The Key Principles of a Healthy and Sustainable Food System

A healthy and sustainable food system is crucial for promoting the well-being of individuals and the environment. It is a complex network that involves various sectors, from production to waste disposal, and aims to provide healthy, sustainable, resilient, diverse, just, economically balanced, and transparent food options. In the United States, a significant portion of the food consumed is also produced or processed abroad, often by exploited child labor. To address these issues and move towards a healthier and more sustainable food system, we must tackle long-standing challenges and adapt to changing demands. One of the major concerns in the food system is intensive animal feed production.

Industrial food animal production facilities, also known as “factory farms,” confine thousands or even millions of animals in small areas. This not only raises ethical concerns but also has negative impacts on the environment and public health. The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines a sustainable food system as one that meets current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems for future generations with minimal harm to the environment. To achieve this goal, we must reduce food waste and find alternative uses for it. The first option is to prevent food waste from occurring in the first place by improving storage and transportation methods.

The second option is to use food waste in animal feed, fuel conversion, composting, and as a last resort, incineration. Additionally, we need to develop innovative strategies that utilize a multidisciplinary approach to create a sustainable food loss and waste (FLW) biorefinery for developing food ingredients. Food systems operate at various levels - local, regional, national, and global. In this context, we are focusing on the national level. There is still much research needed to understand the health effects of exposures in the food system and develop effective prevention methods.

Low-income individuals are particularly vulnerable to obesity and diet-related diseases, as highlighted in other APHA policy statements. The industrial food system in the United States may provide an abundance of cheap food, but it is not sustainable and often produces unhealthy options. Access to a variety of healthy and affordable foods is essential for promoting public health, especially for low-income individuals. The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation has developed the double food and environmental pyramid model to guide individuals towards making healthier and more sustainable food choices.

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