Sustainable, Equitable, Resilient: An Ethical Approach to Global Food Systems

More than 800 million people worldwide could go hungry by 2030. At the same time, agriculture accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural practices damage global biodiversity. We cannot solve climate and biodiversity crises without solving the crisis in global food systems.

The United Nations Food Systems Summit, which will take place this Thursday, September 23, 2021, is an unprecedented opportunity to think critically and develop solutions for current food system dilemmas. As part of its contributions to the Summit, the Food + Faith Coalition has issued a report, “Sustainable, Equitable, Resilient: An Ethical Approach to Global Food Systems.”

“Sustainable, Equitable, Resilient” reframes conventional narratives about our relationship to food and ways to transform food systems. It affirms a universal right to healthy food, addresses the most immediate challenges facing current food systems—reducing meat consumption, halting agricultural deforestation, increasing access to and reducing the costs of nutritious food—and advocates for sustainable, equitable, and resilient agricultural practices.

“Food sovereignty and the right to food are not just slogans,” says Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics. “They are real principles upon which lives and whole cultures depend. This report wisely prioritizes values in global discussions about food.”

“Sustainable, Equitable, Resilient” recognizes the imperative for sustainable agriculture, respect for Indigenous knowledge and local traditions, and the value of reinvigorating local food systems. It advocates bold, decisive action to align global production and consumption within sustainable, regenerative limits, centered in equity and care for the most vulnerable. It emphasizes not only access to healthy and nutritious food but also empowering women and girls, confronting systemic racism and inequality, and supporting localization and smallholders.

“This report identifies the kinds of meaningful change that is needed from the local to the global,” says its principal author, Andrew Schwartz, CEE’s director of sustainability and global affairs. “It synthesizes the repercussions being felt around the world due to our over-consumptive, inequitable and unsustainable food system.”

The report deepens and expands the Interfaith Statement on food systems that the Coalition issued last week. Like the Interfaith Statement, the report builds upon five dialogues held in May and June that examined food systems through the lens of faith and ethics. These dialogues, part of the UN process to engage civil society in the Summit, brought together more than 40 faith leaders, activists, Indigenous advocates, farmers, workers, and policymakers to share insights and develop recommendations. Another 1,500 people took part in the dialogues online.

In addition to Schwartz, the other members of the Faith + Food Coalition Steering Committee—Chris Elisara (World Evangelical Alliance), Gopal Patel (Bhumi Global), Joshua Basofin (Parliament of the World’s Religions), Kelly Moltzen (Interfaith Public Health Network), Marium Husain (Islamic Medical Association of North America) and Steve Chiu (Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation)— contributed to report.

The Faith + Food Coalition is an alliance of seven organizations—Bhumi Global, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, the Center for Earth Ethics, the Islamic Medical Association of North America, Interfaith Public Health Network, Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the World Evangelical Alliance—that formed to contribute to the UN Food Systems Summit.

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