Food equity & climate justice: Why it's our problem
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
Achieving food equity is one of the biggest challenges facing society.
Some of our family, friends, and fellow humans will be disproportionately affected as the climate changes. What we eat and how we produce food now is exacerbating global warming.
The reality is: what we eat now affects the availability of food and the health of our planet in the future. And some of us will be worse off than others.
Food systems and climate change are inextricably linked. Our global food systems create 25-42% of human-made greenhouse gases. This makes food a significant contributor to climate change, and in turn, threatens the availability of food in the future.
It's a complex and multi-faceted issue. And with difficult problems, it's easy to think these are problems for tomorrow; for somewhere else; or for another person to deal with.
But that's not what Floop's about. We want to tackle the big challenges, head-on, for a more sustainable, equitable, and long-lived future. And the fact that you're here, reading this, means you probably want to step up to the plate with us.
Let me take you to rural Lincolnshire.
My co-founder, Blaze, and I grew up in Lincolnshire. We'll forgive you if you don't know where it is; it lays sleepily along the east coast of England. I always used to explain "there's nothing there!" when describing where I'm from.
But actually, this couldn't be more untrue.
Sure, there's no bustling metropolis (nor motorway). But it's referred to as the "allotment of the UK" for a reason. Around 30% of the nation's vegetables are grown there and 12% of the UK's total produce. And, of course, it's home to the Lincolnshire sausage.
This makes Lincolnshire a really important place to feed us Brits. And had I known that growing up, maybe I'd have paid more interest to the cabbage fields around my house.
The fact is though: education about our food is poor across the UK, even if you grew up next to farms. Even less well known is the amount of resources needed to grow and rear food, and the impact they have on our climate.
That's why we created Floop. We want to fill that knowledge gap and be empowered to make more sustainable food choices.
Lowlands and climate change
One thing I did know about Lincolnshire, growing up, was how low-lying it is.
Most of us now know that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and causing glaciers to melt. If glacial melting causes a sea-level rise of just 2 metres, it will put my hometown underwater. And that is exactly what's predicted to happen. Models show large swathes of Lincolnshire county will fall below annual flood levels by 2050, along with major cities like New York, Bangkok, Amsterdam, Kolkata, Venice, and even parts of London. These areas will become prone to flooding from local coastal floods at least once per year. It's one huge question to ask where all the people who live there will go. But what happens to all that food we grow around those regions, too?
Food inequity rises with sea levels
Land that's underwater isn't particularly useful for growing crops (for now, anyway). But there's a secondary problem. After the floodwater subsides, the soil below has been degraded by salt. Salination significantly reduces the nutritional quality and quantity of crops grown on that soil long after the flood. Even if sea levels don't rise as predicted, we're already experiencing changing weather as a result of climate change. Increased rainfall and hotter summers put stress on crop production and reduce yields, too.
But if our arable land suffers, can't we move livestock production to these areas instead? It's not that simple. We'll still need to grow crops to feed the livestock and that increases the demand on smaller areas of land. All this, quite simply, means that there will be less food to go around. Food prices across the UK will rise. And the poorest, most disadvantaged in society will face the biggest impact.
The climate cost of hunger
Even before the economic uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 700,000 households in the UK needed to use a food bank, and 8.4 million Brits struggled to afford to eat.
As food costs increase from lower yields caused by climate change, more people will go hungry and struggle to access nutritionally adequate food. The issue becomes even more complex as we consider peoples' backgrounds or needs. For example, we know that Black and Chinese households are most likely to have the lowest incomes, and therefore, are most likely to be unable to afford the food needed. We know people living with a disability or a health issue are more likely to use food banks and that long-term hunger can create and aggravate chronic diseases.
Some of us - and our family, friends, and neighbours - will be disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change on food. This is climate injustice.
If we look beyond the UK, we know that changing weather patterns will affect countries in different ways. As a general rule, developing countries will be the hardest hit and many of these countries already face significant food insecurity.
Nowhere is this more true than in South Asia, where climate change will reduce the availability of important crops, like rice, corn, and wheat. Climate change will reduce access to food for some of the poorest communities in the world.
"How can I fight for climate justice?"
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by such complex issues. But we believe in the power of small steps, together.
By reading this article, you've become more aware of some of the issues surrounding access to food as the climate changes. Educating yourself is a fantastic place to start; we're constantly striving for a better understanding too. The next step is to consider your personal habits. Ask yourself: what small changes can I make that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
If you're already recycling, making the most of public transport, and wearing an extra jumper instead of turning the heating up, then maybe it's time to challenge your food habits.
WWF suggests we need to reduce our personal, dietary carbon footprint by over 20% by 2030. We already have some tips to reduce your carbon footprint with food. Very soon you'll be able to track the climate impact of your meals with the Floop app, too.
Our global food systems account for one-third of our climate impact. So, if you can, choose to buy your food from local, seasonal or sustainable producers, who use minimal and recyclable packaging. This is a great way to influence even more brands to develop sustainable practices too. We'll be connecting you with even more sustainable food and drink brands in the Floop app as well.
Finally, don't forget the role of government. Local and central governments set policies that incentivise farmers, businesses, and individuals to become more sustainable. They can also put systems in place to support the most disadvantaged in society and protect people from the impact of climate change.
You could join a petition for a climate cause; start a campaign for climate justice or sustainable food systems; or when the time's right, vote for climate-friendly and socially equitable policies.
How will you step up to the plate to support climate justice and food equity? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Gould, Iain J., et al. “The impact of coastal flooding on agriculture: A case‐study of Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.” Land Degradation & Development, vol. 31, no. 12, 2020, pp. 1545-1559. Wiley Online
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