Today, I’m pleased to turn my blog over to Barton Seaver, a chef, Explorer with the National Geographic Society, and director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Barton is one of America’s leading voices for sustainable food systems, who believes that bringing people together around a shared table may be the best way to understand the importance of protecting one of our most basic needs – food. Below, he offers his unique perspective on the future of food.
Food nourishes us with so much more than calories. It represents us and our cultures. It forms our traditions. It is our means of diplomacy. And as we gather together at the table in communion, we explore our relationships — not just with each other, but with our planet. Together we can channel our collective will to find a sustained place in our world.
In my career, I’ve studied the confluence of food systems, human economies and health. While debate still nags for the definition of sustainability, I believe that regardless of specific language, our purpose is clear. Sustainability will be measured by the endurance of thriving human communities.
We currently suffer a great anxiety. We lose hope and doubt our ability to thrive: 7 billion of us in a world in which every day we ask ourselves, “Can I feed my neighbor?” My answer is yes. Yes, we absolutely can feed the needs of 7 billion people. But we also must recognize that we cannot feed the desires of 7 billion people. Need is finite and is written in our biology. Desire is infinite and is a product of our biography. We have incredible opportunity, in this decade, to begin to rewrite the biography of the human condition to support a sustainable relationship with nature, the nature that ultimately sustains us.
When food goes to waste, those who suffer first are the most vulnerable and the most invisible in our society. And while food insecurity is indeed a global issue, its impacts are all too often hidden. Food waste happens in every country. And in every country, every citizen bears civic responsibility to use our resources sustainably. It is important to acknowledge that we also have a responsibility to enjoy our resources.
When we waste food, we waste our opportunity to act as good neighbors. Food wasted is far more valuable than a simple measure of calories gone lost, or food that could be used to feed those who stand in the breadline. But that same food can be used to create opportunity and provide economic mobility for the very people who need it the most. Food and the opportunity it fuels can do more than feed the breadline – it can shorten it. Food not only feeds our bodies, it feeds the very soul of our society.
Our part is simple: smaller portions, served on smaller plates. Planning ahead to buy just what you need. Setting an example for peers by taking unfinished meals home from restaurants. It’s not just a responsibility for us to purchase ugly, blemished foods, or to take home those leftovers. It provides us a much-needed opportunity to reflect upon all that we have and to reaffirm our will to find pleasure in it. We reflect not with guilt, but with hope. Because it is only with hope that together we celebrate the bounty in which we are all so fortunate to share on this beautiful planet.