The intersecting global challenges of climate change, food insecurity, and diet-related health issues are intricately linked to food systems and consumer choices. To catalyze significant dietary changes, transformative shifts in both food supply and demand are imperative. An understanding of the cultural dimensions of food-related crises is thus increasingly acknowledged as a vital step towards fostering inclusive, sustainable, and healthier diets.

Consider these statistics: one-third of the global population suffers from some form of malnutrition, with every country— including the most developed— facing at least one type of malnutrition problem, or multiple forms simultaneously.

Global meat consumption has more than doubled in the last twenty years— reaching 320 million tons in 2018. The popularity of processed and ready-to-cook meat products is being fueled by busy lifestyles and a preference for convenient food options. But while meat only contributes to 18% of global calorie supply, the global livestock sector accounts for 77% of agricultural land and is responsible for over 60% of all agricultural GHG emissions.

Finally, with 821 million people worldwide lacking adequate calories to combat chronic hunger, juxtaposed against the projected growth of the global fast-food market to $1467.04 billion by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) exceeding 6%, the need for action is evident.

In response to this need for change, the Food Culture Alliance— an initiative of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition— has emerged as a collaborative coalition of organizations jointly advocating for the pivotal role of food culture in hastening the transformation of society’s dietary habits.

“The Food Culture Alliance was borne from a realization that consumer demand has a role in shaping the future of food systems,” says Dr. Eva Monterrosa, Co-Founder of the Food Culture Alliance and Program Lead, Consumer Demand Generation at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

Monterrosa says that food culture is a complex social force that shapes and enables human preferences, which directly impact food systems and food security.

Culture is a critical influencer of food beliefs, practices, and overall demand. It is interlinked with dietary preferences, agricultural and processing practices, local food systems approaches, social support networks, identity and sovereignty, culinary techniques, and knowledge transmission. Factoring in the role of culture is essential to developing effective strategies to address food systems and food security challenges globally.

The Food Culture Alliance defines food culture as a realm that “molds our preferences and influences the way we think and feel about certain foods. It’s a major hidden fuel of our consumption habits and holds the key to unlocking society-wide, lasting change.”

Of the four fundamental pillars of food security identified at the 1996 World Food Summit, two are considered to be the most popular among policymakers. These are availability (the supply side of food, as influenced by factors like production, imports, and food reserves) and access (the economic and physical capacity to utilize existing food resources, as determined by factors such as income, markets, and prices).

It is evident that availability and access are intertwined— without physical and economic access to food, an increase in food supply alone cannot ensure food security within a given society. However, these aspects do not operate in a vacuum— they interact within a broader social context.

“This can’t be all supply-side driven,” says Monterrosa of traditional policies aimed at improving food systems. “A driver of consumer demand is preference; and preferences shape the foods we want and desire. If as a society, we want things that are not nutritious and not sustainably produced then that is what we will get from our food system. We see food culture as a society-wide solution to change our collective preferences.”

So what happens when the global food system has influenced societal preferences and demand for the consumption of unhealthy and unsustainable foods that contribute to obesity, non-communicable diseases and environmental problems?

Culture can either be an obstacle or an enabler of the third pillar of food security— food utilization (consumption of foods that are of sufficient quality and quantity to meet a population’s energy and nutritional needs). For example, if a society is heavily predisposed towards the consumption of ultra-processed, imported foods with little to no nutritional value, its population will struggle to be nutritionally secure, while a society that is focused on wellness and consumer health will typically have a more well-nourished population.

In this light, the Food Culture Alliance developed a framework comprised of what it refers to as “levers of change” that highlight the strategies available to positively transform culture. These include shaping narratives around food, addressing social identity concepts inherent in food practices, changing belief systems, and strengthening culinary systems.

“Through the Food Culture Alliance initiative, we aim to foster a deeper understanding of the cultural influences underlying foods while promoting sustainable practices and nurturing global solidarity around the shared joy of nourishment,” says Dr. Lujain Alqodmani, Director of Global Action and Project Portfolio, at the EAT Foundation, one of the member organizations of the Food Culture Alliance.

Over the next three years, the Food Culture Alliance will be piloting initiatives through religious, family, entertainment, media, educational, sports and other institutions across Kenya, India and Indonesia. It will work with both global and local practitioners and organizations, equipping them with the necessary knowledge, tools, and resources to implement strategies and drive impactful change at scale.

In Kenya, where 80% of the population is under the age of 34, the Food Culture Alliance is collaborating with youth social ventures, as well as other groups dedicated to safeguarding Kenyan cuisine.

“At Shujaaz, we believe the youth can play a role in driving a healthy food culture in Kenya,” says Bridget Deacon, Managing Director of Shujaaz Inc., a network of social ventures located in Nairobi, Kenya with initiatives that link young individuals with the necessary information, skills, and resources to empower them to take charge of their lives. Shujaaz is a member of the Kenya alliance, a group of organizations connected by a shared belief in the pivotal role of culture in influencing and informing beliefs and preferences around food.

A transition to more sustainable food preferences— particularly among the youth— can help make food systems more shock responsive and resilient.

Herein lies the cultural cornerstone supporting the ultimate pillar of food and nutritional security— stability. Adverse weather patterns, climate change, political instability, and economic challenges like unemployment and soaring food costs can destabilize the availability, access, and utilization aspects of food security. However, transitioning towards sustainable preferences can enhance population resilience in the face of food shocks.

Food culture plays a crucial role in promoting the stability and resilience of food supply systems by encouraging dietary diversity, supporting local food systems, preserving traditional knowledge, and shaping consumer preferences and behaviors. By creating a more sustainable food culture, communities can build more resilient food systems capable of withstanding crises.

“By utilising food culture to influence just 25% of the population, we can drive substantial change in our food consumption habits, and the health and climate crises,” says Gunhild Anker Stordalen, Founder and Executive Chair of the EAT Foundation.

Through collaborative efforts, uniting stakeholders from diverse sectors and by working with local institutions, using an innovative toolbox of solutions, the Food Culture Alliance is harnessing the power of cultural influence to promote healthier dietary habits and sustainable food choices on a global scale.

With its focus on leveraging food culture as a catalyst for change, the Food Culture Alliance offers tangible pathways towards achieving food security, promoting sustainability, and nourishing communities worldwide.



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