Despite being one of the biggest food producers in the world, Brazil is a country with major social inequalities, political instability and a large food-insecure population. Within this context, many are the challenges and complex issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of food chains and urban agriculture, as we know, “the bigger the food chain the bigger the risk”, because food has to travel and pass from hand to hand before arriving at our homes. That impacts the price, the risk of infection and also the quality of the food. Besides, here in Brazil, we are blessed with tropical weather and all the characteristics that allow urban agriculture, including planting fruit trees in towns and public parks. However, we still prefer to grow ornamental plants in public spaces; they are beautiful to see, but we cannot eat them.
The Covid-19 crisis got us thinking about several problems regarding food and agriculture. In this text I will focus on four main points that captured my attention, namely:
- The necessity to “think about” food and supply chains;
- Food commercialization;
- Young people in the crisis;
- Food chains and urban agriculture.
First, we need to reignite the discussion about food itself.
In many ways, the Covid-19 situation made many people switch off the “autopilot” (e.g. going to the market, buying food) and start to think, maybe for the first time, about the questions that a lot of researchers have been discussing: will there be food available? From where should I buy my food? How does a healthy diet look like? How will I have the means to provide for myself and my family? In this context, the urgency to talk about food security, nutritional security and human rights is clear.
It's also important to reflect on food commercialization. In my research, I discuss the necessity to buy food and to feed ourselves. In this regard, the “consumer relation” concerning foodstuffs is a lot different from other consumer relations, because food is not only a goal of many rights and policies but also a basic necessity.
What we have been observing since the beginning of the crisis is the increase in food prices. Particularly, consumers have noticed, day after day, that buying food is getting more expensive. Plus, health and nutrition experts continue to defend healthy diets to increase immunity. So, eating is not only becoming more expensive but also more difficult.
Thirdly, thinking about young people, there are two main scenarios: one involving children, and other young professionals and workers.
Regarding the kids that cannot go to school, we have two main problems that impact food and nutrition security:
- Children in social vulnerability, because of their economic situation, that used to depend on school meals provided by the government in Brazil;
- Children of privileged social strata, staying home and eating a lot of ultra-processed foods, increasing the risk of chronic diseases.
Concerning young professionals, the health recommendations at first were more focused on older people. That means that initially, young people did not have the chance to stay at home in social isolation, creating a belief that coronavirus (COVID-19) was a “disease that only affects old people”. When, in fact, people in their mid-20s were more exposed exactly because they were not seen as a risk group. On top of that, there are a lot of young workers losing their jobs and/or feeling insecure about their future.
Currently, the situation has gotten worse in the country and a lot of people have passed away, or are hospitalized. They belong to different age groups and society has finally come to realize that COVID-19 is a disease that can affect anyone. Also, we all have seen images from all around the globe showing how the planet and nature are actually “recovering” from environmental degradation in these quarantine times.
It is a big wake up call to reconsider the way we live, buy and eat.
Photo credit: Business and Human Rights Resource Centre