The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of the food supply chain and food systems in general. Whether it was the shuttering of food service establishments resulting in nutrient-rich foods having no place to go, or the closure of schools and community centers that deprived students and families of oftentimes their sole source of food and nutrition, all of this led to a rapid rise in the rate of food insecurity due to a food system that was not prepared to pivot quickly during a pandemic. In fact, a recent USDA annual assessment of global food security estimates there are 1.2 billion food-insecure people this year – an increase of 32%, or 291 million people, from 2020.
All of this has led to an increased urgency for food systems transformation – across multiple food systems domains including nutrition and health, environment, economic, and social. While many sectors and actors have a role to play in this effort, no profession is more perfectly poised to impact change than RDNs.
RDNs work across almost all aspects of the food system – be it at companies, organizations, manufacturers, healthcare, restaurants, food service, trade associations and agricultural commodities – just to name a few. This first-hand knowledge and work experience, coupled with the fact that food, nutrition, diets and health are central to food systems gives RDNs a unique perch to help impact change. So how can RDNs engage in food systems transformation?
- Show Your Skills. RDNs are trained to address food systems issues such as hunger and malnutrition, food access and security, food loss and waste and even equity issues for food systems workers and can serve as subject matter experts and even core members of food systems efforts – at the global, national, regional and local levels.
- Track Food Systems Efforts. There are many global initiatives focused on food systems transformation including the United Nations Food Systems Summit – which was convened as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The Summit launched bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs and emphasize the need to work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food.
- Collaborate and Engage. RDNs are natural leaders and can convene other experts to collaborate on food systems efforts – no matter how big or small. By bringing forth their unique perspective and leaning into their training and expertise, RDNs can drive transformation by bringing together key stakeholders to help address some of the challenges of sustainable food systems.
The bottom line: RDNs bring a unique skill set to a variety of food systems sectors, and overall food systems transformation cannot be achieved without the input and support of credentialed nutrition and dietetics practitioners.