Giving Compass' Take:

• Dr. Peter May, one of the contributing authors of the TEEBAgriFood report, shares the opportunities that he sees to improve the food system.

• How can donors use this information to direct their giving? What opportunities exist to form impactful partnerships? 

• Learn more about the TEEBAgriFood report.

Dr. Peter May is a resource economist and full professor at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, who founded the Brazilian Society for Ecological Economics-ECOECO. He is a Steering Committee member and chapter author of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) report on how to evaluate agriculture and food systems while considering a range of social, human, and environmental dimensions across the value chain.

What do you think is the best approach to changing our food system? Do you think it’s through international agreements, grassroots efforts, or the private sector?

In terms of effects, consumer pressure is number one. If enough consumers vote with their pockets, change will come. The question is, can enough consumers mobilize to effectively accomplish a boycott? There are only two variables in price determination, one is demand, the other is supply. If the demand for a product decreases due to consumer pressure, it will drive change in the food industry.

These movements need access to communication channels, to widely read columns such as those I mentioned in The New York Times, to be successful. In my chapter in the TEEBAgriFood Foundations report, we look at the issue of getting information in the right hands and to different groups. However, scientific information can be manipulated and converted into policy that is negative for the food system. There are many barriers to go through to provide credible and useful scientific knowledge to consumers.

We need to have intermediate roles for all actors in the system. All stakeholders need a role. Grassroots efforts will have their role, as will consumer advocacy and good science. If we’re always changing what we tell people to eat and do not explain the reasoning well, people will stop listening and eat whatever they want. There are a lot of people in society who do not eat well because the science confuses them.

Read the full conversation about the food system with Dr. Peter May at Food Tank.