The EAT Foundation, an initiative co-founded by the Wellcome Trust, the Stordalen Foundation and Stockholm Resilience Centre, aims to reform the global food system and enables us to feed a growing global population with healthy food from a healthy planet. Launched in 2016, the three organisations will use their unique experience in health, science, policy and sustainability to convene experts and decision makers who can transform the way we eat.
Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, president and founder of the EAT Foundation, spoke to NOW! Jakarta at length about her work and her vision.
Could you tell me more about the background of the EAT Foundation? What are its main objectives?
The EAT Foundation started off as a small-scale initiative back in 2013, inspired by a discovery I made as a board member of my husband’s hotel chain in Scandinavia. I was pushing for ways to run the hotels more sustainably. Food and beverages not only make up the majority of a hotel’s ecological footprint, they also impact the guests’ health. So my question was: what can we serve that is better for both people’s health and better for the environment? I found research on healthy food, climate-smart food, ethical food and food associated with better animal welfare, but to my surprise, almost no one had looked at how all of these aspects were interlinked. I realised that if I struggled to identify clear guidelines for our hotels and restaurants, how could world leaders develop efficient, integrated policies to enhance food security?
Coordinated action is desperately needed to address the imbalances in our global food system, because right now it is failing both people and planet. Around half of the global population is malnourished. In addition, the way we produce, distribute and waste food is causing some of our greatest environmental problems – for instance, the agricultural sector is the single largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions. Our food system is broken.
Therefore, I wanted to create a Forum that would piece the jigsaw together, taking a holistic approach to food, health and sustainability, and gather leaders from science, politics, business and civil society to address these issues in common. I wanted to not only map out and fill the knowledge gaps, but to push for integrated food policies and win-win solutions for the food industry, which is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world and includes some of the poorest and most vulnerable workers, including 500 million smallholder farmers.
So in June 2014 we hosted our first EAT Stockholm Food Forum in Sweden, gathering 400 experts and leaders from 28 countries. Three years on, our Forum has become a global, cross-sectoral arena with a vast network of partners from politics, business, civil society, the culinary arts and all fields of science, that gather annually. And this year, we hosted our very first regional EAT Forum here in Jakarta in October, which was incredibly exciting.
What kind of activities and programmes do you implement via EAT to achieve your goals?
EAT works to bring robust science to the table, convening relevant actors in search of knowledge-based solutions, building political will and business momentum, seeding and supporting groundbreaking partnerships across public and private sectors, learning from experience and bringing evidence back to a growing community of stakeholders. Given that we take a holistic approach to the issues at stake – the health, climate and sustainability challenges facing our global food system are intimately interlinked and therefore can’t be addressed individually – we work with and combine a wide range of stakeholders. We have programmes with business to help develop sustainable business solutions that can provide healthy, affordable and enjoyable diets for all. We work with cities through our global C40 Network to promote sustainable urban food systems. We recently launched an initiative with UNICEF that focuses on the link between the nutritional well-being of children and environmental sustainability. We also work with policymakers to facilitate integrated policies that address food, health and sustainability issues together, at the local, regional and global level. We’re developing a Global Chef’s Network with the aim to create a learning network to encourage culinary professionals to design and deliver healthy and sustainable food innovations. And there are more programmes coming. The momentum is building as there is a growing realization across sectors and disciplines of the urgency of these issues. We only have thirteen years to achieve the planet’s most ambitious development goals in history – the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will never reach these without addressing our food-related challenges.
EAT is a global organization, could you tell us more about your work in the Southeast Asian region?
Asia-Pacific is an important region for EAT. It contains the world’s largest population, it is the engine of the global economy, it heavily influences global policy and it is home to leading centers for innovation, finance and health. We won’t be able to fix the global food system and meet the Sustainable Development Goals without leadership from the Asia-Pacific. That is why we were delighted when the Government of Indonesia invited us to co-host the first regional EAT Forum in Jakarta. We hope that the EAT Asia-Pacific Food Forum will catalyze a range of actions in the region, from fostering a new research community to undertake deep land use and food systems analysis, to developing new integrated policies that can tackle both malnutrition, food security issues and unsustainable food production, having more cities in the region involved in our urban food systems network, to scaling up our programmatic work to improve the nutrition of children in the region. The Asia-Pacific has led the world in economic growth, and we firmly believe the region can also lead the world in ensuring healthy, sustainable food for all.
Speaking about Indonesia specifically, how does the country compare to others in terms of reforming the food system? What are the most urgent issues that need to be addressed?
In Indonesia, there is still a high level of children – 28% – who are short for their age due to inadequate nutrition, but also an alarming number of children who are overweight and are at high risk of chronic diseases like diabetes. In parallel there are significant environmental challenges due to food production, such as rainforest that is being cleared and fish stocks being depleted. So the country is faced with the many acute health, environmental and sustainability issues that EAT works with, but we see it as very positive that the Government is taking a proactive role in addressing these challenges holistically and taking leadership in finding common regional solutions, notably through co-hosting the Forum with us.
The EAT Foundation is still relatively young. How satisfied are you with the progress you have made so far, and are you optimistic about the future?
EAT is indeed relatively young, but we’ve grown incredibly fast and for a small organization, we’ve had an outsized impact. We’ve played a central role in placing the food system challenges on the international policy agenda, «changing the conversation about food» so to speak. We’re proud of the convening power we have – our Forums have become multi-stakeholder events that attract heads of state, global leaders from business and academia, along with high-level representatives from civil society, the UN, investors, innovators and foundations spanning more than 50 countries. Besides hosting our first regional forum in Asia-Pacific, I’m especially excited about the progress we’re making on the science front. We’ve commissioned the first ever independent scientific assessment of healthy and sustainable diets with the world-renowned Lancet medical journal, working with 20 leading scientists from 13 countries. The report will be out by June 2018, and it will provide the world’s first comprehensive assessment of what constitutes healthy diets from sustainable food systems.
All our other EAT programmes are building on this work, aiming to implement measures to take us there – from developing international policies to sustainable and nutritious food products to cooking recipes.
I’m an optimist at heart and I believe EAT’s vision can become a reality, because while the challenges we face are big, the opportunities are even bigger. We just have to come together and work together. If we can commit to a common vision for the future of food, together we will find the means and the actions needed to get there. As we like to say at EAT: “Food can fix it!”
Photos courtesy of Pierre Michel Virot & Johan Lygrell