Food insecurity: an appetite for change

On International Youth Day, Facebook guest blogger Naomi Gammon discusses the role of young people in reshaping unhealthy patterns of food consumption.

Naomi Gammon's picture
Insight by 
Naomi Gammon
Naomi Gammon is a prospective Geography student at Cambridge University
12 August 2020
Man picking up fruits from a tree

Climate change and COVID-19 have had a huge negative impact on agriculture and food systems. Now more than ever, it is essential that young people are engaged in reducing food waste and ensuring food security for everyone (Photo: Cecilia Schubert via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0)

IIED’s Facebook page regularly invites our followers – particularly our younger audience – to blog about their opinions and experiences. This month’s blog marks International Youth Day when the world celebrates the qualities of young people and recognises the challenges they face. It’s a moment to bring these issues and challenges to the attention of the world. We asked our Facebook followers what they see as the biggest issues facing young people today. If there were one issue they would like international leaders to recognise, what would that be? Here, geography student Naomi Gammon sets out the crucial role of young people in changing our destructive relationship with food.
Regardless of age, gender or country of origin, we all need food to survive. Yet, globally, 820 million people are going hungry.

In the face of a rapidly changing climate, it is vital that young people are engaged in reducing food waste and creating a system in which food is distributed more equally.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a person who is food insecure “[lacks] regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.”

Perhaps this definition connotes the harrowing 1984 image of Birhan Woldu, the young ‘face of Live Aid’, or the more recent appeals for aid in Yemen, where two million children are malnourished. Live Aid has been labelled by some as misguided and even patronising. But its sentiment echoes strongly today: we must do more to “feed the world”.

According to UNICEF, across the globe, at least 15% of families including under-15s do not have enough money to buy food. The consequences for young people are diverse and long-term, from reliance on initiatives such as food banks or ’Happy Fridges’ to a higher likelihood of chronic illnesses in later life.

With the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) – zero hunger by 2030 – way out of reach, apocalyptic sounding ‘food wars’ may become a reality in our lifetimes.

Yet FAO suggests we already produce enough food for 10 billion people… so why are people still starving, and how can we make food security universal?

Getting rid of food waste

Perhaps the first step is redistribution and reducing waste: shockingly, about 30% of food produced is never actually eaten  – and this figure has risen under COVID-19 with falling business demands and crumbling supply chains.

The impacts of food waste go beyond overflowing bins. Between 2010 and 2016, food waste generated 10% of human-made gas emissions. As 85% of waste in the US is created ’downstream’ by consumer-facing businesses and households, the power of young people in shaping future patterns of consumption – buying food sourced as locally as possible and in only the required quantities – has never been more important.

Beyond the individual level, world leaders must examine where in the food system waste occurs and how best to address it, both globally and in national contexts. For example, 40% of food in developing countries goes to waste before reaching markets due to poor infrastructure and refrigeration.

So we see how food distribution is shaped by wider economic development processes, of which projects funding sustainable energy and travel must play an important part.

Other steps towards food security may include shifting subsidies towards crops such as millet rather than maize (as IIED discusses in episode four of the Make Change Happen podcast), and promoting good farming practices. However, the removal of physical barriers to food security is dwarfed by the challenge of raising incomes so the poorest can afford to access food – the most sustainable way to achieve this remains a debate in itself.

No young person should grow up affected by food insecurity. As climate change has an increasing impact on agriculture, meeting SDG 2 will require creative responses from young people in all aspects of the global food system, from improvements in production efficiency to more sustainable consumption.

About the author

Naomi Gammon is a student at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary, UK with an offer to read Geography at Cambridge University from October.

Naomi Gammon's picture