The earth is battered and bruised. Mother Nature has been exploited to the extreme edge. Much of her bountiful resources, which she generously spread out for all forms of life has been misused, pillaged and poisoned by humans. There seemed to be no stopping, and not even pausing. This unprecedented lock down due to Covid-19 pandemic is a strong plea, perhaps even a command, by the nature for us to pause, reflect hard and bring the right changes.
Food, an intrinsic human need and a basic human right is amongst the first to be impacted and threatened. We need healthy nutritious food to survive, thrive and fight off diseases. Otherwise health, especially of the most vulnerable ones, will weaken increasing the susceptibility to all kinds of ailments and death.
Food and nutrition security situation around the world were far from optimal before this crisis too. There were groups who did not have adequate physical and/or economic access to enough nutritious food; and there were groups who had those access but the utilization of available foods was not good, either due to lack of knowledge and/or due to prevailing myths. And there were those who had the necessary access as well as the knowledge but were unable to translate into behaviours owing to unhealthy food environment or due to lack of strong consciousness and urge to make the right choices.
Scientific community has clearly laid out two crystal clear facts. On one hand, nutritionally poor diet is the underlying cause of more than half of the diseases and deaths associated with ‘affluence’ or over-nutrition as well as with ‘poverty’ or under-nutrition. On the other hand, human food choices – good or bad – powerfully drive the health of the planet in the respective directions. Therefore, options have been there to either carry on as usual continuing the reciprocal degradation of both human and planetary health. Or take a complete u turn, rebuild better ways and set out on a path that nourishes both humans and the planet simultaneously.
Amidst all the chaos and the uncertainties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are golden opportunities to grab. The importance of being in pink of health with smoothly functioning immune system has never been as highlighted as now. There has also been more widespread pondering and awakening on the need to take environmental sustainability seriously. Striking the iron while it is hot, the global and national leaderships, associated organizational architectures, stakeholders and individuals must change course. Multi-pronged and integrated approaches combining food, nutrition and environment have to be adopted in policies, programmes, businesses and education.
This is an apt time to enforce improved and ethical food production models that meet nutrition needs and bring fair economic gains concurrently with the mindful usage of the finite environmental resources. Good farming practices merging traditional methods and new technology ought to be adopted as the norm for rural and urban agriculture. There has also never been a better time to drive out the unhealthy foods industries that have been a significant cause of many diet related diseases as well as harms to the environment. Such food industries however hold tremendous potential to reinvent themselves as the drivers of change towards healthy food production and carve a niche in new shaping of the food environment.
Now is also the perfect time to revolutionise and combine the teaching and learning approaches on food, nutrition and environment. Comprehensive knowledge on the symbiotic relationships and ways to promote them simultaneously have to be conveyed together. The basics of responsibly producing and consuming nutritionally diverse foods in a sustainable manner has to proliferate as moral values and fundamental life-skills at homes and in all tiers of education. Respect for farmers, hands-on learning, value of indigenous crops and traditional foods ought to be upheld and boosted. Innovative social behaviour change communication efforts will enable and nudge people towards making the right choices. Altogether, there will be multiple win-wins all around.
Nothing is static, everything has always been dynamic and this pandemic too shall pass. It is leaving behind losses but is also giving the much needed impetus to steer the off-track trajectories in the right direction. Our collective consciousness must rise in the overall way we live our life and pursue our respective goals. Producing nutritious food rightly and imparting holistic knowledge in all spheres enables healthy and sustainable food environment and rightly informed choices. Covid-19 pandemic can thus be a tipping point to bolster our food, nutrition and the beloved planet.