Europe is currently experiencing record heat, with July receiving the unfortunate accolade of hottest month recorded worldwide. This trend extends beyond Europe, with 2023 predicted to be the hottest year recorded on Earth (Cordis, 2023), with potentially drastic implications for the global food system (Guardian, 2023). The food system - from production to distribution to waste management- both contributes to and is a victim of climate change (Mirzabaev et. al, 2023). On the one hand, up to 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide can be attributed to the food system. At the same time, the resulting high temperatures can negatively impact farm worker health, reduce harvests, and ultimately decrease food availability while increasing prices. In this scenario, nobody wins.
Enter FEAST, a Horizon Europe project partnering directly with 12 communities across Europe to dream up and implement locally relevant strategies for increasing the sustainability of the food system-yielding benefits for both environmental and human health.
In its first year, the project laid the groundwork for a more equitable, sustainable, and nutritious food system by partnering with schools, kindergartens, senior residencies, and local governments, impacting over 14 million people. Each city involved in FEAST is in the process of developing a locally relevant food systems intervention adapted to their unique contexts and local priorities.
In Milan, Italy, the question at the top of everyone’s minds is food waste. In May 2023, the city of Milan hosted a hackathon focused on reducing food waste. Beyond FEAST, the city has an established commitment to a more just and sustainable food system as evidenced by the Milan Urban Food Pact Policy. Their work reduces food waste within the city and efficiently re-distributes food surpluses to residents in a vulnerable feeding situation (Milan Food Waste Hubs). This approach is inspiring food advocates around the world.
But not only food waste is an issue for our cities. In FEAST, accessibility, availability, and provision play a crucial role: many cities are working to re-shape their public procurement systems for kindergartens, senior homes and schools. Changing procurement criteria shifts the product demand landscape and can lead towards a sustainable transition of the local food market.
In the Tuscany region of Italy, the re-implementation of traditional crops into school menus fosters the consumption of and knowledge around Co2-efficient products. In Alto Minho, Portugal and Prilep, North Macedonia, the direct connection between local farmers and public canteens enables strong working relationships and short transport routes.
Guldborgsund, Denmark treats the education of children as a vital part of public meals – since raising awareness in children naturally influences the opinions of the society that surrounds them. Gent is focusing on vulnerable groups who don´t make use of public canteens, connecting low-income residents with solidary systems, such as “Community Supported Agricultures” or purchasing communities-a new economic model for the region.
While each of these food systems interventions differ in approach, they all have three things in common: they foster nature connectedness, positively impact health, and provide cooler outdoor spaces. This is especially important for the young and elderly communities with which FEAST cities work: marginalised groups such as seniors and children are especially sensitive to heat (Ebi et. al, 2021), and can expect to be disproportionately affected by the temperature increases caused by climate change and are at the same time highly affected by increasing prices for healthy diets
As FEAST starts its second year, food insecurity and health inequalities will take priority. The global relevance of these topics is made starkly apparent by the continued impact of the Ukraine War and the cost of living crisis on food supplies and food prices. Vulnerable people are hit especially hard. You can expect FEAST so spend the next year delving into how the food environments in Belgium, Ireland and Portugal help or hinder the transition to healthier and more sustainable diets. This work will set the stage for interventions in the Living Labs. FEAST will also update the public on barriers and facilitators in Europe to eating healthier and more sustainable diets, pending the analysis of data collected by one of the largest scale European nutritional surveys ever conducted. The results of this work will directly feed into the solutions we continue co-designing and co-implementing with people and municipalities across Europe, and will support the achievement of targets outlined in the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Climate change, food insecurity and health inequalities are systems issue and requires systems solutions (Graham-Leigh, 2021). FEAST is working for system change by working to shift how food is produced and what people eat to ensure everyone in Europe has an opportunity to eat healthier and more sustainable food. Visit FEAST to learn more about how re-imaginfeasting the food system can yield climate and health benefits for your community.
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Name: Dr. Anant Jani
FEAST (Horizon Europe Project 101060536) is funded by the European Union under HORIZON-CL6-2021-FARM2FORK-01-15. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
About Horizon Europe
Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of €95.5 billion. It tackles climate change, helps to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and boosts the EU’s competitiveness and growth. The programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges. It supports creating and better dispersing of excellent knowledge and technologies. It creates jobs, fully engages the EU’s talent pool, boosts economic growth, promotes industrial competitiveness and optimises investment impact within a strengthened European Research Area. Legal entities from the EU and associated countries can participate. For more information about Horizon Europe please visit: https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/funding/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes-and-open-calls/horizon-europe_en