons: We produce cookstoves in Ethiopia. There is an opportunity around digitalization, it can help us to access financing if we can link the impact of our product to carbon traders.

Mariken Gaanderse: The user should be at the centre. We should make sure that innovations that can be made serve the users. Often this translation of technical product to useability is difficult for technology companies.

Charles Michel - So you want to start a (food) revolution
Host: Charles Michel

We had a conversation about what would be the ideal way to share, to be fair; some were clearly uncomfortable, I invited everyone to step in that discomfort, and realize why that was,  given that our food system is inherently unequal today. 

We started sharing according to everyone’s cravings, as we started the conversation and one person noted: “do you realize that those who made the decision on how to share the food were all those who were on the side of the table  where the bags full of food were”? Having access to abundance leads to empowerment, while being on the side that has been treated unfairly tends to make us more silent, and less prone to action, disempowered.

We engaged in one conversation only, following a “Jeffersonian dinner” protocol with the following guiding question: “How do you see a food revolution, or evolution, happening through the lens of the work you do?”

The  table seemed to agree that what is needed today is a revolution, and not just evolution and we focused on the overwhelming power of market-makers and large distribution and retail spaces. They are not doing enough. Food retail companies' strategies are biased by the need for competitiveness in a capitalistic system.

Questions that need answers: How can it be that farmers do not get a fair share of the price of foods? Should the price of food be calculated according to your income? 

The big players in retail need to be involved, and even sometimes forced by the way of public policies, to provide more sustainable options even if that means not being as competitive as their stakeholders want them to be.

The overall feeling was that in order to fight inequalities, we need bold public policy strategies, combined with education for consumers. 
 

Talking True Price
Host: Michel Scholte

True price has the potential to make transparent what the social impact is of our food.

True price can serve for innovative solutions for recovery, compensation and prevention.

Ghana Urban Food Environment Impact Coalition
Hosts: Franka van Marrewijk en Herbert Smorenburg

A brief introduction about the Ghana Food Environment Initiative was followed by a lively discussion full of questions by the table mates of Franka and Herbert.  For example: What problem are coalition members aiming to solve and how are we maintaining the overarching group vision? Why was Accra chosen and how are Ghanaian parties involved? How is the coalition governed and are there any parties missing? And lastly, but surely key to the conversation was, whether this coalition and the action plans are really wanted by Ghana and not pushed from the Netherlands. 

A meaningful discussion followed at the table, real food for thought. It became clear that the coalition does not yet have an exact overall problem to solve but rather a collective ambition of all partners to support healthy food environments in Ghana. 

Several lunch table participants mentioned that certain organizations are missing such as civil society and government parties, but some disagreement exists whether the private sector and specific stakeholders should be included at this stage of the process.

Design Academy Eindhoven
The “system” we are working with and within is ever evolving and dynamic, and complex to say the least. Timescales that we are working in need to be adjusted for an inter-generational lens, to account for spillovers from other worlds and disciplines.

The mindsets we need for supporting a sustainable and -just - food system require us to listen, appreciate different viewpoints, and find common ground. From the tables we find ourselves at.

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