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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Feb 21, 2020

Sustainable Food Supply

We can create a sustainable food supply for future populations with technology and a change in diet. We cannot feed the world the way we feed North America because 40% of the world’s arable land is currently used for food production. Most of that land is used to feed the animals that we then eat ourselves. Animal protein takes 10 times the amount of resources to grow than plant protein. We could reduce beef consumption by 70% if we replace hamburgers with artificial meats like the “impossible burger.” Doing so would be a huge step for the environment. As technology improves and becomes less costly, artificial meats will become the norm. In addition, we need to focus on efficient, crop-specific farm practices, and shifting farm subsidies to vegetables instead of sugar.


Humans have been mismanaging their food supplies for thousands of years. The Roman equivalent of vanilla, a plant called silphium, was prized so highly that Emperors hoarded it, yet it went extinct very rapidly due to mismanagement. Roughly two millennia later, clouds of billions of passenger pigeons ruled the American Midwest but went extinct in a short timespan because of overeating. More recently, the Canada’s Atlantic Cod stock disappeared, again thanks to mismanagement. Humans struggle with large scale, long term management efforts to ensure that our foods survive. This is a skill we desperately need to learn in order to ensure that our food supplies do not disappear.

Protecting What We Have

Think of the natural world as a library where each species is a book. Thanks to our current environmental and agricultural practices, we are burning these books; and once a species is gone, we can’t get it back. We need to focus on protecting what we have and managing our food supplies in a sustainable way. Ocean life is now most at risk from warming, pollution, and overfishing. A lot of ocean species travel in flocks like passenger pigeons, which makes them easy to kill. We need to stop eating the mega-fauna of the sea, like bluefin tuna and other big fish. Instead, we should focus on farmed fish and shellfish, like lobster and shrimp. Anyone who has an acre or two of land, should put in bee-friendly landscaping and avoid using chemicals that kill bees.

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Lenore Newman holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is an Associate Professor of Geography and the Environment. Her opinion pieces on the future of farmland use and other food-related issues have been published widely, including in The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and Georgia Straight. She holds a PhD in Environmental Studies from York University.

Her current research focuses on three main areas: (1) Technology and the future of food, including the evolution of the food system including bioengineering, cultured meat, dietary trends and indoor agriculture; (2) Agricultural land use policy, including agricultural land preservation, agriculture on the rural/urban fringe, and global land use patterns; and (3) Place making through food and agriculture, including direct marketing, edge city zoning, and culinary tourism experiences. In 2014, Lenore was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She has authored over forty academic papers and reports in her areas of research. She is particularly proud of her work on foraged foods and on the impact of climate change on cuisine.

You can follow Lenore on Twitter @DrLenoreNewman.