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Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop (2020)

Chapter: 10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems

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Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
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10

Closing Discussion:
The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems

PANEL DISCUSSION

In the closing session of the workshop, moderator Naomi Fukagawa asked each of the panelists to share his or her key takeaways from the workshop.

Christina Khoo shared that she had gained an appreciation of the complexity and interdependence of food systems, including the trade-offs that must occur as progress is made toward goals in a particular area. She also emphasized the importance of using data and analytics to understand the ripple effects of a change to one part of the system. She stated as well that, given her position in the industry sector, she is particularly interested in packaging innovation because of the lack of recognition of the trade-offs between the sustainability of packaging and the need to protect the food supply. She emphasized the importance of packaging in maintaining the oxygen barrier to prevent the quality of food from being compromised.

Helen Jensen said she appreciated the focus of the workshop on the integrated, holistic nature of the entire food system, which provides a framework for considering interactions, understanding and anticipating change, acknowledging trade-offs, and identifying where there is a need for new data and technology. She also noted that many innovations were taking place in and being funded by the private sector, and stated that she sees opportunities for additional public funding and infrastructure. She also pointed to the importance of scale, observing that challenges and trade-offs differ depending on whether an initiative is operating on a small or a large scale.

Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
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Roni Neff highlighted the contrast between the urgency of the issues and the time and money required to implement appropriate interventions. She suggested that the data, tools, and funding needed to accomplish goals may not be readily available. She also stressed the importance of understanding and learning from the past, including how past ideas and initiatives can be expanded, customized, or modernized in coordination with new ideas and technology.

Jean Halloran stated that she liked the idea of social innovations and innovations focused on sustainability in addition to those involving technology and driven by economic purposes. Fukagawa agreed, and said she also appreciated the acknowledgment of the importance of prevention in the food system, similar the recognition of its importance in the health care system. She also highlighted the emphasis on transgenerational and transdisciplinary interactions focused on improving people’s well-being and food access and on engaging those targeted by interventions and reaching within communities.

AUDIENCE DISCUSSION

To close the workshop, Jennifer Otten asked audience members to share their takeaways as well. Considering the systems perspective, one audience member asked whether if food waste were reduced and food access increased, production would decline as well to correspond with lower demand. Neff responded that an alternative to reduced production could be increased exports, but considering the whole system, there could also be other unforeseen consequences. Other speakers emphasized the importance of reducing food waste, echoing Steven Finn’s comments in an earlier session about the importance of prevention. The point was made that people are more willing to discard food the less effort they put into maintaining it. Another speaker noted the importance of involving diverse voices in developing solutions within the food system to ensure that it works well for all people.

Another audience member who works on packaging solutions to reduce food waste expressed the realization that packaging solutions could also be used to improve food access for different populations and communities. Returning to the question raised earlier, this audience member also suggested that if there is increasing success at reducing food waste and improving food access, it will indeed be necessary to produce less food. Panelists and audience members were asked for their thoughts on the implications for the supply chain:

  • Neff responded that there have been limited systems-level analyses to model the potential impacts, but more work needs to be done. Key questions still exist, she said, such as what the implications are for exports, whether production would decrease or more food be exported, and how the implications vary across types of foods.
Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
×
  • Eric Decker, University of Massachusetts Food Science, argued that the food industry does not want to reduce food waste because it makes money if food is wasted and more must be purchased.
  • Jensen added that agriculture is a dynamic system that is subject to weather and other disruptions. She suggested it is important for the food system to do a better job at storing or processing excesses when they occur.
  • Vivica Kraak, Virginia Tech, argued that when using a systems approach, there is a need to “change the rules of the game” and incorporate more policy. She suggested that innovation may involve redefining the problem so policies can successfully be brought forward as potential solutions.
  • Kristi Reimers, Conagra Brands, expressed surprise that there had not been more discussion about the importance of food processing in keeping meat and produce fresh and safe long term. She noted that while ultraprocessed foods have negative connotation, the processing is often necessary to preserve their freshness and safety. She suggested that when there is an excess of tomatoes, for example, an option could be to establish a culinary program to freeze and can them. Khoo agreed that there are important innovations taking place in food processing. She added that processing is important not only for preventing food waste, but also for preserving the nutrient content of foods.
  • Finn pointed out that while there is growing momentum on reducing food waste, it still is not a mainstream issue. He believes more education in schools regarding proper valuation of food is needed, as is broader culture change. He also emphasized the need to act with urgency, as numerous high-level reports are pointing to the severity of the environmental harm caused by the global food system. He expressed concern that the ease of obtaining food in U.S. society makes it easier for people to waste it, and also pointed out that a cultural shift to reduce food waste would advance progress toward multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

Following this discussion of food waste, Kate Clancy pointed to the problem of using the dichotomous language of small versus large farms and businesses. She suggested that size could better be described using a continuum, as there are also medium-sized entities that function quite differently from small or large farms.

In closing, two audience members highlighted the importance of including more diverse participation in future workshops, as a way of allowing for better identification of solutions that work in communities facing a variety of disparities.

Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
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Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
×
Page 89
Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
×
Page 90
Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
×
Page 91
Suggested Citation:"10 Closing Discussion: The Evolution and Revolution of Food Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Innovations in the Food System: Exploring the Future of Food: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25523.
×
Page 92
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On August 7–8, 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a public workshop in Washington, DC, to review the status of current and emerging knowledge about innovations for modern food systems and strategies for meeting future needs. The workshop addressed different perspectives on the topic of food systems and would build on a workshop on the topic of sustainable diets hosted by the Food Forum in August 2018. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.

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