Food for thought at the UN General Assembly

Published September 22, 2016

Every September high level leaders, experts and governmental representatives gather in New York for an intensive week of meetings and side events during the UN General Assembly. And of course, EAT was there as well.

The 20th of September the EAT Foundation in collaboration with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a successful high-level side event during the UN General Assembly, “Urban Food Systems: The Nutrition Challenge”. The event brought together close to 500 leaders and forerunners from government, academia, the private sector, UN and civil society to discuss concrete solutions and commitments regarding urban food systems challenges.

David Nabarro, UN Special Adviser on 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, kicked off the event highlighting the crucial role of cities in meeting the SDGs. He strongly emphasized the need for a food systems revolution, considering

«Our current food systems do not deliver, neither for smallholder farmers nor for consumers. In fact, they are not very good for our planet either» David Nabarro, UN Special Adviser on 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and president, EAT Foundation continued this line of thought in her welcoming remarks, focusing on the immense opportunities that cities represent – a place connecting facts, powers and great minds. Together cities and food represent immense opportunities to meet the newly adopted SDG goals.

«Food - at its WORST - is a KILLER – to both people & planet Food - at its BEST - is our greatest MEASURE towards our Global Goals» Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and president, EAT Foundation

To meet the goals Børge Brende, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Norway, emphasized how we have to be innovative and think outside the box. A Nordic example of this innovative mindset was presented by Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Together with the Nordic nutrition recommendations and the new Nordic Food Movement which focuses on simplicity, sustainability, season based products and a new holistic diet and culture, the Nordic region showcases how cities can be an engine of change towards sustainable and healthy urban food systems.

Looking beyond the Nordic region, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU Commissioner of Food and Health Safety, highlighted some recent European developments such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and a new EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste. He also emphasized the key role of cities to provide not only sustainable and nutritious, but also healthy diets, to prevent a whole generation of children growing fat for life.

Following this inspiring list of speakers, an interactive panel discussion with Johan Rockström, Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre, as facilitator completed the event. The diverse panel contributed with interesting and thought provoking points on how to move the agenda forward. Feike Sijbesma, the CEO of Royal DSM, highlighted the responsibility of businesses to fight hunger and malnutrition. He considers a focus on sustainability essential for businesses that want to survive in the future.

Civil society was represented on the panel, featuring community activist and “the Queen of Urban Gardening” from the Bronx, New York, Karen Washington. She strongly emphasized how cities do not only represent food deserts, but food apartheid. The interconnected nature of food means it is not possible to have a siloed approach to food – food is also about race, culture, access to land and having the right resources in place.

For more concrete measures cities can take, Mark Watts, Executive Director, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, contributed with three key points for cities in order to bring about disruptive transformation: tight control of the use of the power of procurement, strong policies around food distribution and support to urban agriculture.

In conclusion, the event showed that there is increasing global recognition that urban food systems and nutrition need to be at the top of the global agenda. EAT is excited to see how this commitment will take form in the future.