Food Leaders Call for System Redesign at Ellen Macarthur Foundation Event

  • Leaders from across the food system came together for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural Big Food Workshop to explore the vision of a circular economy for food
  • The three-day event featured sessions on how food has shaped the development of urban areas and how cities are rethinking their food systems post Covid-19; Chefs, culinary creativity and menu design; How tomorrow’s food will be grown; Innovation and collaboration within the food value network; and Returning nutrients to the land
  • Speakers included chefs Dan Barber, Alex Atala, Kim Wejendorp, and Mokgadi Itsweng, food author Carolyn Steel, Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust, and Amy Keister of Compass Group

Chefs, academics, agriculture experts, city representatives, and industry leaders gathered together virtually this week (June 15, 16 and 17th) for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Big Food Workshop, a three-day online event focussed on how to build a resilient food system fit for the future.

More than 25,000 people around the world watched sessions exploring the vision of a circular economy for food, the benefits it can bring to the economy, environment, and society; and how it can help cities and businesses build back better following the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was intense focus on issues of supply chain resilience and food security, and how technology can help communities reconnect with the sources of their food. There were also calls for a rethinking of cities’ relationship with the land they depend on, in order to create a shift across the entire food system.

The event was organised as part of the Foundation’s Food Initiative, which was launched in 2019 to work towards a circular economy for food. In a circular economy for food, products and supply chains are redesigned to regenerate nature, eliminate the concept of waste, and connect local production and consumption where appropriate.

Speakers included:

  • Dan Barber, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
  • Carolyn Steel, Author of Hungry City and Sitopia
  • Patrick Holden, Sustainable Food Trust
  • Alex Atala, D.O.M restaurant
  • Stephen Otieno, C40 Cities – Climate Leadership Group
  • Amy Keister, Compass Group North America
  • Dr. Shi Yan, Sharing Harvest
  • Gary Crawford, VP international affairs, Veolia
  • Gauthier Boels, director of circular economy, Yara

Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, called for the introduction of the polluter pays principle in farming and for a harmonised system to measure the impact of food across its entire lifecycle.

“I think there is unstoppable momentum for change that has been unleashed and strengthened by the Covid-19 crisis. We can see that our food systems are insecure and we need to relocalise them and I believe that our collective power as citizens and consumers of food has been mobilised right now to accelerate the change that we all want to happen. If we achieve that, we will create a system where farming in a circular and sustainable way pays, and farming in a way that is damaging to the environment, and natural and human capital, does not,” he said.

Dan Barber, co-founder of the Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurants and author of the Third Plate, was among the chefs to highlight the power of food and menu design as a way of driving benefits for natural systems, while helping people to reconnect with food.

“Every chef in the world engages in food processing. We tend to keep the magic of that [process] enclosed in four walls. Moving forward, I would like to think that chefs are inspiring the kind of food processing that makes food taste better, that makes it more nutritious, and that adds value to farmers in ways that are incalculable and necessary,” he said.

Amy Keister, senior vice president of sustainability and retail solutions for Compass Group North America, was among the speakers to call for collaborations among food industry actors to raise awareness about the nutritional and environmental benefits of regenerative agriculture, and using flavour as an entry point to engage with chefs, consumers, and others.

Following the event Emma Chow, Food Initiative lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said:

“The message from the last three days has been clear, a circular economy for food is not a future aspiration, but very much something that is happening around the world now. More than ever, we face an urgent need to redesign food systems in ways that allow people, businesses and nature to thrive, while addressing global challenges such as climate change. Creating a circular economy for food can give us the tools to not only recover from the shocks of Covid-19, but to build back better.”

To watch any of the sessions, as well as discover other resources, please visit the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

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