The rapid changes in food consumption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are in the process of being sorted out. The food supply system had to contend with massive shifts in demand along with many additional protocols for safe food from farm to fork. In periods of high change, it often creates an opportunity to re-evaluate an entire system to see if other changes are needed. I believe the food system at this moment is no exception.
Since WWII, the main focus of our food system has been to supply the greatest amount of ever cheaper food to the greatest number of people. I would suggest that we declare that objective accomplished and move on to another prime objective that I believe will be desperately needed in the coming years. Simply stated, I believe the primary objective of our food system should be “To ensure that all American citizens have access to affordable food and nutrition to help their physical development in childhood and overall health as adults. The larger goal being to give all American Citizens a fair shot at accomplishing their life’s objectives as adults”.
I would hope the majority of Americans can support this general principle. However, even with that level of support there will be a number of very thorny issues that would need to be resolved to accomplish this. Among them are:
- What actually is a base level of nutrition required to give an individual the best health and energy over a lifetime.
- Should healthy food just be made available to everyone or should it be mandated in certain cases.
- How would the current players in the food system best support this objective.
- What role will recent innovations in food such as lab grown meat play in the new food system.
- To what extent will supplements also play a role in a healthy diet and support system.
- Would a refocusing of health care plans to more of a wellness approach help in the transition.
These are just a few of the difficult issues to be addressed. But the rewards of moving the food system in this direction would be great. If we accomplish this shift it has been estimated that we could decrease our health care expenditures by one-third overall or nearly one trillion dollars a year. This obviously is a significant amount, but it does not include the increases in productivity from a workforce with fewer sick days and greater mental engagement on the job.
There are many other changes that will arise post COVID-19 within many of our institutions, but I believe a rethinking of our food supply should be high on that list.