Food for Thought

by Terence Jeyaretnam

They say that you can live without air for three minutes, without water for three days and without food for thirty days, but that sometime after seven days people start behaving more like savages.  Food is considered a basic need, but still over one billion of us globally go hungry each night according to the United Nations.  As the world approaches the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals – which include a goal of reducing the proportion of hungry people by half – the Global Hunger Index suggests that hunger in the world remains at a level characterised as “serious.”

That is at one extreme.  At the other extreme, food waste is a significant issue in developed countries.  An astonishing 25% of all food produced does not end up being eaten.  Add to this the coming peaks.  For example, the global population is projected to grow from 6.9 billion (the 7th billion person will be born sometime this year) to between 8 and 9.7 billion by 2050. Demand for cereal, oil and sugar crops is expected to double in this time as people consume more meat and calories.  But water, land and fertilisers are already in short supply, and climate change will add to this pressure through reducing arable land and water availability.

This made me stop and think, something that I’m devoting more and more time to!  What’s gone wrong?  Our society needs food, water and shelter. Beyond that friendships, health, wealth, sleep and sex make us happy, it is said.  Our levels of happiness have not increased since they started measuring happiness over fifty years ago.  So, somewhere along the way, businesses became more focused on how to grow their profits by selling more things to us, that supposedly made us happy.  From fast fashion to fast food, we became consumers rather than remain a happy human lot.  Depression levels have soared because people don’t seem to find happiness anymore and the waterways are littered with Prozac.  Then the day came when a can of soft drink was less expensive than a piece of fruit at a supermarket.  Why is this the case, I asked Professor Tim Flannery at the recent Food Summit, when we know that the external impacts on the environment and the community from making the can of soft drink are not appropriately priced into it, and neither are the future health consequences of that form of ‘food’ compared to, say, the colourful and tasty banana.  He shook his head, dismayed as I was to see where society has come to.

As cooking shows dominate the television landscape, and cook books occupy premium shelf space, I will leave you with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s TED prize-winning speech pledge to the planet - “I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity”.  Ignore food at your peril. In fact, celebrate it – eat less, eat healthy, eat plants, eat fresh and eat local, and you’ll be happier and we’ll be more sustainable.


Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (,
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.