Nutrition, Health and Food Security
It is argued that “the fundamental purpose of our food supply is to provide safe and nutritious food” and that the goal of a sustainable food system is to “produce and consume food in a way that supports the well-being of generations” (Baldwin, 2015, p.2 and 8); however, our current food system threatens to undermine this.
It is estimated that there are 795 million people in the world at threat from starvation (World Hunger, 2016). Even in the UK an estimated half a million people are reliant on food banks, with 4.7 million people living in food poverty (Purdam et al., 2016, p.1073). Yet there are almost as many obese (600 million) as there are starving, and another 2 billion overweight (WHO, 2016). This is down to increasing amounts of sugar and fat in our diet from processed, fast food and consumer tastes, including red meat in the developed and developing world (O’Kane, 2012, p.270).
There is strong evidence since the 1980s that link high intakes of red meat with increased rates of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, there is evidence that moderate quantities of lean red meat play an important role in a healthy diet due to the essential minerals and vitamins present. Earlier studies are criticised for their lack of evidence on the causality between red meat intake and chronic diseases (Williamson et al., 2005, p.323 and Wyness et al., 2011, p.71). Concern has shifted onto other aspects of red meat, such as the environmental impact of livestock discussed earlier, and the rise in antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic use in livestock accounts for 70% of all antibiotic use in the US, driven by the requirement to protect animals from infection in the cramped, unsanitary conditions found in large animal production facilities (Forini et al., 2005, p.1). This feature of our food system means “urban dwellers have become physically and socially separated from farmers and disconnected from nature, with little knowledge of the way that food is produced”, which has weakened “personal relationships between farmers, and between farmers and food processors and retailers, because of its competitive nature” (O’Kane, 2012, p.270). Local food and Short Food Supply Chains represent mechanisms that increase the social sustainability of our food system.