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10 food issues and opportunities for 2016


2016 is the year sustainable food goes big. People are connecting what they eat to the planet. We are moving away from some of the long standing misconceptions, such as producing more alone will solve our problems. Increasingly we link what we eat to how it is grown to what it does to our bodies and the planet. It might even be the year where we start to realise that we don’t need meat every meal, plants are really tasty and pleasurable to cook.

There is a lot to be positive about. There is international legislation, new polices and educational opportunities. Here is what I think will be the biggest trends and enablers ideas old and new.

Celebrating the taste, pleasure and joy of plants

1. Plant based Eating. People are starting to realise plants – beans, vegetables, nuts and fruits – should be the backbone of our diets. We know they are good for us and the planet. We need to eat more of them. This year is the international year of the pulses. However  we have fallen out of love with plants, thinking they are dull, flavour less and hard to cook. You hear people saying they don’t what to do with them. Even at some of the better restaurants and gastro pubs, whilst meat and fish eaters have a fantastic array of meat and fish dishes, the veg is an after though are boiled, steamed or hidden in butter, whilst the poor vegetarian has to eat pasta or risotto. This is changing, as will be demonstrated through Earth Hour this year, one of are partners being the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  People are realising the power of plants. Even ex Special Forces, adventurer Bear Grills is talking about how plant based eating has made him stronger and slimmer. Real men eat plants and are proud of it.

Collection of freshly picked vegetables. South Africa.Collection of freshly picked vegetables. South Africa.

2. Green Ambassadors. WWF UK’s flagship schools program. We work with 4,500 primary schools and it’s free to join. This year the focus is on food and education. Green Ambassadors will be celebrating growing, cooking and eating. There are plenty of resources and very soon there will be a free growing guide for schools and there is a recipe contest. This is a chance to get our kids to grow and eat real food, and take it home to their parents, who may also benefit. After all our food is the last real link children have to nature.

Fruits of our labour Credit © Tristan Fewings / WWF-UKFruits of our labour Credit © Tristan Fewings / WWF-UK

3. Retraining taste buds. An easy way to learn to love real food again. When we eat less sugar or salt over a period of a few weeks it changes our sense of sweetness or saltiness. Our idea of how a food tastes changes. I have tried this, it really works. As we retrain our taste buds we will enjoy plant based foods and a greater variety of flavours we will start to love healthy, sustainable meals again.

2016: a big year for policy setters

4.UK Policy. In the UK we have the 25 year food and farming plan, the 25 year environment plan, and the childhood obesity strategy. In an ideal world they will be joined up and promote all farmers and rural communities’ livelihoods and promote healthy eating habits within an environmental framework. This won’t happen. Still we can use them as a catalyst for change.

5. Food taxes. 2016 is the start of a rethink about food fiscal policy. Following on from the success of Mexico’s 10% sugary drink tax, and a realisation of how much poor diet costs a country, sugary drink taxes will become a reality in 2016. I think there will also be greater discussion around the need for carbon taxes on food likes meat and dairy. Low carbon food like beans and vegetables will benefit. It would be nice to see the revenue raised ring fenced to subsidies fruit and vegetables as an addition to strained food budgets in hospitals, care homes and schools to .

6.Dietary guidelines. The US has introduced its new guidelines. They have backed down on clearly calling for people to eat less meat; however they do call for people to limit the amount of added sugar in their diets. The UK will update its Eatwell plate this year, though I doubt it will specifically mention sustainability it will help in demonstrating what a sustainable diet looks like and how much protein, sugar and vegetables we need to eat.

Food as an agent for change

7. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Climate change. Food has become part of the global narrative. On the first of January 2016 the SDG’s began. This is a 15 year commitment to our future. There are 17 goals, of which 1 is a food goal. Arguably you can link all the others to food. I have already seen companies like Sainsbury and Alpro talking about how 8 or 9 goals are food related. In Paris there was a global agreement to try to keep emissions below 1.5 degrees. Finally the focus was not just on energy. Other contributors were spoken about and how different sectors, including agriculture need to do their bit. Even Arnie said we need to eat less meat to tackle climate change.


8.Urban Agriculture. More people live in cities than in the countryside. There are more mega cities which are financial and people power houses. In 2016 cities will take greater control of their food polices and promote healthier lower carbon diets. A key part of this the rise of urban agriculture, small and large scale. This won’t feed everybody or make a city self-sufficient however it will expand and add a vital element to urban food security.

9. Protein. This is a misunderstood topic. The simple fact is many people are eating too much protein. We mainly get it from meat. We don’t eat enough fish and seem to have forgotten plants are a great source. At the same time as we are eating too much food companies are adding it to foods breakfast cereal in the pretence of adding value. However moves are afoot to combat this. Look no further than the Protein 2040 challenge. This looks at the whole protein system. It has programs on feed, diets, waste and aquaculture. It is time to rebalance the debate. No one in the UK is protein deficient. However we could all do with more veg and fibre.

10. Mariculture. Utilising the seas to feed us and livestock. It goes beyond wild caught fish and aquaculture. It is about seaweeds and algae too. 2015 people started talking about using seaweed more. This will keep growing. It is a fantastic, tasty, nutritious and sustainable addition to our food culture. Mariculture has the potential to be part of the food secure future that leaves space for nature on land and sea. It’s a new subject that is key to our future.

2016 is an exciting year for food and it seems we may be turning a corner to realising a truly sustainable food system.

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