Why the urgency? And why now?
This is the case with many of our manufacturing industries, including food production and energy. Grocery stores and multinational food companies, such as Cargill, Nestle, General Mills, together with the grocery chain monopoly have effectively given us a false sense of safety and abundance when it comes to food. Just walk into any grocery store you will see endless shelves of food. Grocery store chains with their centralized headquarters have become the gate keepers of what the majority of people have access to and thus consume. Rather than decentralizing their power and thus ability to listen to local customers, they work towards an ever greater level of expansion and centralization, where in the end the local store manager has zero power to decide to source local food or more healthy or sustainable food options for his/her store.
In other words, the current market food chain structure in of itself maintains the status quo, which is full of highly unhealthy food, highly processed so they last longer on shelves.
Nevertheless we have a global pandemic, climate crisis that is ever worsened by our current methods of food production, distribution, transportation, and more shockingly its huge WASTE. In addition, if we are to even reach any climate/Paris Agreement targets to limit an increase in global temperatures, changes to the food system are essential.
This uneaten food results in a “waste” of resources—including agricultural land, water, pesticides, fertilizers, and energy—and the generation of environmental impacts—including greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, consumption and degradation of freshwater resources, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and degradation of soil quality and air quality. For example as the Netherlands like much of Europe embodies what the US does, here is a stark picture of U.S. Food Waste per year:
• 560,000 km2 (140 million acres) agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
• 22 trillion L (5.9 trillion gallons) blue water – equal to annual water use of 50 million American homes;
• 350 million kg (778 million pounds) pesticides;
• 6,350 million kg (14 billion pounds) fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each
year in the United States for domestic consumption;
• 2,400 million GJ (664 billion kWh) energy – enough to power more than 50 million U.S. homes for a year;
• 170 million MTCO2e GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of
42 coal-fired power plants.
This uneaten food also contains enough calories to feed more than 150 million people each year, far more than
the 35 million estimated food insecure Americans.
To estimate the environmental impact of Food Waste, researchers consider the amount of food lost or wasted as well as the type of food lost or wasted and supply chain stage at which it was lost or wasted. Food wasted further along the supply chain carries more impacts than food lost or wasted earlier, since the impacts are cumulative. For example, food lost during primary production embodies the resources used to grow the food, whereas food wasted during the consumption stage embodies the resources used to grow, process, package, store, and distribute the food up to the point the food reaches the consumer.
So given this current wasteful food system, the question should be is why are we not all working towards overthrowing it and implementing a new one?
I believe we can do better. For this reason, I continue to build a vertical urban farming system using a circular model thinking, in which minimal soil is used (and recycled when possible), no pesticides and minimal space. In other words, sustainable solutions that can cater to the needs of the local community instead of the large-scale centralized production that you see as business as usual.
In other words, do not expect vertical farming or urban farming company for that matter to fix the food waste and insecurity problems; unless we implement a circular economic model that is supported by government/public and led by our best scientific practices and guidance.