Sustain the Planet, Sustain Life!
By Lily Michelson

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If you buy cheese from a local farmers’ market, you can easily start a conversation with the farmer and learn a lot about the product:  the type of animal that produced it,  the feed this animal consumed, how and where the animal was raised, and even about the employees who helped to produce it. After your conversation, you have a general idea about how your local cheese went from the farm to your plate. More importantly, you will have realized that even an everyday product like cheese is not a simple commodity;  its production is complex, time-consuming, and involves skilled knowledge and cooperation of numerous players who all work to bring the food to the table.

Now, consider the cheese selection at the chain supermarket. There are numerous varieties and each one is well-stocked by every store. Producing this amount of cheese becomes a much more complicated process, as each one of the factors faced by your small farmer must be multiplied to meet the demands of a global market. In addition, a cheese company that distributes globally must standardize its product while using milk from different farmers, processing the product in different factories, and by relying on different modes of transportation to distribute.

The complexities of a global food system extend, of course, beyond cheese. When we eat any food, we are depending on a multitude of factors that are inextricably linked: the environment, the people involved, the current government policy, and the economic environment that produces the food.  To meet the nutritional needs of ourselves and to ensure the success of future generations, we must have a healthy food system. A healthy food system is a sustainable food system.

How can we create more sustainable food systems?

On an individual level, we can choose to eat more sustainable diets and reduce our food waste. On a production level, we can employ smart agricultural practices that are altogether more efficient and have minimal environmental impact: they maximize production with smart use of land, water, fertilizer, labor, and resources. If we want a healthy planet, we also want a sustainable food system. 

To learn more, check out this week’s PERSPECTIVES essay series on sustainability! Contributors from Slow Food USA, EndingHunger, Oxfam, Food First, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), and WhyHunger will each provide their unique perspective on creating a more sustainable food system. These topics promise to be thought-provoking and engaging, so make sure to check in throughout the week!

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