Food can fix it! – A non-foodie´s journey to save the world, starting at the plate

Written and submitted by Gunhild Stordalen

This guest blog post is by Gunhild Stordalen, co-founder of The Stordalen Foundation and initiator of the Eat Forum. Gunhild spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016, and you can watch her talk here.


I am an environmentalist at heart, but a medical doctor by education. Life takes some strange turns sometimes, and in 2009 I found myself serving on the board of one of Scandinavia´s largest hotel companies. There, I started looking for ways to reduce the hotel´s environmental impact as well as to improve the health of guests and employees. Quickly, my eyes focused on food.

Photo credit: Linus Sundahl-Djerf
Gunhild and EAT have hosted several events during the UN General Assembly. In 2016 they led a discussion on urban food systems. Learn more here.

In an average hotel, food and drinks account for as much as 70% of the environmental footprint. Additionally, what we put on hotel restaurant menus can have a huge impact on human health. My question was therefore: “What food could we serve that would be healthier for people, better for the climate and better for the environment?”

I searched the literature, read reports and called experts everywhere. I found lots of papers published on health and nutrition, climate-smart agriculture, organic food and biodiversity. But I found literally nothing that could answer my simple question: “What types of food are both healthy and environmentally sustainable?”

Not being able to find a healthy and sustainable menu solution for some 190 Nordic hotels was quite frustrating. But the fact that no one had the answer for how to sustainably feed a healthy diet to our growing population was straight up shocking!

What we eat and how we produce it is already causing some of our greatest health and environmental challenges. While almost 800 million people are getting too little food, more than 2 billion are getting too much, which causes them to become either overweight or obese. Another 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Increasingly, poor diets are posing a bigger threat to global health than tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

At the same time, the agricultural sector is the single biggest driver of both climate change and environmental degradation. It causes more than 30% of the planet’s loss in biodiversity and consumes 70% of the world´s fresh water. The meat industry alone is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world´s cars, planes and ships combined. And, around one third of all food we produce is either lost or wasted.

Today, we produce enough calories to feed everyone, but those calories are unequally distributed and hugely inefficient. With business as usual, current population growth and diets trend toward more meat and animal-sourced foods; feeding the world’s population will mean increasing food production 50% by 2050.

There is no way we will reach the Paris Climate Agreement or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals without a radical shift in the way we eat and produce our food. Getting it right on food is our great opportunity to get a lot right for both the health of people and the planet.

In 2013, I founded the EAT initiative with professor Johan Rockstrom and the Stockholm Resilience Center as our main academic partner. Last year, British research charity Wellcome Trust joined us, and together we established EAT Foundation. Gathering international leaders from science, politics, business and civil society, EAT is a global platform that aims to help speed up food systems transformation. Through our partnerships and collaborations, we create pathways and measures to make healthy and sustainable food choices accessible, affordable and convenient—for everybody, everywhere.

Photo credit: Linus Sundahl Djer
The EAT Stockholm Food Forum gathers leaders from science, business, politics and civil society, including chefs and activists. At last year´s conference, Jamie Oliver and Gunhild joined forces to get more food professionals involved in a healthy and sustainable food revolution.

I am a hard-core optimist. Even more so after seeing the rapidly growing awareness on the interlinkages between food, health and sustainability challenges in just these four years since I started EAT. I meet business leaders, investors, politicians, UN agencies and consumer organizations that are all ready for change, and I am thrilled to see healthy, green initiatives and innovations popping up everywhere!

Together, we can fix the food system! Of course, significant work still remains, from setting science-based targets to creating coherent policies, and in implementing new business models that are “all good” and not only “less bad”. But right now, the bottlenecks are not lack of evidence, lack of political will or lack of technology. The main obstacles are lack of collaboration and co-creation. I started EAT to connect the dots. That’s why I am proud to work with leaders and game-changers that work together for a healthier, happier and more prosperous future for all.

I´ve never been a foodie. To be honest, I can hardly cook. But I love food because it represents the closest thing we will get to a silver bullet for healthy people on a healthy planet. Whether you are the most powerful man in the world, sit on the board of a hotel chain or you simply prepare dinners for your family and friends, we all have a role to play. What better way to bring people together for a better world than over great food!