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World Food Day Q3 2023

How to change the system — one food product at a time

Male Hands Pouring Crops in Sunlight
Male Hands Pouring Crops in Sunlight
iStock / Getty Images Plus / SeventyFour

Emma Elobeid

Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Our current, linear food system is not only fuelling climate change and driving biodiversity loss but increasingly feeling its twin impacts. Cause and effect can be seen through the microcosm of any kitchen.


The designed sameness of kitchen cabinets is matched by the homogeneity of their contents; in today’s food system, just four staple crops (corn, rice, potatoes and wheat) provide 60% of the world’s calories.

Flaws of our food system

Crumbs swept off surfaces represent the 39 million hectares of soil degraded fuelled by intensive agricultural practices each year. Every overripe banana or leftover lunch thrown away forms a mere fraction of the six rubbish trucks of edible food wasted every second.

Meanwhile, many everyday food products are under threat because of this system — from flooded fields of grain to broccoli bolting under extreme weather conditions. Across the world, farmers and food producers are increasingly struggling to secure productivity in these volatile conditions, impacting their ability to derive long-term profitability from the current linear system.

Businesses and retailers have the power to change the story of food and the fate of our future as a species.

Industries can change our story

Imagine if, instead of being stuck in this villain/victim loop, our food system could actively do something about these interconnected challenges. What if food could help tackle climate change? What if it could build biodiversity?

Businesses and retailers have the power to change the story of food — and the fate of our future as a species — by comprehensively applying the principles of circular design to what is eaten, which drives the ingredients that are grown and how they are produced.

Where sustainability can start

Farm-level biodiversity can be boosted by swapping miles of monocrops for a more diverse mix of crops and livestock. Designing products that eliminate waste — by using every possible part of a plant and prioritising upcycled ingredients — will help reduce the amount of land needed to provide us all with food.

Sourcing regeneratively produced ingredients can also help farmers and communities adapt to climate change on the ground by stabilising soil structures, increasing landscape resilience and safeguarding yields against extreme weather events. By pioneering these products, brands and retailers can be the change we need to see.

Find out how businesses and innovators across the food system can help design a better future today with The Big Food Redesign Challenge.

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