Gen Z demand overhaul of food system to protect the planet

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/HollyFernando
Image: Getty/HollyFernando

Related tags: EIT Food, Generation Z

New research reveals young people aged 18-24 think the global food system is in crisis, and only getting worse – with two-thirds believing that the current food system is destroying the planet.

Young people across Europe are demanding EU wide changes to transform the food system to be more sustainable, including promoting regenerative agriculture, defining uniform nutrition and labelling guidelines, and making food systems more inclusive.

New research, commissioned by EIT Food, surveyed over 2,000 18-24 year olds from across the UK, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. The findings show that nearly eight in 10 young people (78%) think we need to take urgent action to make the way we produce and consume food more sustainable.

Meanwhile, two-thirds (66%) feel that our current food system is destroying the planet, and that the situation is only getting worse, as 61% think the food sector has become less sustainable in recent years.

Food sustainability is of growing concern for this age group, with two-thirds (64%) saying it has become more important to them in the past 12 months, while 65% think that Gen Z cares more about this than older generations.

Of agriculture practices and food products, Gen Z consider fruit and vegetable farming to be one of the most sustainable options, with 74% saying they believe this to be sustainable. This is followed by growing food locally (74%), organic farming (72%) and plant-based foods (70%). Meanwhile, half of young people (50%) consider importing food to be unsustainable. 

Dr. Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, said: “In a crucial year for global climate talks, we need the next generation – who will be most affected by the climate crisis – to have a seat at the table in shaping a future-fit food system. We know that the world cannot achieve its goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees without addressing global food systems, yet food could have been more prominent on the agenda at COP26. That is why, as we look to make food a high priority in global sustainability dialogues over the next year, we have brought together 10 young FutureFoodMakers to represent young people across Europe, and make their views, needs and recommendations known through the Menu for Change.” 

To ensure that the views of the next generation are heard during crucial discussions about the future of the food system, EIT Food has worked closely with 10 innovators aged 18-24, appointing them as ‘FutureFoodMakers’ to spearhead a call for radical change. EIT Food is the world's largest food innovation community, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

These FutureFoodMakers have developed a ‘Menu for Change’ of six priority demands for the food system to improve access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food, which is being presented to an audience of policymakers and food system leaders at the Future of Food Conference 2021. The six demands reflect the areas the FutureFoodMakers feel will be the most impactful in ensuring that the next generation can inherit a future-fit food system.

The Menu for Change calls upon European food sector stakeholders to:

  • Target 25% of EU agricultural land to be managed under regenerative practices by 2030 and develop a training body to support existing and new farmers in the transition to regenerative farming 
  • Define uniform EU nutrition and labelling guidelines which are easy and accessible, meet individuals’ needs and include the environmental impact of food products
  • Develop an inclusion policy that considers the effects of regulations on food costs among vulnerable populations and the provision of vouchers for nutrient-rich foods
  • Develop an EU-wide true cost of food policy that mandates the calculation of the true cost of foods produced by medium-large corporations and multinationals through the implementation of life cycle analysis and impact assessments
  • Tackle food waste in supermarkets and through the development of the Bioeconomy strategy by creating supermarket reduction monitoring plans that feed into the EU-wide food waste monitoring programme and accelerating the development of substitutes to fossil fuel-based materials that are biobased, recyclable or biodegradable at EU level
  • Include the nutritional, health, and environmental implications of food in education curriculums for children, as well as provide support and resources for parents and teachers on healthy and sustainable diets.

Júlia Montoliu Boneu, FutureFoodMaker, said: “We – the next generation of leaders, decision makers and consumers – deserve a voice about these changes and what our future food system should look like. It is time for young people to be heard.

“Representing young people from across Europe, the Menu for Change puts forward our views on how the agrifood decision makers of today should be working to secure our food, our food system, and our future. Underpinning this is the universal need for social justice and inclusion. Transitioning to a better, more resilient European food system requires urgent change and innovation across the food value chain - from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers to governments, NGOs and consumers. As we use these recommendations to drive conversations with stakeholders across the agrifood sector, we must ensure no one is left behind and everyone’s voice is heard.”

But will young people be willing and able to pay more for a healthy and sustaionable foods? 

Foods that are produced in a more sustainable way are typically more expensive to produce and consume. How confident is EIT that younger consumers will be prepared to pay a premium for the type of sustainably produced food that they claim is needed? 

FutureFoodMaker Ricard Celorio i Sardà told FoodNavigator: "Nowadays, the demand for sustainable products might be lower than expected. Despite the fact that most sustainable options are actually healthier than many conventional alternatives, they lack 'street cred' and are still not mainstream which, in turn, translates to a higher price. It’s important to note, however, that by shopping sustainably, consumers can reduce their environmental impact and ultimately increase demand for that product. This will have an impact on their price in the future. Younger consumers will find it easier to acquire sustainable products in the future if we start consuming them today."

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