23 July 2020

If we want a healthier planet, remember we are what we eat

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Ainslie Ballinger / anslie@nwkcom.co.nz

The call for a reorientation of New Zealand’s food system that incorporates a beefing (or ‘lentil-ing’) up of action on sustainability is growing. However, as the call needs to be answered within the context of an under-pressure economy, this may take a number of baby steps rather than a giant leap. Therefore we need to engage the public, stakeholders and media on the story of transformation, not just the end goal. 

It’s now over a year since the publication of Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems. Introducing the term ‘syndemic’ – a new one even to those close to the food world – the report was picked up by media and catapulted the concept of the interdependent relationship between what we eat and climate change into the mainstream. 

Debate and dialogue around the theme has continued ever since, progressing to focus on how COVID-19 has exposed the strengths and failings of our food systems and health inequities. Reorienting the way we live through our food choices, within the framework of our post-COVID economic recovery package, can now have a profound influence over the health of both our people and our planet.  

Discussion around food and sustainability is no longer contained to the science and health worlds. Consumers and communities are interested, businesses are engaging, governments are talking. All of this means that the media, and social media, are on to it too. 

So if we are looking through the lens of wanting to make lemonade from lemons, there will now be more opportunities for businesses and brands to reveal or amplify their voice; to tell their stories of how they are transforming to put the health of our nation – our economy, environment and people – at the heart of what they do.  

But – of course, there’s a but – the heightened media and social media interest has taken away the safety net from beneath the reputational tightrope that must be walked. Accusations around lack of transparency and authenticity are on the up from consumers and media ready to devour any corporate mis-steps.

Post COVID, it will not be enough for a company to make the shallow assertion that it is “supporting the recovery of New Zealand.” Consumers want, need more – so such claims will need to be? nuanced with information on how it is also contributing to protecting our health and our environment.  

The ongoing conversation provides a chance for the food sector to carve out opportunities for market leadership on transformational change around sustainability. Yes, it’s important to communicate the end vision, but it’s fast becoming necessary to engage consumers in the journey we’re taking to get there.