Through the Masters Degree in Sustainable Tropical Agriculture (MATS), students engage in applied research in the development of sustainable production with advice from international experts from renowned universities worldwide.
By: Jean Pierre Enríquez, Food Science and Technology student. (MATS-ZAMORANO). Adriana Hernández Santana, Public Health Doctorate, Faculty member and Head of Human Nutrition Laboratory, Food Science and Technology, Zamorano.
The current pandemic circumstances in which we find ourselves presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the population’s changing habits during confinement and its effects on health. International organizations are calling for attention to the alarming rise in obesity rates and its related health issues, as well as the increase in people living with hunger.
World Food Day 2020 (http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/theme/es/) calls for “Worldwide solidarity to help the most vulnerable populations recover from the crisis and make food systems more resilient and robust” with the goal of mitigating climate effects, providing healthy, affordable and sustainable diets for all. It is an opportunity to adopt innovative solutions based on scientific evidence. Hence the importance of developing, providing, and scaling Food and Nutritional Security (SAN), and thereby contributing to Sustainable Development Objectives (ODS) (Shilombolenia et al., 2019). One of the ways to accomplish this is through the reduction of waste by consumers and post-harvest waste (approximately 30% each in the food chain).
Sustainable development is a way to reach a tridimensional balance between society, the economy and the environment. The environment is an important consideration for natural resource conservation and the reduction of environmental impacts (Rodríguez & Suazo 2017). The goal is to realize a reduction of food waste all along the production chain. In 2016 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) established sustainable agriculture as a tool to strengthen SAN in Latin America and the Caribbean, thereby strengthening policies and practices which benefit agricultural and production sectors (FAO, 2016).
Incorporating patterns of “sustainable food” offers healthy nutrition for people and the environment. The concept of sustainable diets recognizes the interdependency of production and food consumption, supporting the notion that human health cannot be isolated from the ecosystem´s health (Dernini et al., 2016). Hence, building a food culture based on a Sustainable and Healthy Diet (DSS) is important to stopping the high amount of food waste all along the food chain.
The Mediterranean diet (DM) complies with these sustainability and health principles. It allows for a thorough evaluation of the effect of an isolated nutrient or food item within a range of food products as well as for the evaluation of possible synergies between them (Blázquez et al., 2016). Living a preventative lifestyle involves principles of DM and DSS: diet, exercise, environment, and sustainability in order to prevent, counteract and diminish the risk of disease (Ruiz & Ruiz, 2019).
A sustainable feeding diet spans a broad spectrum, from the procurement processes to transportation, distribution, and food preparation (Serra, 2009). DM and DSS are cultural and ecological models involving the selection, production, processing and distribution of food, which has proven the impact agriculture, sustainable rural development, environmental impact and nutrition can have on the reduction of the incidence of chronic diseases. Employing sustainable practices from production to processing and consumption generates a feeding system in which larger nutritional and environmental benefits can be realized, thereby diminishing food waste.
For this reason, on November 16, 2010 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) registered the Meditteranean Diet as an intangible cultural heritage factor for humanity.
The fact that a diet is healthy for people does not mean that it is healthy for the environment or that it comes from a sustainable production system. It is necessary to educate the population and raise awareness of the benefits of adopting improved dietary habits for human health AND the environment.
This education is especially important for adolescents as they leave their family homes to attend university. They become responsible for their own feeding habits (Cadarso et al., 2017) and this is a vulnerable moment in which young people’s choices often result in malnutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. Imbalanced diets trigger undesirable consequences largely due to the high consumption of fast food with high levels of saturated fats, sugar and salt. Diets may go so low as to include sugary sodas as a daily staple which has the added detriment of generating plastic waste which also aggravates the environment.
The 2015 “Healthy Zamorano” statement seeks to enhance the university’s healthful dietary habits and healthy treatment of the environment by encouraging students to assume responsibility for their health and wellbeing, as well as protecting the common good. Assuming and promoting a DSS contributes to the ODS and positions Zamorano as a leader in the field of health and environmental sustainability.