What is going on with our food systems? This was a question that was brought up in one of our monthly Happy Hours and we think it is an important question to put into focus.

A food system is defined as the path that food travels from field to fork. It includes the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food. In short, its lifecycle. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each step.

The recent coronavirus has given us a lot to think about because it is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it comes from animals. Now, we know that the novel coronavirus did not come about from someone simply eating a bat. However, we do know that coronaviruses are either directly transmitted from other animals to humans through media such as air, through bites and saliva, or indirectly via an intermediate species (vectors), which carry the disease pathogen without getting sick.

Zoonotic diseases can be passed in various ways including: Animal bites that break the skin, insect bites, including mosquitos and fleas, drinking tainted water or dairy products, eating infected meat, inhaling pathogenic droplets or particles, direct skin-to-skin contact, or direct or indirect contact with animal feces or urine.

Regardless of how this virus got to this point, we need to think about how we can mitigate the chances of something like this happening again. So, what would a world without humans using animals as a key food source look like?

A few participants added during the Happy Hour discussion that nobody can dictate how people live their lives. For example, the norm in many Asian countries is “wet” markets, where one can stroll through and choose the animal he or she wants to purchase while it is still alive in a cage. In the U.S, meat can either be fresh from the butcher the morning you buy it, or it can be dyed, ground, processed and packaged, put on a truck, transported for a few hours to a few days, then put in the fridge at the grocery store.

We came to a few conclusions at the end of the Happy Hour: That there may need to be a global standard for meat that is more stringent than it is now. That adopting a plant-forward diet a few days a week is an excellent place to start if we are to help our planet and our health. That we should by no means expect our food to be cheap. Food is nourishment, and we can pay more attention to the choices we make when it comes to our food. So, let’s go to more farmer’s markets instead of the grocery store, eat local when possible, buy seasonal produce, and limit our meat consumption.