The Link between Food Security and Sustainability

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Today's food system is complex and global. Plantations in India or Brazil grow bananas that are then transported by ship to distributors across the world, eventually landing on your kitchen counter. And Australia is the world's largest exporter of chickpeas—a country whose exports typically have a long way to go.

When you consider the distance your food travels from where it was grown, sustainability also comes into play. These topics are increasingly intertwined. Dig in to learn more about this relationship and how advances in food security and sustainability can build a healthier future.

What Is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a general term that describes how we consider the Earth's long-term health. This discussion is often broken down into how our collective actions affect environmental, social, and economic issues (sometimes called "planet, people, and profit," or the three Ps). According to these models, the goal is to balance each facet with the others.

In other words: We want clean water, unpolluted soil, fresh air, and a thriving ecosystem of plants and animals. We want people to live in healthy communities with plenty of opportunities and resources. However, we don't want either of these at an outrageous financial burden to people or businesses. When the three pillars of sustainability work together, making choices that minimize harm to the environment and its people makes economic sense, too.

a person chops carrots, ginger, and potatoes (or tofu) on a wodden cutting board

What Is Food Security?

Food security is the ability to buy and procure healthy food. So, food insecurity may mean that a person or family can't afford food or that they can't easily access food sources—such as a grocery store or farmers' market—due to lack of transportation. Nutritional value is another food security consideration. Maybe there's a quick-stop grocery store within biking distance, but it doesn't stock fresh (or even frozen) produce.

Finally, the supply chain also affects food security. Growing and producing the appropriate amount of food to meet consumer demands and trading or distributing it before it spoils can be challenging. In some regions, it's more difficult to get food to the right places at the right time.

How Are Food Security and Sustainability Related?

Climate change is affecting how food is grown, transported, and even eaten. The global food system is under pressure from stressors indirectly related to climate change, such as population, income growth, and increased demand for animal-based products. Changing weather patterns due to climate change also stress the food system, such as drought, flooding, and heat waves. These issues further contribute to food insecurity in already vulnerable areas.

According to The World Bank, roughly 80 percent of the global population at highest risk of crop failure and hunger due to climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Farming families are disproportionately poor and vulnerable in these areas. In some of these regions, people also face increased conflict and have poor access to education—especially women. These are just some of the reasons climate change (and, sometimes, food insecurity) affects certain communities and demographics more than others.

Creating a More Sustainable, Food-Secure Future

Together, we can make a difference and be a force for good by promoting advances in food security and sustainability.

On an individual level, you can support local farmers' markets, growers, and grocery stores. You can volunteer at and donate to food banks in your community to improve food insecurity where you live. You can be mindful of where your food is produced and support growers and producers within driving distance of your home—instead of across the world. This may mean eating seasonally, which decreases demand for foods that must be transported far distances. Eating less meat also can help reduce greenhouse gases and the overall impacts of climate change.

a monarch butterfly rests on the hand of a woman with a braid and a floral dress

On a global level, you can support nonprofits and programs that work in areas experiencing famine and crop failure, as well as conflict and low education levels. You may not be able to improve global food security directly, but rest assured every step you take toward a more sustainable future is a step in the right direction.

Image Source: Unsplash| Unsplash | Unsplash

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Why It's Good

Eating locally supports global food system health.