This post has been a long time in the making. I’ve been gathering sources but I struggled to put it all together. It’s because, like so many issues, it’s messy: the issues are complex. I’m not an expert. There are so many things I am still learning. However, I do hope that this may be informative!
COVID-19 is exposing the cracks in our current food systems, which exploit people and the environment. I believe that it’s important to delve into this further to learn how we can help support people and the environment—in this time of COVID-19, and always.
Why and how to rethink our food systems
COVID-19 is exposing the cracks in our current food systems, which exploit people and the environment. Here are some of the ways in which COVID-19 and food are connected.
The people behind our food are at risk
Those who grow, process, and deliver our food are at an increased risk of COVID-19. Oftentimes they are categorized as “essential workers” but have unsafe working or living conditions. These include migrant farm workers and people working at meat processing plants (where there have been numerous outbreaks).
Many of these workers are low-income, and many are Black or other POC.
The trouble with food from afar
When we primarily rely on food shipped from afar, we see problems of distribution with crises such as COVID-19.
This is due in part to border closures or restrictions, transportation issues, and outbreaks abroad. One example: here in Canada, many crops rely on imported honeybees. A lack of pollinators can lead to a lack of food.
Food shortages ahead
- Food prices may rise, leading to many people going hungry.
- Food hoarding also causes strain on our food supply.
- Demand for food banks has increased, while food banks have struggled to stay open and donations have decreased.
- Globally, COVID-19 is estimated to cause widespread famine. The Director of the World Food Program claims that it will lead to “a hunger pandemic … a humanitarian and food catastrophe.” Once again, the poorest are at greatest risk.
Increased food waste
Reports are showing that due to the massive shifts in food systems, food waste is on the rise—even with so many people going hungry. This is because sectors like restaurants and hotels have far less business, leaving food to spoil. It’s also because of labour shortages and shutdowns due to outbreaks.
Why is this happening?
Everything is connected. Our food systems are inherently tied to inequality, racism, capitalism, and other structural systems. When we create systems that exploit people and the environment, we will see problems such as these.
These issues are complex. Some solutions include:
- Building local food systems: supporting local farmers and producers, as well as growing food ourselves, to increase our resilience and self-sufficiency.
- Community building in general: this can include things like helping our neighbours, planting community gardens, supporting food banks, and sharing with those in need.
- Fighting poverty and food insecurity at the root level: by making sure that there are no food deserts or apartheids, and tackling poverty through methods like a livable wage, universal basic income, health care, and social security.
- Anti-racism work: since race is intricately connected to the issues mentioned previously.
- Climate activism: to help prevent further food shortages, we must care for the environment.
COVID-19 can’t be viewed as a one-time event, or one that occurs in a vacuum. Its implications will be felt for a very long time, and it undoubtedly compounds other crises around the globe. Plus, more pandemics can and will occur in the future.
For all of these reasons, we need to see food security, human rights, and climate justice as the interlinked issues that they are.
We have the power to address these problems in a way that benefits people and the environment, and there is no time to waste.
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/02/meat-plant-workers-us-coronavirus-war; https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/cargill-covid19-outbreak