Food & Drink: How COVID-19 changed our food systems and food security paradigms

Within a few weeks the world has changed.

Within a few weeks the world has changed, at the time this text is written (May 2020) more than 3.5 million people have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 and estimations propose up to a hundred times the number of actually infected. A third of the global population is on lockdown and a large part of our global economic activity has stopped. Food and access to food has played a visual role in portraying the impact of the outbreak on our society, with images of empty supermarket shelves appearing in mainstream media. In some countries closed schools resulted in many children not having access to free meals and mobilised a number of charities. While parts of the world are now exiting lockdown and measures start relaxing the near future remains uncertain with more waves of the pandemic expected. Given that there is currently no evidence to show that transmission of COVID-19 could occur through food or food packaging there has been limited discussion on the issue, implications and potential future scenarios within the wider food science community.

Within the food research community, up to the pandemic crisis the discourse has been dominated with design and manufacture of healthy and safe foods. The main issues are relevant to sustainability, circular economy, energy and water efficiency, climate friendly practices of products and processes. Efficiency has been the focus, but resilience has not been a significant issue so far. The term food system resilience has been defined by Tendalla as ‘capacity over time of a food system and its units at multiple levels, to provide sufficient, appropriate and accessible food to all, in the face of various and even unforeseen disturbances’. We believe that in the future we will continue to see similar pressures in the food system, e.g., comparable pandemics, effects of climate change on food production, and that resilience will become of major importance.

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