Today is International Youth Day, an awareness day created by the United Nations. The theme this year, "Transforming food systems: Youth innovation for human and planetary health", highlights the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit, an international event providing global leaders an opportunity to launch new policy and programmatic actions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With a kickoff of the Food Systems Summit next month, it’s increasingly clear that we are at an inflection point for the future of food globally: young people are set to inherit a warming planet and a world of unattained SDGs. But we are not just the future, we are the present. Our voices need to be heard, included, and championed.
At 23, I am a youth, only at the beginning of my career in food systems transformation. I am a Master’s student in human nutrition and food systems, and this summer I am an intern with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)’s EatSafe program (funded by USAID). At GAIN, I have learned about the importance of traditional markets in feeding millions of people around the world, as well as the critical need for food safety. Safe food is essential for meeting nutritional goals, yet it is often neglected in international food system conversations.
The unofficial EatSafe motto is "If it isn’t safe, it cannot nourish." Such a phrase seems so logical: we know safe food is critical to our health and a sustainable diet. But food safety is not a topic covered in my graduate studies: I can count on a single hand the number of times food safety has been the topic of a class discussion.
But we are not just the future, we are the present. Our voices need to be heard, included, and championed.
Foodborne disease disproportionately impacts young people, particularly children, hampering their ability to thrive throughout their lifetime. The World Health Organization estimates that almost one third of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under five. We do not have the privilege to exclude food safety in our discussions.
In the weeks leading up to the Summit, I have watched as stakeholders fill Zoom rooms. These virtual spaces have included small-scale farmers and multinational organizations, government officials and traditional market vendors – spanning the public and private sectors. Beyond the Summit’s action tracks, discussions, and pledges are a network of relationships that will drive cross-cultural learnings and carry the outcomes of the Food Systems Summit in the months and years after these sessions conclude. These stakeholders must prioritize food safety within these relationships and networks, or the food systems will not be able to deliver health and nutrition.
Like food safety, my generation is often overlooked in food systems discussions – despite our power to both start and sustain these conversations. We are online - posting, creating, and sharing around the world. We are students, advocates, and entrepreneurs. We are innovators, but we are also communicators. The Act4Food youth pledge and Act4Change actions are incredible opportunities to amplify youth’s voices at highest level during the Food Systems Summit.
Today is a moment to recognize the power and creativity of youth’s voices, celebrating our commitment to food systems transformation. With the Summit a few weeks away, we have an opportunity and a platform for the world to hear what matters to us.
We have the responsibility to take advantage of this opportunity, to build relationships, and to seek change. Our voices can, and will, be heard during the Summit, but we must keep the conversation going even after the sessions conclude. To make real change, we need to understand, prioritize, and act to make food for everyone sustainable, nutritious and safe.