Every meal you eat costs the Planet 10 kilos of topsoil. It also consumes 800 litres of fresh water, 1.8 litres of diesel fuel, half a gramme of pesticide and yields 3.5 kilos of climate-warming carbon dioxide.
Multiply those numbers by 10 billion humans (by the 2060s) each devouring 1000 meals a year, and you can soon see why today’s food system will not support peak human population in a hot, resource-depleted world where all biotic systems are under stress. It’s simply not sustainable.
Our present food system is still essentially that of the ancient Romans, with machinery and chemicals added. When their system failed, it brought down Roman civilization – a lesson we should ponder. Just because the supermarket shelves are full today is no guarantee they will be full tomorrow, especially as we begin to run out of water, soil, nutrients and the stable climate essential to growing crops.
Furthermore, two out of three people now die by their own hand – the one holding the fork. What’s killing us are the ‘lifestyle’, or noncommunicable, diseases, all of which are diet related: heart, cancer, diabetes, obesity, kidney, liver, depression etc. The latest medical science shows these are closely linked to the highly-processed, heavily-chemicalized industrial diet which most of humanity now consumes. The same one that is destroying the food resource base and driving the world’s wildlife to extinction.
These plain facts mean that the human diet must – and will – change. The world is on the brink of the most exciting, diverse and far-reaching food revolution in our history. Humanity presently consumers about 200-300 different plants as food. Yet there are over 30,000 edible plants on the Planet, many highly beneficial for a dietary standpoint. The extraordinary narrowness of the modern diet is the result of industrialisation.
The future of the global food supply is described in my forthcoming book Food or War (Cambridge University Press 2019). This describes a three-pillared global food system based on:
Regenerative agriculture or eco-agriculture, using minimal inputs of artificial, fertilisers and chemicals, and regenerating farming landscapes
Aquaculture (of plants as well as fish, and in the deep oceans as well as coastal)
Urban food systems, including hydroponics, aquaponics and biocultures, producing up to half of the world’s food from recycled water and nutrients in climate-proof systems.
This food system can not only feed humanity nutritiously and well on a sustainable basis, it will also:
Help end the 6th Extinction by re-wilding up to 25% of the Planet’s land area
Bring peace, by eliminating conflicts over scarcity of food, land and water.