Linking Personal and Planet Health: Ag’s Opportunity

“Reducetarian,” “climatarian” and “low carbon” diets are among the top consumer trends in 2022. Why are environmentally related diets so popular?  With the increased awareness of climate change, today’s consumers want to know the impact of what they eat on the planet and their health.

This curiosity creates opportunities for the agriculture community to tell its story while at the same time demanding more transparency and trust.

Understanding the new dynamics in agriculture was just one of the topics discussed during a recent Curious Plot Board of Advisors (BOA) round table.

“We (agriculture) would do ourselves a lot of good as an industry if we could focus more on the consumer side versus the production side” when evaluating new technologies and production practices, said Advisor Randy Marten, owner of Food Ingredient Advisors.

Here is the reality: Less than 2% of consumers have a direct connection to the farm but we want to be more connected. The “sustainable food,” “farm to table” and “local” movements over the past several years have fueled the interest without the innate farm knowledge needed. Questions about food production practices and animal welfare are reflected in purchasing decisions, especially among younger consumers with higher education levels and higher incomes.

Regenerative agriculture, pasture-raised animals, plant-based proteins and climate-friendly grains are trends that extend beyond the farm to food labels and brand marketing. The consumer viewpoint of “what is sustainable agriculture?” does influence how and what food products are grown on the farm, a reality that certainly resonated with our board.

So how did the topic of sustainable agriculture practices creep into human nutrition discussions?

The adage “you are what you eat” is one of the earliest nutrition lessons I learned. But today, it’s morphed into “you are what you eat and how it’s grown.”

This is due to two main reasons: global population growth and hunger in the lower income countries and a growing rate of obesity and chronic disease in the higher income countries. These two global issues have become the launchpad for universal nutrition discussions about how present-day food production has contributed to each of these issues.  Over a decade ago, after an United Nations FAO symposium concluded that a diet focused solely on nutrition would not meet the needs of the 21st century, the food and nutrition community began shining a bright light directly on agricultural practices.

Questions like:

  • Is animal protein good for the planet?
  • Can we substitute plants for animals?
  • Why do we only grow crops for animal food, not human food?
  • How do we increase diversity of crops?
  • How should we think about carbon reduction and the value this creates within our food system?
  • How do we discuss the value of methane reduction with non-production audiences?

are a few of the frequently asked questions, which often prompt a deeper dive about how food is grown and whether the land is healthy enough to grow what’s needed.

From a nutritional perspective, soil health is a direct link to human health. Without enough available nutritious food, hunger and poverty continue unabated and our overall health can decline. Soil biodiversity and the ability of plants to extract nutrients from the soil is a topic that no longer lies solely within the boundaries of agriculture. The nutrition community expects agriculture to see the connection between food production and human health by protecting the soil.

During the BOA roundtable, Advisor Bill Boehm, former senior vice president with The Kroger Company, said, “There will be regional differences on how farmers manage their respective crop production, but two common sense principals should be applicable to everyone: Don’t disturb the soil more than you have to, and keep it protected.”

As farmers and ranchers, I believe we can bridge the perceived gap of connecting what we grow to the quality of human health. Solving global issues like hunger, poverty and the burden of an unhealthy population depends on the availability of food but equally on the quality of food. Adopting sustainable agricultural practices is doing the right thing for personal and planet health. Consumers want it, the nutrition community expects it and ultimately, and we all depend on it.

Check out more insights from our board of advisors.