Food security is a pressing issue, but it is an issue that is largely invisible in countries like Australia. Most Australian’s haven’t faced food insecurity and the system shields the issue with shelves that are always stocked, fresh produce without seasonality, vague provenance and little or no indication of the social or environmental impacts, with convenience and price being forefront. Our food system has faced many recent shocks, drought, bushfire then flood, however COVID-19 lifted the veil for many people on the vulnerability of the food system in a visual, visceral way. The rapid, monumental, global shift created a domino effect resulting in a number of negative (ie. panic buying, increased food insecurity, pressure on food banks, food business and market closures), positive (ie. focus on local, uptake of F+V boxes, interest in cooking/baking, sale of seeds, awareness of food security) and different outcomes (ie. food business pivoting, changing regulations). As the pandemic progresses over the long term, there is also uncertainty about potential future impacts (ie. reliance on backpacker labour, end of Job Keeper payments, imports/exports and border closures, reduced supply capacity, questions about transmission through cold storage freight).
The pandemic has been positioned as a tipping point, highlighting the fragility of socio-economic systems in the face of climate change and the risks of a return to business-as-usual . There is much discussion about how we ‘build back better’ with this sentiment echoed across food and nutrition dialogue, both in Australia and globally, particularly poignant in the lead up to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.
Access to sufficient, affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food is a fundamental human right. However, in the Anthropocene, complex, cascading shocks and disruptions will increasingly be the new normal and understanding the social, environmental and economic drivers and impacts will be paramount to developing sustainable, resilient and fair food systems.