Food is a language that speaks to many people across different, countries, cultures, and environments – but it’s environmental impact may be hurting the planet, rather than helping us stay full.
Joan McGregor, Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University wanted to solve problems of food justice and food deserts through a conversation around the dinner table. Dinner 2040 seeks to explore the “future of food,” integrating sustainable practices into food production and distribution all while respecting health, culture and ecological integrity.
McGregor said the idea of Dinner 2040 came to be after she realized there was a lot of knowledge surrounding food sustainability and there were voices that needed to come together and share their problems and solutions.
“To solve food sustainability, we really needed to have a space to bring together all these expertise,” McGregor said.
In November 2016, the idea of Dinner 2040 came to life, when 90 people, ranging from experts to food bank workers to Arizona state representatives, came together at a local Phoenix farm to have the conversation about what the future of food would look like. Phoenix-area chefs created dishes using local ingredients to highlight the availability and healthiness of foods around them.
The diverse groups of people not only dined together, but shared their opinions, ideas and experiences surrounding food and the environment. Together they examined food challenges, envisioned the future and created timelines to prepare for the future.
“We wanted to have this event to bring everybody together,” McGregor said. “People haven’t really thought about food as a sustainability problem.”
Food is the problem that often goes ignored in the debates surrounding climate change and environmental justice.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from mostly agricultural practices, like livestock and cultivation of crops. Meaning, most that foods that end up at our dinner tables have somehow harmed the environment that we live in – simply by being made.
So if we’re producing such mass quantities of food, what about struggling access to these foods some communities face? The solution isn’t producing more food. McGregor said the food we already have isn’t getting to the people who need it, leaving them either in poverty having little to no healthy options to survive off of.
McGregor said food insecurity is often an issue people think about in third world countries; but food insecurity is happening in our own country – even in our own communities. Having regular access to food is something that many Americans, both adults and children, struggle with.
“We [Americans] spend less of our income on food proportionally than anyone else in the world,” McGregor said.
Meaning, Americans as a whole spend their money on cheaper, unhealthier food options while investing other parts of their income on materials and new technologies, according to McGregor. While fast food options expand in communities, grocery stores and farmer’s markets stay stagnant or disappear, leaving communities in food desserts – places in which there are little to no healthy food options for people.
“Big corporations are pushing a lot of what’s in the food system,” McGregor said. “A lot of this has only happened in the past 40-50 years.”
The issues surrounding food access in both rural and city communities inspired Dinner 2040, McGregor said. In addition to focusing on problems of food justice and access, McGregor wanted to do an envisioning exercise on what we ought to be eating in 25 years.
The end of the Dinner 2040 event brought diverse backgrounds together, opened community conversations on food systems, and allowed guests to observe where their community food systems might end up in a matter of two decades. McGregor hopes the future of Dinner 2040 will not only exist in Phoenix, but also in cities and towns across the country, who can create solutions in their respected communities.
“Food justice is a complex issue,” McGregor said. “We’re hoping other communities take on this. Get people together in your community.”
Take a look at this video to see footage from Dinner 2040.