On September 23, UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened the first-ever United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). Over 51,000 people tuned in from 193 countries to tackle global hunger, climate change, and sustainability challenges in order to advance food systems transformation. It made for a truly historic event with unprecedented commitment and attention towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Here at Eat Well Global, we were inspired by the sheer volume of participating countries, organizations and stakeholders from around the globe. Upon reflecting on the impact of such a momentous event for global food system transformation, we had the great privilege of connecting with two nutrition leaders to hear their thoughts. Here's what Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball, founder of Conscious Impact and executive with over 25 years’ experience in the global nutrition space, and Barbara Bray, food safety expert and nutrition strategist for the food industry, had to say.
What were your key takeaways from the UNFSS?
Alyson: There are many important themes, action track areas and ideas or commitments against these, rightly so given this is about complex systemic change. I was particularly struck by the power of youth and the energy, passion, creativity and demands they put on the table, especially around the action areas of “enabling all people to be well-nourished” and “boosting nature-based solutions of production”. No longer will they sit back and allow others to damage our precious resources or not to provide nutritious foods, available and equitable for all, their future is dependent on our actions each and every day.
Barbara: The increasing global food insecurity and recognition of how far we are from achieving zero hunger has been well documented since the pandemic. The UNFSS reminded us of the importance of taking action to prevent a worsening of the situation. The causes of food insecurity and poor nutrition are complex and the greatest threats are not availability but poverty, conflict and restricted access to adequate food caused by a range of factors. Innovation, access to finance, empowerment of women and young people, and greater resilience of the food system are needed in order to reduce the pressure on food affordability.
In your opinion, did the Summit manage to address key issues within the nutrition community?
Alyson: I am nearly 30 years into my career and I have never witnessed such an inclusive, progressive, and frankly critical dialogue. We can no longer sit in “nutrition silos;” we must understand the role food plays not only to nourish and function physically, but also in protecting our precious planetary resources and livelihoods. The critical issues across nutrition, including how we solve for malnutrition, have been clearly illuminated and potential solutions and pathways identified. I am very hopeful that we will have a brighter future if we maintain the focus and momentum from the Summit.
Was there anything from the Summit that surprised you?
Barbara: In the months leading up to the UNFSS it became clear that there was an increasing level of criticism of the Summit. In addition to the protests that the CFS (Committee for Food Security) had been sidelined, campaigners talked of a corporate take-over of food systems and a group of over 300 scientists, academics and others boycotted the Summit saying that it was driving the transformation of food systems in the wrong direction. What should have been a good opportunity for organisations to work together became an arena to draw lines of division.
What would you like to see as next steps for the nutrition community following the UNFSS?
Alyson: To continue to partner with others from across the food system, to respect and understand the interconnectedness of food both for people and planet. Solutions and impact being driven by collective and inclusive efforts across the private sector, member states, governments, multilateral organisations, and foundations. And, to celebrate food for its rightful place in our lives to celebrate, nourish, share, and connect.
Barbara: The causes of food insecurity are complex and require a multi-disciplinary response. The nutrition community can engage with CFS and attend the virtual conference starting on October 11, 2021. It is the ideal forum to learn about the challenges and see how different organisations can work together to coordinate a response to the food and climate crisis that we are facing.
The first-ever UNFSS was definitely one for the history books! With over 230 commitments to action submitted to date, here at Eat Well Global we are excited to follow the systemic shifts that are needed to create safer and more equitable food systems worldwide.
We will be closely monitoring follow-up discussions and actions in the months and years to come - and of course, we'll be reporting back through our Sustainable Digest newsletter. Sign up here to ensure you don't miss a beat, through a monthly e-blast of all-things sustainable diets. And, keep in touch with our featured experts Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball via LinkedIn and Barbara Bray via LinkedIn and Twitter.
What did you think of the UNFSS? Let us know by tagging @EatWellGlobal on Twitter.
About the Author
Kristen is a Nutrition Communication Intern at Eat Well Global. Also a graduate student, Kristen is pursuing her MS-Nutrition and MPH degrees with concentrations in food policy and health communications from Tufts University in Boston.