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A circular food system can withstand crises like COVID-19 — and provide delicious meals

There are many hard lessons learned from the pandemic. One is that our food system needs a serious reboot. Luckily, we need only look to nature’s cycles for clues on how to fix it.

In a circular food economy, food waste becomes valuable, affordable healthy food becomes accessible to everyone and innovation uses a regenerative approach to how food is produced, distributed and consumed.

A pilot initiative in the Ontario city of Guelph and surrounding Wellington County, called Our Food Future, is Canada’s first circular food economy. It is demonstrating what a regional circular food model can look and taste like.

Falling out of sync with nature

The pandemic has magnified deep inefficiencies and inequity in the food system. On one hand, we see tremendous food waste and on the other, worsening food insecurity.

One estimate is that 40 per cent of food is wasted in our current system. Meanwhile, one in eight Canadians worry about their next meal, and one in six children who go hungry each day. In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, the situation is even worse, with one in five residents experiencing food insecurity.

The food system has evolved into a linear model of take-make-waste. We take from the ground the nutrients needed to grow food, make it into many products that line supermarket shelves, and then consume it, thinking little of the waste produced. This linear model is out of sync with the cycles seen in nature that were inherent in food production practices for thousands of years.

Food, design and systems thinking

Wading through the complexities of the food system can be overwhelming, but there are many opportunities to design a better model. First, it’s important to see the connections between food and design.

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