When I was in Cleveland, OH over the holidays, we took a tour of the city on a trolley. Of course one of the items that the driver pointed out was about the Cuyahoga River burning. Yes, in 1969 the river actually caught fire because of all the industrial pollution it had in it. Time magazine posted a picture of it on the cover and for years it was what the city became known for. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that story!
Fast forward to 2019 and the city of Cleveland now has a sustainability plan. Their plans include a robust and resilient local food economy, wind turbines on Lake Erie and miles and miles of bicycle trails. So yes, 2019 is the year of sustainability.
Let’s take a look at some of the common trends around food sustainability for this year:
- Food answers the questions; where did my food come from and how was it made? We will see more food transparency throughout the entire food cycle. We will see more local and organic stickers in the produce section and non-GMO project, humanely raised and rainforest alliance seals on food product labels.
- Organic goes mainstream: Organic sales have jumped almost 9% to more than $21 billion over the last year. The main purchasers of these foods are millennials and Hispanics. It makes sense that millennials would want to buy organic, because they are the sustainability generation and want to purchase foods in-line with their environmental beliefs.
- Compassion is in fashion: Faux meat snacks will be hot this year as millennials and Gen Z continue to choose foods that are humane to animals. Products will include Vegan jerky and pork-like rinds made from shiitake mushrooms and Yuca (root of the cassava plant).
- Straws suck: The backlash against plastic will continue. It is estimated that 500 million straws are used every day and often these straws end up in the ocean. The animals of the ocean ingest them and it can cause devastating effects like blocking an animal’s airways or ending up in our food supply.
- Upcycling: It involves transforming bi-products of food processing or food waste into new products. The difference between upcycling and recycling is that upcycling reuses waste without destroying it to form a new product whereas recycling breaks down the waste to form a new product. Examples of upcycling include turning fruit pulp into chips or beer grains into granola bars.
- Neuro-Nutrition is a new word on the scene. We will start learning more about the connection between what we eat (our gut) and how our brain functions. Kind of important stuff! Foods like walnuts, blueberries and b-vitamin rich foods like lentils will be on our brains this year “pun-intended”.
- Worldly and “Healthy” Breakfasts: We will expand our breakfast tastes to include more healthful foods from the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Examples include Shakshuka from Israel which consists of eggs or tofu sautéed in a sauce made of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions and spices like nutmeg served on bread. Or we will explore a variety of fruits like guava, dragon fruit or passionfruit from Latin America.
Here are some big reasons why students may want to become involved in the farm bill process:
#1. They believe that no child, regardless of their socio-economic status should go hungry.
The farm bill provides food to eligible low income individuals and families through a program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP replaced the old food stamp program.
Here’s how it benefits kids:
- The highest percentage of SNAP recipients are children.
- SNAP significantly decreases the amount of kids that go hungry. Children with full bellies generally can concentrate better at school, get better grades and have a better sense of well-being.
- These benefits generally increase consumption of healthier foods to help reduce the risk of present or future chronic diseases; such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
#2. They support local foods
Local foods allow youth to know exactly how their food is grown and where it comes from – in other words food transparency.
- They can visit farms and speak directly to the farmer.
- The farm bill helps local farmers reach more consumers.
- Local foods tend to be grown more sustainably and without harmful pesticides.
- Local foods sold at local farmers markets bring the community together in a meaningful way.
#3. They recognize that more people will select nutritious foods if they understand the benefits of choosing them.
- Recipients are currently receiving nutrition education on the benefits of foods that they are getting through the SNAP program.
- They receive support on how to cook these foods at home.
- They may teach recipients how to shop.
- Nutrition education on healthy foods encourages consumption, which in turn helps reduce the risk of disease.
#4. They believe that fresh fruits and vegetables should be subsidized first over other foods
- Fruits and vegetables in the farm bill are considered a “specialty” crop (whatever that means??) and are not subsidized. This is why they may not be affordable to low-income individuals and families.
- However, SNAP’s double up food bucks program does allow recipients to double the value of their SNAP benefits when they purchase fresh fruits and veggies at a farmers market or grocery store.
- Students can advocate for these “super-healthy” foods to be subsidized first over other not-so-nutritious foods or participate in the double up food bucks program.
The senate bill is proposing establishing a “food is medicine” pilot where facilitators prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals and families.
#5. They believe that it should support beginning farmers
- It’s becoming challenging for young people to become farmers.
- The startup fees are enormous; equipment alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Land is hard to come by and is often sold to large farming operations.
- It’s challenging to make a living farming and so many opt out of this as a career.
So what if like me, these food politics make student’s heads spin! They can choose a more grassroots approach to changing our national food system. They may choose to “vote with their fork” and purchase more foods from local farmers, or volunteer at a local hunger organization. They may help raise funds for young farmers to get started, or become involved in local legislation to help them purchase land. They may teach cooking or nutrition classes centered on fresh fruits and vegetables. Really, the skies the limit!
There has been so much talk about Millennials lately that many have forgotten the next Generation right around the corner – Generation Z.
Generation Z are those born in 1995 or after (some say it’s more like 1996, depending on who you ask). Some of them are teenagers, while others are in their early 20’s and are in or starting college. Either way, they are starting to shape their own food future.
This generation, even more so then millennials wants to make a difference in the world – especially their food world.
- 60% want their work to make a difference in the world
- 76% are worried about the planet
- 75% of this generation consider themselves foodies
It’s no surprise as many of them are children of parents that were born in the 60’s or 70’s – the decades that started the food revolution. You know, the generation lost in space!
So what do we have to look forward to with this next generation of food enthusiasts?
#1. They care deeply about sustainability
- Gen z’ers are a very environmentally and socially conscious generation
- They want to know the story of their food from farm to table
- Gen z’ers want an abundance of sustainable food that has a positive impact on people and the planet
#2. They want health supporting foods
- Gen z’ers love to snack but want healthy snack options
- They prefer to snack on the go vs. sitting down for a meal
- Gen z’ers have learned how to set healthy eating habits in school and at home
- They know that whole, unprocessed foods are the more nutritious choice
They are also interested in boosting energy throughout the day – so energy drinks are on the rise!
#3. They accept new foods easily
- Gen z’ers are more likely to have been exposed to new and different foods early in life and are willing to try new ones
- They have been exposed to foods from all over the world and enjoy them!
- Gen z’ers are willing to at least try unusual flavors and ingredients
#4. They are starting to purchase their own food
- Gen z’ers want foods that taste good, contain quality ingredients and are a good price
- They care more about small, local foods vs. the big name brands
- Gen z’ers buy from companies that share their values
- They are willing to pay for foods that support the environment and support food companies with a social mission
#5. They love to cook!
- Gen z’ers love to express themselves through the meals they make
- They like to make their own creations and often do not follow a recipe
- Gen z’ers may take pictures of their creation and share on social media
- They generally learned how to cook at an early age
Cooking is very empowering to them!
So… any of you that educate students; you know teachers, parents community members, have this unique opportunity to help shape the food habits of this young, amazingly socially conscious generation. You can have a conversation with them about sustainable foods or explain the benefits of choosing more whole, nutritious foods. You can bring this information to life by taking them on a tour of a farm or community garden, introducing them to more fresh and local food manufacturers or just helping them learn how to cook – a skill that lasts a lifetime!