Changing Diets for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Provision 2050

Sanchali Bose, Wensi Song, Hanum Hapsari, Listia Rini

The last few decades have witnessed an increase in the growth of production of food in an utter unsustainable ways and modern agriculture was among the first domain of worries (Oosterveer & Sonnenfeld, 2012). Therefore at this point, there is an urge to think about sustainable food systems. A sustainable food system is productive and responsive to changing demands, is resource efficient, puts explicit limits on emissions of GHGs (Greenhouse Gas) and imposes strict energy efficiencies along the entire food chain, is responsive to changes in the opportunity costs of labour and allows for mobilization, ranges from producer to consumers and from farm to fork and includes provision to reduce vulnerability (Oosterveer & Sonnenfeld, 2012). The aim of meeting the needs of ever increasing population leads to concerns over the chemical usage in food production systems which were supplemented with other issues like food safety, energy use, landscape, climate change, biodiversity and a host of other societal and environmental considerations (Oosterveer & Sonnenfeld, 2012).
The shifting of diets/nutrition transition has gradually evolved in the last few decades due to the influences of lifestyle change and globalisation, which has many economic, social and cultural effects. The diet has gradually inclined more towards animal source proteins and oil crops. For example, rising income in the Netherlands in the second half of the 20th century favoured foods that were more expensive, more processed and contained different basic ingredients (Oosterveer & Sonnenfeld, 2012)2.

The future projections about this held up few alarming facts, such as food security; health; environmental problem; and natural resources depletion. As a consequence, the focus of public health nutrition is now turning towards improving health and quality of life in later years (Foster et al., 2007). Shifting from unsustainable diet to sustainable ones, such as Mediterranean diets, organic farming, substituting animal-based proteins with plant or insect-based proteins (Schösler et al., 2012), food processing changes, rethinking about the government policies (Foster et al., 2007)  is necessary and can be posed as a solution for the stated problems.

Mediterranean diets are considered to be a balanced diet which focuses more on vegetables and restricted level of meat consumption which makes it an ideal guide for the rest of the world. It is considered to be a heritage by UNESCO as it is the most balanced diets which lower the risk of lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular diseases and obesity.  This paper will focus on the shifting patterns of diet towards sustainable one by taking basic principles of Mediterranean diet as a guidance.
Future projections
According to projections included in the 2016 World Population Data Sheet from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the world population is growing continuously and projected to reach 9.9 billion in 2050. FAO projected in 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in an urban area while 3 billion inhabitants are envisaged to contribute as global middle class by 2030. Average consumption of oil crops is expected to rise more rapidly than that of cereals and average consumption of animal products could increase by 44% over the same period. The average intake of people will increase by 100 kcal in developing countries in the next 40-50 years. To maintain this supply there is going to be an immense pressure on agricultural lands, water, energy and other relevant natural resources.

If the consumption and globalisation continues in this pattern the agro-food system is going to face several problems, such as environmental, economic and social. In terms of environmental problems climate change has drawn a lot of attention. Agriculture is a large contributor to GHG emission. Deforestation and monoculture are in extensive level due to demand on agricultural land exacerbates climate changes and can be threatening to the habitat of many species. As for social and health aspect, because of the industrialization of the agro-food system, people tend to consume more high sugar, high fat and processed food, which lead to some non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. In terms of economic problems, the farmers get deprived of their market share because of the complex food chain (Oosterveer & Sonnenfeld, 2012).

Mediterranean Diet
Dating back decades ago, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mediterranean Diet (MD) is a healthy dietary pattern that was observed growing in Mediterranean areas, such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and France (Ortega, 2006). MD is considered as a healthy dietary pattern and UNESCO has registered MD as an immaterial human heritage, due to its universal, cultural, social, and spatial heritage that has been transmitted throughout generations in Mediterranean basin (UNESCO, 2010). Abundant of epidemiological studies have suggested that MD could lower mortality rate as well as the risk of several diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), and certain types of cancer (Sofi et al., 2014). Besides of the health benefit, MD has a potential to fulfil the sustainability needs for food provisioning. Several critical elements in MD include seasonality, biodiversity, and utilization of traditional and local food products (Castro-Quezada et al., 2014). Back in 2008, delegates at the Food and Agricultural Organization mentioned that MD could have an important role in the sustainable development of agriculture in the Mediterranean region (FAO, 2008).

Mediterranean Diet: General Profile and Health Benefit
Back in the 1960s in Greece and Southern Italy, Alcen Keys was the first person to define MD as a dietary pattern which involve consumption of low saturated fat and high in vegetable oils (Martínez-González & Sánchez-Villegas, 2004). According to Trichopoulou & Lagiou (1997), MD was prevalent for people in olive tree growing Mediterranean areas before the mid-1960s. It was due to food globalization that was not apparent at that time and influenced lifestyle and diet of people. Formerly, people in Mediterranean areas who implemented MD also had extensive physical exercises, mostly through work and outdoor activities (Ortega, 2006). Thus, MD is recognized as a healthy dietary pattern as well as a healthy lifestyle.

Main characteristics of MD comprised of plant-based dietary pattern, with high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grain cereals, legumes, and nuts. Consumption of seafood, eggs, white meat, and dairy products are held in moderate level. However, processed meat, red meat, food with high content of sugar and fat are in a minimum level of intake. The basis of lipid provision in MD is the liberal amount of olive oil intake. An adequate amount of water and moderate wine intake are also recommended (Castro-Quezada et al., 2014). The diversity of the food component in this dietary pattern contains several key vitamins (class B, C, E, and folic acid) and phytochemicals (such as beta-carotene and polyphenols) which could subsequently contribute to health effect (Kavouras et al., 2010). High intake of vegetables and restricted amount of red meat could lower incidence of heart disease. Phytochemicals that is contained in MD also contribute to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation (Ostan et al., 2015). The guideline concerning amount and frequency of specific type of food consumption in MD is illustrated by food pyramid in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Food Pyramid of Mediterranean Diet
Mediterranean Diet (MD) is characterized by high intake of vegetables, fiber and fruits, moderate amount of seafood, white meat and dairy products, and restricted amount of red and processed meat. This figure also provides indication of the eating frequency of different types of the foods (Bach-Faig et al., 2011).
Mediterranean Diet: Sustainable Food and Nutrition Provision
From nutritional perspective, diverse food items in MD could ensure adequate nutrition provision. Olive oil could be considered as a better dietary fat quality, which is apparent in MD. Consumption of legumes and nuts could be alternatives for animal-based protein. Adherence in MD also prove to suffice macromolecule, vitamins, and minerals fulfillment (Castro-Quezada et al., 2014). Mailott et al (2011) conducted a study using optimization model which revealed compliance to MD could achieve overall nutrient adequacy. In recent study conducted by Seconda et al (2017) also demonstrated consistent result regarding adequate nutrition provisioning.

Foods in MD that are recommended to consume more frequently, such as fruits and vegetables, demonstrate lower environmental impact compared to foods that are to be eaten less frequently, such as meat. The Barilla center for Food and Nutrition has produced the Double Pyramid, indicating the recommendation of frequency of the food intake and their health as well as environmental impact. The Food Pyramid from the Double Pyramid is based on MD. The base of Food Pyramid indicates the most frequent foods which should be consumed, and getting to the top indicates food that should be decreased in consumption. On the other hand, Environmental Pyramid classifies the food based on the environmental impact that is exerted from the foods and it shows an upside-down pyramid. The smallest part, which is the base, contains foods that exert minimum environmental impact, and foods that are put on the top of the pyramid exert the greatest environmental impact. This could be a good tool to raise awareness for modern people regarding sustainable food and nutrition provisioning. The Double Pyramid could be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The Double Pyramid
The Double Pyramid consists of two different pyramid, namely Food Pyramid and Environmental Pyramid. The former is based on MD and indicates how often people should eat the food. Environmental Pyramid shows the environmental impact that would be exerted from certain kind of food (Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, 2014).
Adopting Basic Principle from Mediterranean Diet to develop Sustainable Food System
Shifting modernised diet to MD could possibly lead to sustainable food and nutrition provision in the future, which is environmentally friendly without compromising nutrition adequacy. However, people from several parts of this world are not familiar with MD and it would be difficult for them to change their diet completely and adopt MD. For instance, it is not possible to have access to olive oil and other resources of MD for people in Antarctica, due to geographical limitation and/or cultural difference. Instead of adopting MD completely, one could adopt is the basic key elements of MD which are favoring nutrition and environmental sustainability, such as seasonality, biodiversity, and traditional and local food provisioning (Castro-Quezada et al., 2014).
Utilization of seasonal crops means that it would minimize energy expenditure, such as electricity, heating element in greenhouse, to grow crops that are not in the season. In modernized diet, monoculture is often applied to support agro-industry in producing crops, such as certain variety of potato; corn; and soy, in bulk amount. This could threaten the biodiversity of plant and lead to extinction. However, taking MD as a guidance means people should consume foods in diverse type. Avoidance of monoculture is important because it can maintain ecosystem and improve soil fertility. Consuming diverse type of food would also ensure nutritional adequacy instead of eating only one type of food, such as in modernized diet which is rich in protein, sugar, and fat.
Traditional and local food provisioning could also help to reduce environmental impact, because food does not necessarily need to be transported from a long way. Therefore, it could reduce the food miles. People could also preserve their own food identity and tradition, such as culinary technique, which is probably healthier compared to modernized diet. People in other countries around the globe possibly are not familiar with drinking wine, for example people in Japan are more familiar with drinking sake compared to wine. However, they could adopt MD’s basic principle by taking alcohol in moderate level. Restriction of processed food consumption could also be adopted to ensure the health maintenance. Based on these elements, MD could be a good guidance and lesson to develop a sustainable food system.
Another characteristic of MD is high intake of fruits and vegetables and restriction on animal based consumption. This characteristic could also be adopted to avoid negative impact on both health and environment. From environmental perspective, which can be seen in Double Pyramid (Figure 2), animal-based food requires intensive resources (e.g. land use, water demand) compared to plant-based food and the latter contributes to less environmental impact and ecological footprint. According to Carlsson-Kanyama and González (2009), plant-based food such as vegetables, cereals, and legumes are the least contributor to greenhouse gas emission regarding to growing, processing and also transportation. Legumes are important crops that could be considered as an alternative to animal-based protein because of their less environmental impact as well as long durability, thus this could be the solution for protein provisioning (Serra-Majem et al., 2016). Alternatively, instead of consuming red meat or beef, one could substitute it with poultry, which is more efficient in energy conversion (Ranganathan, et al., 2016).
As an imaginary future, Indonesia, as one of the developing country could be a model to apply the basic principles of MD. Nowadays most people in Indonesia are adopting modernized diet. If Indonesia were about to apply the principle, Indonesian people could eat local food based on where they live. People from Sulawesi Island should consume sagu instead of rice and people from Java Island eat more rice and cassava.  Therefore, it could reduce food transportation across islands. People could also eat diverse fruits or vegetables based on the season. For example, in dry season, people in Java could eat chili pepper, tomato, sweet corn, peanut, green beans, and chickpeas. This diverse crops would help agriculture system to avoid monoculture. Engagement to local cuisine could also help to preserve the tradition. For instance, pecel from Java is a healthy diet that provide adequate nutrition.
The choice of sustainable diet is not only dependent on individual choice but is the collective influence of social structure which includes NGO’s, food industry, government, social practices and habits. According to Ranganathan (2016), there are several approaches to driving towards sustainable food system. Firstly, by minimizing disruption, which comprised of replication, which means food producers could innovate products that are similar in taste and texture to those of consumer favorite products; and forming habits in new markets even before consumer form their own buying habits. Secondly, enhancing the existing benefit of a product and making it affordable to the consumers. Thirdly, maximizing awareness by enhancing display of desirable food and vice versa as well as advertising and campaigning of healthy products. Lastly, by evolving social and cultural form, which means raising public awareness by developing food literacy.
There are several applicable and concrete ways to drive people towards sustainable food system:
  1. Education system should be developed and knowledge of food system should be incorporated in the syllabus of pupil. In this way, children would know how to choose a better food, based on their education. Parents should also support this system by regularizing it in their daily practices.
  2. Government should take action to promote local and diverse sustainable food as governments do have significant influence over food availability within their country, for example as a result of trade policies. Traditionally, food policies should ensure that the national diet contains adequate amounts of energy and essential nutrients (Foster et al., 2007). Government can exercise their buying power to procure healthy, sustainable food and subsidize them to the public, such as seasonal vegetables and fruits. Government could also help consumers who want to have their own community gardens by providing plots and resources. All in all, all the departments of government should cooperate with each other to make this mission successful.
  3. Food producers should produce products in sustainable way and foodservice sectors must label their products and make it informative for the consumers. Researcher could innovate more compelling sustainable food, which could be realized by adopting some techniques to manipulate taste, texture, ingredients to fulfill consumer’s need.
  4. NGO, food producers, government, consumers, and all food actors should collaborate to realize sustainable food system in the future. NGO and government can collaborate to bring a change through introduction of stringent food policies and encouraging people to follow it and incorporate in their daily lives. Several NGOs should come forward to target the public and convert them from consumers to citizens to be responsible enough to choose wisely as they are the ones who can ultimately divert the direction of the tide. Consumer should be given enough information so that they can exercise their shopping bag power to make changes in daily routines and eating practices. On the other hand, consumer should participate actively by using their consumer political power to influence government and food producer to achieve sustainable food system.
The need for sustainable food system lies in the constant emergence of problems due to the modern agricultural system. Globalization has not only opened the doors of nations for international goods but also due to the transnational companies and supermarkets the diets of people are changing more towards modernised one and away from locally procured food. The overall environment will not be able to support the growing population if this trend of exploitation continues any further. Mediterranean diet (MD) is considered as a boon in this condition as it not only supports sustainable and balanced diet but also supports the environment as it includes moderate consumption of livestock putting less pressure on the environment and agricultural land. One could adopt the basic principles of MD to achieve sustainable diet by 2050 where human interest would not clash with that of nature’s. Several strategy could be applied such as promoting education and raising awareness about sustainable food system; developing policy and support; innovation towards sustainable diet; and lastly by collaboration of all food actors to achieve sustainable food and nutrition provision in 2050.

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