Júlia ate the only vegetarian option at her university cafeteria. Because there was no other option.
Carlos ate the lentil stew in his grandma’s kitchen in Barcelona. Because it’s Grandma.
Sasha, calling in from a wedding in Missouri, was still on breakfast. Apple butter on toast. Because it’s delicious. Also, because you can’t really get that in Sweden (she’s going to bring some back).
Júlia, Carlos and Sasha are just three of a cohort of FutureFoodMakers: they’re hungry to change Europe’s food systems for the better. Also hungry.
Júlia and Sasha helped draft the Menu for Change, a manifesto, and report on progress towards its demands. Carlos is a fresh recruit to the FutureFoodMakers. They’re all smart, motivated and opinionated members of Gen Z.
I asked them what they ate for lunch (in Sasha’s case, breakfast) because I was curious. I asked them why they ate what they ate because I knew they thought about these things. We all have to eat. What could I learn from three young people invested in making sure food, eating, and the whole system goes right for a whole generation?
I’m looking at a croissant on my desk. Someone gave it to me. Free food! Which is nice, but I don’t really want to eat it because croissants tend to give me heartburn. I should probably eat it, though even if it hurts. What I won't do is waste it. Food waste? That's a major emitter of greenhouse gases – 16% of what food systems in Europe emit, a much greater percentage worldwide. What I do with this croissant has consequences.
“The current state of our food system is the leading cause of some of the biggest challenges that our world is facing: be it climate change, pollution, waste, malnutrition, disease, or obesity. Sustainable, healthy food production and consumption is essential for the world to meet its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.”
So wrote Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, in his introduction to Our Food, Our Food System. The report breaks down the findings of a pioneering survey among Gen Z about what they want from their food systems.
This survey was part of the origin story for the FutureFoodMakers; another part was the 2021 Food Systems Summit, convened as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The summit was a moment when recognition of a gap coalesced into action. According to Matt Eastland, Director of Brand & Digital at EIT Food:
“The food system needed – and still needs – a radical rethink to meet the demands of a growing global population in a healthy and sustainable way. Despite its huge power and influence, research suggested that the food sector left many young people unable to access affordable and healthy food and feeling disconnected from the industry.”
Europe’s zoomers are seeking more from their food systems, according to Our Food, Our System:
> More info: 82% of young women wanted advice on the link between food and mental health
> More access: 67% of young people said access to healthy food and affordability were key barriers
> More transparency: 78% of young people want transparency and support from food brands and governments
A hopeful datum in the survey was the desire among young people to be more involved: 64% of young people want to pursue a career to improve food innovation.
“Never before has a generation been so proactive in the way we think about food and environment,”
wrote Mike Nkhombo Khunga, Global Youth Advocate for Nutrition. “As it stands, young people are to inherit a planet that will be four degrees warmer, threatening the availability and nutrition quality of what they eat as well as the air they breathe. The question that has to be answered by all key players in the food system is: how are young people involved in transforming the food system so that it becomes resilient, affordable and accessible to all?"
EIT Food, with a strong reputation for supporting innovation and driving change, knew they needed to engage the next generation to make progress on this question. And clearly, young people had signalled a desire to step up and take a more active role.
Responding to these factors, EIT Food appointed ten 18-24-year-olds from across Europe to take action. The FutureFoodMakers were selected, according to Matt, by “a judging panel of representatives from across the EIT Food community, youth social enterprises and the food sector... based on diversity, interest, passion and vision.”
Once appointed, their mandate was clear: come together and propose the changes they want to see. The Menu for Change was the result.
On the menu
The Menu for Change demands:
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 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
Social justice and inclusion are throughlines across the six points. So is climate. Clearly this is not the work of silo-thinking It reads as both systemic in its aims, and practically targeted to policymakers and corporates alike.
The diversity of perspectives among the FutureFoodMakers surely contributed to the diverse mix of demands. Their individual connections to the world of food vary greatly: some grew up on farms, others are climate justice warriors, still others aspire to become foodtech entrepreneurs. Many are students: degree specialisations range from the food-focused (Nutrition) to the food-adjacent (Hospitality Management) to the unrelated. But that’s the magic of it: without these diverse perspectives, united by passion for improving food systems, the Menu for Change could have been a lot less balanced.
The croissant on my desk
I ate it. It would have been a good idea to give it to a homeless person, but I didn’t think of that at the time; it was work time; I kept working on this draft, and after a while, the croissant just seemed to glare at me. Eat me. I obeyed.
EIT Food’s support empowers the FutureFoodMakers to channel their passion and activism (use of the word “manifesto” is intentional) into real change. According to Matt, this support takes the form of, “ongoing guidance from EIT Foodto help them craft their vision and strategy to be self-sustaining, helping them secure key speaking opportunities to spread their message, such as at our flagship Future of Food conference, and providing small amounts of targeted funding to ensure that they are able to retain their momentum and recruit new members – all of which is achieved whilst many hold down full-time jobs.”
Importantly, this guidance is meant to allow the FutureFoodMakers to maintain their independence. Two years since the launch of the initiative they are now, Matt said, “their own entity who run their own campaigns, attend and speak at high profile events, and who are actively growing their FutureFoodMaker network.”
They’re also in charge of tracking progress.
They put together their first evaluation last year; their reporting from this year is soon to be released. The process of evaluation involved close news monitoring and in-depth internal discussions. The report contains a mix of achievements and challenges still ahead. And while each of the six points represents a consensus view among the FutureFoodMakers, I was curious to hear the individual perspectives.
Carlos, for instance, highlighted the lack of European guidelines on food waste as a major problem. According to the evaluation, it “remains to be seen” whether the SDG to halve food waste by 2030 (12.3) is on track. The call to action from the FutureFoodMakers is aimed at policymakers:
“There is ample evidence from leading businesses and member states that food waste reduction can be achieved at sufficient speed if the right policies are in place.”
Júlia, who comes from a background in nutrition, named as an achievement more nutritional guidelines that take sustainability into account. Denmark has led the way in this regard, per the evaluation, with “good for health and climate” labelling, but Spain and several Nordic countries are not far behind.
Several FutureFoodMakers, including Sasha, expressed their hope that true cost accounting, identifying the real cost of food, would become more widely adopted. Per the evaluation, there’s been some promising traction: “On 3 October 2022, The True Cost Accounting Agrifood Handbook was launched at an event organised by the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food. This provides TCA methodology that has been tested in 14 countries across 20 different supply chains.”
Sasha described how true cost accounting “touches on a lot of our other points, such as inclusion because it makes healthy food more accessible, and regenerative agriculture because it focuses on sustainability in the agricultural system. But there needs to be some sort of internationalised system to calculate the true cost of items. What are the logistics around creating this voting system? Who should be in charge of creating the system? What should be prioritised?”
Sasha added that she wants to be one of the people involved in creating this model.
Beyond the progress tracked with data, one can observe the way the FutureFoodMakers celebrate wins in the way they talk: with engaged voices and enthusiasm about the newest findings (it’s easy to hear if you listen to their speeches and podcast appearances). Stakeholders from EIT Food share this enthusiasm.
“I am constantly amazed at the professionalism, commitment and maturity of our FutureFoodMakers,” said Matt, “and watching this project grow from a small project to the high-impact community that exists today is a source of great pride. I have also learned a great deal from this dynamic group, and probably my proudest moment was having them on The Food Fight podcast that I host to talk about their experiences and to celebrate their progress.”
It was, in fact, the episode Matt mentions that inspired me to write this story. I liked that it was a complete takeover, where the FutureFoodMakers could speak about internal challenges (the risks of “paternalism” in youth consultations) and where they want to go from here as individuals. I liked the honesty. It takes courage to share knowledge in a forthright way.
The FutureFoodMakers are busy sharing knowledge with their recruits and finalising their 2023 evaluation. According to Júlia, Sasha and Carlos, they’re also considering an updated manifesto. They plan on expanding their reach, too; Sasha, for instance, hopes food companies will start listening more: “Not just employees, but the board and CEOs.”
From what I observed, the quality of listening is well exemplified within the cohort. They remarked directly on what they learned from each other, but I saw it in action, too. When discussing food waste, for example, Sasha, Júlia and Carlos were keen to share challenges like fragmentation in mitigation strategies and the concerns of a local grocery and hotel chain are so far from each other. Júlia talked about the local mitigation strategies in Denmark, activists of note, and ideas worth considering for scale. Sitting in on this discussion, it was clear to me this group doesn’t keep good ideas to themselves. They share insights, listen, learn – and repeat.
And hey, who knows if Gen Zers read Impact Stories, but if they do, I hope they take away from this one some inspiration on how to start a movement. The listening part is important. Some other essentials in the recipe:
> Diverse and passionate people
> Solid data
> A bold, fact-based manifesto
> The right support
To this last point, Matt framed EIT Food’s support in terms of some advice for future youth consultations:
“I would advise letting these young people lead from the front, as the way they self-organise and collaborate democratically is impressive. So, I would say guide the process, be there to unblock barriers, and then get out of the way!”
The croissant no longer on my desk
What a relief: I didn’t get heartburn from this particular croissant. I was able to keep working, nourished with a little extra burst of energy, without any serious pushback from my stomach, and feeling a little bit closer to food’s future instead of its past. Credit for this last part, the feeling, goes to Júlia, Carlos and Sasha. The croissant had very little to do with it.