Future of food: Joeri van den Steenhoven

Future of food: Joeri van den Steenhoven

Note: This blog is part of a series of posts grouped broadly along our three key, strategic themes dealing with the future of work & learningenergy and health. As our society is disrupted by increased globalization and technological change, we believe that entrepreneurship is the key to leading this change and building a better future. A future that includes greater access to quality healthcare, better ways of working & learning, and cleaner, more efficient ways of powering our homes and cities. The quality of our future will be defined by our ability to innovate, to lead change rather than simply respond to it. This is the work we support at MaRS.

Why is it so difficult for people who live in Ontario to eat fruit that is grown in Ontario? In this talk, Joeri van den Steenhoven, director of MaRS Solutions Lab, explores this challenge, along with some of the other challenges that the Canadian food system is facing.

Look in your refrigerator. What percentage of your produce is locally grown? Likely little. Having a local, healthy and sustainable food supply not only helps promote personal health but the overall health of our communities.

Take this example: A 2005 report by the Region of Waterloo found that 58 commonly eaten foods such as apples, tomatoes and potatoes travel an average of 4,497 km to get to the region. This accounts for 51,700 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, contributing to climate change and air quality, which in turn have an effect on people’s health.

The challenge with the current food system is that it is designed to maximize profits through cheap food imports. It’s a system that is measured in volume rather than in the value it provides to consumers.

Joeri says three major factors will put a strain on the status quo:

  • Health: The increase in chronic diseases stresses the need for healthier eating, which in turn puts pressure on food production.
  • Employment: The food system’s labour market is changing fundamentally, with an increase in food services and a decrease in food production.
  • Environment: There is a need for sustainability in food production, processing and distribution to keep food supply intact.

In his talk, Joeri explains that it is critical for Canada to shift from a volume-based strategy to a value-based strategy when it comes to our food supply. MaRS Solutions Lab is currently working on two initiatives to help bring local food to your table:

  • Ontario Tender Fruit Lab: MaRS Solutions Lab is working with fruit farmers, retailers and processors to acquire a better understanding of the obstacles being faced in the tender fruit value chain. The lab is organizing workshops with stakeholders, experts and innovators to develop interventions that will make this system shift happen.
  • Food and Beverage Innovation Centre: MaRS is a program partner of a new large-scale food incubator and innovation centre that will help deliver services to food companies.

Watch highlights from Joeri’s talk below to learn more about the future of food. Watch the full presentation here.