Feb. 9, 2022
It’s been six years since food became a huge part of my life. I’ve always loved food, but once I entered the world of agriculture, I could never look at the contents of my refrigerator the same way again.
Where someone sees a bag of cherries, I see a complex system of people and machines optimized to deliver a beloved fruit to customers in the dead of winter. I can’t look at a head of lettuce on a grocery store shelf without checking to see if it was grown indoors in my area or shipped from thousands of miles away. I can’t look at a steak or glass of milk without wondering the same.
And while I may be more aware than the average person of the stress that the climate crisis, rising inflation and battered supply chains have put on our global food system, I'm starting to see everyday consumers now questioning if our current food system is sustainable. Those questions could not come at a better time.
As we begin 2022, I predict we’ll see more people than ever taking an interest in where their food comes from. Here are several reasons why.
1. Rising social pressure is driving conscious consumerism.
The first reason is simply inertia. The pandemic has had a striking effect on consumer behaviour. Numbers vary from one survey to the next, but all signs point toward people making more sustainable choices in all aspects of their lives. It’s no coincidence that industries like organic farming and agriculture technology have made gains as shoppers seek out choices that help the planet in its fight against climate change.
But there’s an overlooked angle here — social pressure. Indeed, studies have found people are up to 90% more likely to consider more sustainable options when social influence is involved. In 2022, the combination of pandemic-era consumerism and good old-fashioned peer pressure will have more people considering the journey from farm to table.
2. Food inflation has us shopping closer to home.
One of the big stories of the past year was inflation. We’re paying more for our food than ever, and most people haven’t seen their income rise to an equal level. That’s leading to difficult decisions at the grocery store.
Broken supply chains are one of the biggest culprits in food inflation. This is a complicated issue involving labor problems, a lack of shipping containers and a tangled web of cross-border logistics. There’s no easy solution, and experts predict supply chain issues aren’t going away anytime soon.
This year, consumers have a chance to change the system by seeking out options closer to home. For too long, the mitigating factor against buying local has been cost. Sprawling supply chains have historically done a good job of keeping costs low and supply steady. But those days are ending.
While inflation causes customers to pay more at the store, local agriculture technology allows farmers to grow food at a commercial scale close to home. Urban farming, vertical farming and similar movements are not new, but new technologies are enabling them to be more widely adopted, reducing land resources, water usage and the distance travelled from farm to table. The result? A system that stabilizes production, reduces environmental impact and fights against inflation.
3. Food waste will be reduced with shorter supply chains.
If you live anywhere in North America, you’ve likely experienced the struggle of making salad with store-bought produce. Often you’ll pick up produce on a Sunday only to have it go bad before dinner time on Monday. Other times it gets recalled before you get a chance to eat it.
Food waste is a tragic byproduct of the systems that have become part of our everyday lives. Fresh goods travel thousands of miles in trucks, trains, planes and boats at the mercy of shipping delays that cut into their brief shelf life.
The enormity of this problem is still being discovered. A recent UN report found that 931 million tons of food go to waste worldwide each year, with the majority coming from households. Understanding the connection between food waste, environmental harm and long supply chains is a must. As local food supply chains strengthen, people will have more opportunity and incentive to buy fresh produce closer to home, which lasts longer (and in my opinion, tastes better).
As we kick off this new year, I’m encouraged against all odds. As hard as the past two years have been, we’ve seen powerful changes to our food systems that needed upheaval. I may be focused on creating sustainable food systems by trade, but in 2022, I believe everyday people will also play a key role through the choices they make at the grocery store.