Reflections on Stockholm EAT Forum

Foresight4Food at EAT Forum

The EAT Forum is undoubtedly an event with a difference. I certainly came away inspired, armed with a big pile of business cards from great side discussions that generated a feast of ideas for follow up.

The diversity of 1000 delegates who descended on Stockholm was fabulous, chefs, community activists, philanthropists, numerous businesses from large to small, start-up entrepreneurs, scientists, policy makers, NGO leaders, and staff from international agencies representing 80 different countries. Just the sort of mix you need to think more systemically about food – from farm to fork.

So where did it all land and what are the key takeaways? For me what came through was a powerful combination of crisis and hope. Presenter after presenter put the facts on the table about the dire state of our food systems in terms of poor nutrition, climate impacts, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and collapsing ocean ecosystems. At the same time everybody in the room had an inspiring story to tell of how they were working to make a difference.

This year the scene setting for the Forum was the launch earlier in the year of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report. This was a first attempt to put an integrated scientific analysis behind what the world, overall, should be eating for health and to stay with a safe operating space of planetary boundaries – “the healthy eating plate”. It has created huge media attention and really got people thinking – and talking!  Of course such a bold initiative has also generated a deal of criticism and misunderstanding (see here for an example of reporting on WHO links and here the Commission’s response). Clarity in underlying assumptions is critical, see here for example, a discussion about livestock sector impacts on climate and environment. At the Forum the authors were at pains to make clear the health eating plate this is not prescription for everyone and adaption to local circumstances and individual needs is essential. Certainly, the report has laid out a critical scientific benchmark against which ongoing discussions about what we should be eating can be had.

And yes, we were served meals that followed the EAT-Lancet principles – the food was great!

How do you get people to change what they eat? One takeaway from the forum was that pounding people with messages about what they should be eating – for the health and to care for the planet – is probably the wrong route. Instead, we need to focus on making sure healthy and sustainable food is really tasty, affordable and convenient – this is what needs to be marketed. It was great to hear how many chefs are now creating a whole new world of recipes that illustrate just how good “healthy eating plate” inspired food can taste.

I had a great a discussion in the Food Systems Dialogue session. We got stuck into the question of incentives for change and how to get a better regime of tax and subsidies that can internalise the massive environmental and health cost externalities of current food systems. An idea – for some pilot countries develop an example of what an economic transition to sustainable food systems might look like by redesigning taxes and subsidies and tackling trade-offs.

The theme of the true cost of food was picked up by Jeremy Oppenheim in presenting work of the Food and Land Use Coalition. Bottom line, based on preliminary assessments, from an estimated USD 8-10 billion food sector, taking account of the true costs of food related to disease, poor nutrition, climate, environment and poverty, we end up being out of pocket by USD 2.5 billion. Any business would be quickly broke!

Foresight4Food hosted two side events. One on futures thinking for food systems transformation (Click here for a background document, click here for a presentation on foresight and food systems change, and here for a presentation on food systems terminology) and the other on starting an initiative on the possible impacts of large-scale adoption of novel food sources – seaweed, algae, insects, cultured meat etc. (click here for an introduction to food systems thinking, and here for a presentation on the disruptive implications of technology). Much interest from both sessions so a good deal of follow-up now on the agenda for Foresight4Food.

There was great representation from around the world, however, it was also acknowledged that the EAT Forum can do more to connect with the realities of food issues in the developing South.

The importance of a food systems approach for tackling many of the Sustainable Development Goals has gained huge traction. A next step needs to be getting stuck into developing national level food system transition strategies that can break down the traditional silo-ed sectoral approach to policy formulation. This will require the sort of in-depth foresight and scenario processes that Foresight4Food seeks to encourage and support.

Blog by Jim Woodhill – Foresight4Food Initiative Lead