What could our food system look like in 2050?

Animation by Zedem Media.

Video transcript

Food is an essential part of our everyday lives – it’s vital for our health and survival. But food is so much more than just what’s on our plates.

It is a way for us to connect with our family and friends, and a bridge between different people and cultures.

But despite its overwhelming importance, many of us don’t realize that our food is under threat.

The natural systems that we rely on to grow our food, are beginning to buckle under the pressure of our increasing demands, unsustainable practices, and climate change, whilst allowing 1 in 9 of us to go hungry every day.

Fortunately, the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past prove that we are capable of rapidly transforming our food system when we work together.

To picture what the UK food system could look like in 2050 if we transformed it to meet global challenges, let’s explore four potential scenarios, each with its own advantages, and pitfalls.

The first scenario describes a low emission future, in which domestic food production is boosted by the UK’s world-leading, ultra-efficient, low-carbon technology.
Food imports are reduced, making the UK less vulnerable to global food shocks and decreasing the impacts of the UK diet in other countries.
However, economic inequality has risen with the mechanization of food production- and manufacturing jobs. Rising food prices have decreased food choice, and nutritional deficiencies and food bank usage are commonplace.
The countryside is dominated by mega farms that produce food and energy, leaving little space for wildlife and recreation.

In the second scenario, the UK food system is characterized by the drive for sustainability and a local-production-for-local-consumption ethos.
The UK’s wealth and land have been redistributed amongst the population, giving rise to a new generation of farmers who have diversified food production and boosted biodiversity.
Local markets are at the heart of society, reviving the UK’s forgotten foods, seasonal eating, and creative ways to use food excess. Public policy is designed to make nutritious, climate-friendly food accessible to everyone.
The youth have developed strong food ethics, however, older generations remain nostalgic for the abundance of cheap, unsustainable foods they grew up with. This causes generational tension, particularly when the food system is disrupted by extreme weather in the UK.

The third scenario describes a food system that has been decarbonized by replacing agricultural land with plantation forests and renewable energy farms. The UK is largely dependent on food imports, with only a handful of large-scale commercial food producers remaining.
To protect the UK from global food shocks, supermarkets have shifted from just-in-time supply chains to maintaining huge stockpiles of long-life, fortified ready-meals. Fresh and whole foods are increasingly harder to come by.
Carbon pricing was central to achieving this food system, but lack of support for rural communities and the poorest in society has deepened inequality and mental health problems.

In the fourth and final scenario, global governance and trade arrangements determine which foods are grown in which parts of the world, to maximize yields and improve sustainability.
The UK’s primary export is red meat, with a world-class livestock system that emits minimal greenhouse gases, while supporting biodiversity and reforestation. However, it’s a luxury product, so the UK population eats mostly plant-based protein.
This shift has reduced diet-related diseases and created space for wildlife to flourish.
Technology has made the global food system low-carbon and fully transparent, and most food production and -supply chains are managed through co-operative structures.
Citizen assemblies now inform UK food system policy, but it‘s taken a long time to increase participation across society. This lag has allowed special interest groups to capture these platforms to sow doubt over the sustainability agenda.

These scenarios describe just four of the countless possible futures that we may face if we reshaped our food system to meet global challenges.
But they all have things in common, such as changing dietary habits, reducing food waste, and paying the true cost of food.
These changes may seem overwhelming, but business-as-usual is simply not sustainable.

In a world connected through food, transforming our food system means so much more than just our continued survival.
It’s a revolution to create a better world for all of us.
And just like the agricultural and industrial revolutions before it, this revolution is going to take collaboration, innovation, and the willingness, to change.

Our world, is in our hands.

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