“Thought for Food”: It all starts in the mind!

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I took this picture, thinking of food and how tasty it would be with Githeri (a local meal in Kenya, a mix of maize and beans). They say the avocado seed is like a mental model, hidden inside the sweet edible flesh. The seed contains the information that explains the outside appearance of this fruit.

Juneweenex Mbuthia, a researcher at IFPRI in Kenya, has a particular focus on transforming food systems. She participated in the 2024 food systems e-course. Juneweenex believes it is time, more than ever, to start thinking for food. Curious on how? Read her blog.

When you think about food, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's your favourite meal lovingly prepared by your mother, or the joy of sharing well-cooked food with friends and family. You may sometimes think about the seasonality or scarcity of food items, or the increasing cost to provide for your food.

But do you ever think about how food travelled to your kitchen, all the way from a farm to your fork? And why does food travel to some places but not to others?

Currently, we have a world divided by severe hunger on one side and obesity on the other - which are both unsustainable. We cannot keep on focusing solely on increasing food production without addressing consumption patterns and food related health concerns. Solving these problems requires solutions at system level. And it requires the involvement of all stakeholders, from farmers and policymakers to consumers and researchers.

My takeaway from the food systems e-course is the important role of mental models in system thinking and practice. Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the way we produce and consume food. It looks at the bigger picture, rather than splitting things down into its parts. We acknowledge that our daily lives are complex, interconnected, and often unpredictable, and that we must learn and adapt to cope and prosper.

Well, that’s when systems thinking and practice comes in handy, since it involves looking at situations from a holistic perspective, understanding key relationships, accepting uncertainty and complexity, recognizing different perspectives, and working in adaptive and interdisciplinary ways. While it may sound like common sense, applying such thinking can be challenging due to organisational constraints, time pressures, and the limitations of professional training. And behind all this is our mindset, the mental models we have about producing and consuming our food.

Transforming our food systems is a complex but necessary endeavour that requires the collective effort of all stakeholders. Together, we can ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food while preserving our planet for future generations. Whenever you have a thought for food, remember that it counts on you to protect, prevent, or act upon making food systems work. It all starts in the mind!


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Juneweenex Mbuthia

e-course participant

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  • Anonymous

    My name is Ignitious Chilembo, Agricultural Research Officer in Plant Protection. I'm greatly inspired by this blog. Thanks, Juneweenex, for sharing this valuable insight, which not only sheds light on the importance of food systems but also sparks a thought-provoking concept - 'thought for food'! By examining the journey of food from farm to table, we can cultivate a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system that benefits all stakeholders, including consumers, producers, and the environment. This holistic approach ensures that everyone involved in the food supply chain reaps the rewards while minimizing the environmental impact, extracting insights from FAO. https://www.fao.org/fsnforum/node/5518?page=3

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