Ohio Wesleyan faculty share their thoughts on lessons they've learned from 2020 and how they hope we can move forward to a better world in 2021.

By Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D.

Liz NixThe pandemic of 2020 has caused major disruptions in a variety of industries, not least of which has been our food industry. Many people used this time to stock up on cooking basics, which the food system was unable to keep up with, leaving empty shelves. At the same time, we saw massive food waste. This food waste was, in large part, due to the specialization of our food system.

Many industrial food producers rely on specific markets for their product, such as restaurants, schools, cafeterias, and wholesalers. With government shutdowns, many of these markets were not available to producers, and as a result, milk was being dumped out by the gallons, animals were being euthanized, and crops were being tilled under.

Those who lost their jobs were likely experiencing food scarcity for the first time, while food pantries and free meal programs were unable to deliver products as they normally would.

All of these food-related issues arise from a concept of food system resilience.

In the United States, we have always had an abundance of food (to the detriment of our health). However, when our food system was challenged, we proved not to be resilient in quickly adapting.

Some small farms and food producers were able to adapt in response to changing food markets, but most of the U.S. food is produced on a large scale and industrially, making it more difficult to adapt to rapid change. This pandemic has brought out the flaws in our food system.

The future of food may rely on all of us looking to change how we produce, shop for, and eat our food. Environmentalists, dietitians, policy makers, and businesses will be looking now at how we can create a food system that can withstand disaster—one that is socially just, environmentally sustainable, and supports small businesses and farms.

Liz Nix is an Assistant Professor of Nutrition who conducts research in behavioral interventions to improve the diets of various communities, particularly low-income communities.