How does alcohol affect our health?

There is no getting around it: while a lot of fun, alcohol is just not good for you. But there are ways you can mitigate the effects so they are not so damaging to your brain and body. Awareness is the first step to having fun responsibly.

Did you know that cold weather is directly correlated to increased drinking? With winter coming, we wave goodbye to warmer temps and say hello to more libations. One study found that cooler climates show a higher prevalence of binge drinking. That said, as we go into holiday parties and what might be the booziest time of the year, it is important to understand some of the major impacts that alcohol has on our bodies and minds.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast of Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., neuroscientist, and tenured Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford, you should take a listen. One of his more recent podcasts, titled Alcohol and Your Health, dives into the effects drinking alcohol has on our brain and body.

I’m here to deliver you the cliff notes and some additional research to help empower you with knowledge about alcohol’s effects on our health.

Define Your Drinking

The first takeaway I had after listening was examining how I would define my drinking habits. How many drinks do you have a week? Are they high at 14 or more, or are they low to moderate at less than 7 drinks per week? I would fall in the low to moderate range. But consider your patterns: are you a chronic binge drinker, packing your 14 drinks into your Friday and Saturday nights? Or are you more of a one to two glasses of wine-a-night kind of person?

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

– Benjamin Franklin

The next consideration is, of course, your drink of choice. A glass of red wine can increase our levels of antioxidants, like procyanidins, quercetin, and resveratrol to keep heart tissues young and delay aging. Good news for red wine connoisseurs!

Here comes the not-so-good news: ALL alcohol contains empty calories to some degree, providing no nutrients for your body. Not to mention that the consumption of alcohol actually leads to poor dietary decisions due to its effects on brain function, like eating those nachos or cookies at the end of a long night. A double whammy! And if you opt for the sugary cocktails loaded with calories (some topping out at 500 calories per glass), or a craft beer that typically has more alcohol than a regular beer, the impact of your alcohol consumption might be greater.

Alcohol’s Impact on the Brain 

But it is not just about the calories. Alcohol changes the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which primarily functions as your cognitive control, impulse control, and memory center. While drinking, your circuitry temporarily rewires (the feeling of being drunk, impulsive, and loss of memory). The good news is that the damaging effects of this rewiring can be reversed with two to six months of abstinence; a couple of “dry” days simply won’t cut it. (Hmm, dry January and February might be a good thing to jump on board with!)

“Being drunk is a poison-induced disruption in neural circuitry caused by acetyl aldehyde as the alcohol is being metabolized.”

– Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.

Further facts state that people who start chronically drinking at a younger age are more likely to develop alcohol dependence. Whereas those who, regardless of when they started drinking, consume alcohol consistently in even just small amounts, such as one drink per night, experience an increase in their cortisol levels when they are not drinking. This can cause an increase in stress and anxiety and inflammation in your body, keeping you awake at night and retaining fluids the following day.

Other hormones are affected, as well. Serotonin levels can also be impactedboth in the short and long term. Depending on the volume of alcohol you drink, you can incur a warped perception of reality. For instance, you might think dancing on that stage in front of your boss is a brilliant idea in the throes of your company’s holiday party. In the longer term, changes in serotonin can affect your mood, ranging from hyperactive to decreased alertness.

Other hormonal disruptions and shifts come in the form of estrogen and testosterone. Alcohol creates an accelerated conversion of testosterone to estrogen, which can lead to gynecomastia, or an increase in the amount of breast tissue in males, as well as other issues.

Because of hormonal disruptions caused by alcohol, you can experience a diminished sex drive and an increased hunger drive, leading to more fat stored in your body.

Gut Reaction

Furthermore, there is a direct impact on what is called the gut-liver-brain axis. Your gut runs from your throat to the end of your intestines and communicates to the brain via nerve cells, and to the liver via chemical signaling. Alcohol disrupts the gut microbiome, which controls the nerve cell and chemical signaling, proving that alcohol’s impact is systemic. This circuit disruption causes inflammation and can make you want to drink more.

Alcohol also kills the healthy bacteria in your colon, which can cause leaky gut. So after a night out, be sure to take probiotics and eat fiber to try and replace your gut microbiota.

How about that Hangover!

Now, after getting a sense of the effects on the brain, hormones, gut and liver, this next section should come as no surprise…how bad you feel the day after drinking. The dreaded hangover is due to alcohol’s myriad side effects: poor sleep due to disruptions in your bloodstream, headaches due to vasoconstriction, dehydration…the list goes on.

Here is a great video to show what goes on in the body after drinking:

An easy rule of thumb to remember is that often, the darker the alcohol, the more severe the hangover will be. Studies have shown that certain congeners—or small amounts of chemicals in alcohol—can contribute to a hangover’s severity.  Typically, darker liquors such as bourbon and brandy contain larger amounts of congeners than clear liquors like vodka and gin. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Congeners are more likely to produce a hangover or increase the severity of a hangover.”

Five Key Takeaways

We’re not suggesting you cease drinking altogether, but instead consider that the frequency, onset, duration, and type of drink do matter. Be sure to give your body a break by refraining from drinking for longer periods of time, allowing your brain cells to regenerate and rewire, and your liver and gut microbiome to reset. But as Dr. Huberman addresses:

People who regularly drink one to two nights per week experience changes in the neural circuitry of the prefrontal cortex even when not drinking. They experience increased synapses in the connection that controls impulsive behavior and a reduction in synapses for habitual behavior.

Try less sugar and carb-filled selections, and when possible, opt for occasional red wine as your alcohol of choice to reap some of the antioxidant benefits. For more on that, check out our post on the MIND diet.

Here are some takeaways to consider before going into the holiday celebrations:

  1. Try to stick to no more than 4 drinks per week. This was also recommended by my doctor on my annual checkup.
  2. Your drink selection matters. Consider more than just the sugar. Nitrates, sulfites, and other ingredients can add insult to injury.
  3. Alcohol is a diuretic, so make sure you have nutritious food and plenty of electrolytes prior to consuming alcohol. And continue to drink lots of water, which also helps the morning after.
  4. Eating before drinking helps slow alcohol’s absorption into your bloodstream but will not slow its negative long-term effects.
  5. Alcohol increases cancer risks, particularly breast cancer. Taking folate and B12 supplements may help slightly.

A Roadmap to Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Supply chain issues have caused empty shelves. And coupled with the effects of inflation, many of us have reasonable cause for concern. Will we find all of the food for our Thanksgiving table, and at what price?

A Rise in Prices

Inflation has had a major impact on food prices in 2022. The cost of all food has increased by over 11% in September since 2021.

And we can expect the same will be true for our Thanksgiving dinners this year. But, despite inflation’s unprecedented rise, there’s reason to be slightly optimistic as we draw closer to Turkey Day: U.S. consumer inflation dropped to 7.7% year-over-year in October.

That’s a big relief on what has otherwise been an upward trend of price increases since January 2022. However, food is still very expensive. And many products will be served on our Thanksgiving table in just a few short days.

Here are a few of the biggest increases we’ve seen:


The Main Event – Turkey

The price of Thanksgiving turkeys are currently up 17% from this time last year, and this is not surprising considering all that’s happened in the turkey world this year. Not only has inflation caused prices to rise, but transportation costs are also up and supply chain issues are still in effect.

Wild turkey - WikipediaFurthermore, the avian flu has not only killed turkeys but has also forced commercial operations to shut down to contain the spread. So should we be worried? Not exactly. However, do expect to pay more for your turkey. My turkey, which I purchased last week, went up to 69 cents, compared to 49 cents last year. It also is a good idea to shop early, especially if you’re looking for a fresh turkey, but we recommend buying frozen because it’s juicier and has just as many nutrients as fresh.

Learn our best tips on how to properly clean, prepare, and cook a Thanksgiving turkey here.

Baking/Bakery Goods

 Your apple and pumpkin pies this year have just gotten more expensive. The consumer price index reports state that the prices for margarine, flour and prepared flour mixes, and frozen and refrigerated bakery products have seen the biggest jump from last year at a 16.2% increase.

Eggs have also seen a sharp rise, hitting a record-high price in the Midwest at $4.18 a dozen. Even if you don’t live in the Midwest, you’ve probably still seen an increase since most grocery stores are selling a dozen eggs at 200% over the average price of $1.45.


Margarine, an alternative to butter and used in many baked goods, has seen one of the largest price increases in the last year. Up 44% in cost from last September, there are several reasons this could be the case.

These 15 Butter Alternative Brands by Upfield are Going VeganAn increase in demand is one as many are starting to realize that most margarine is made from vegetable oils and contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, making it heart-healthy.

The other reason for this large bump in price is because of the war in Ukraine. Most of the vegetable oils used in margarine production come from Ukrainian imports, and with the current war’s impact on exports, the cost of these oils has increased dramatically. Indonesia’s ban on palm oil exports also plays a part, with supply down and demand up, creating strain on the supply chain.

Our Thanksgiving dinner is a great illustration of how interconnected our global food system is. Even with the war in Ukraine, we are still impacted at our own local grocery stores.

How to Shop Smarter, Not Harder

Now that we’ve looked at what will cost us the most this Thanksgiving compared to previous years, let’s talk about what we can do to still celebrate the holiday at a price we can afford.

Fresh vs. Frozen

We’ve all heard the saying, “fresh is best.” However, this is super misleading as it’s not always the case.

11 healthiest frozen fruits and vegetablesWhen a vegetable or fruit is picked, there are a lot of steps in the supply chain, including washing and packaging to name a few, that it must go through before reaching our grocery store shelves and, eventually, our fridges at home.

During each of these steps, the fruit or vegetables loses a bit more of their nutrients. However, when fruit and vegetables are picked and sold as frozen, they’re frozen almost right away, locking in these nutrients. This makes frozen fruit and vegetables the same nutritionally if not more nutritious than fresh.

So, if you find it more affordable to buy your corn or beans frozen—go for it!

Look for grocery stores that are lowering prices

This time of year, many grocery stores offer deals and discounts on food for Thanksgiving. For example, my own grocery store has a rewards system, where every time you shop there, you earn points. If you earn enough points before Thanksgiving, you receive a free turkey. Another grocery store in my town is offering an “early bird” sale, where all turkeys are over half off right now and will increase the closer you get to the holiday, further proving our point to shop early!

Aldi has made major news recently because they are matching their 2019 prices on some Thanksgiving-related foods this year. This is an attempt to help consumers have the same Thanksgiving they’ve had in the past. The President of Aldi, Dave Rinaldo, was quoted saying:

“Providing amazing products at the absolute lowest prices is what we’ve always done, and we know right now that’s more important than ever… We expect to welcome tens of millions of customers in our stores this Thanksgiving season, and we want them to know they can count on us.

So why not attempt that additional side dish this year, or invite over a few more friends or family members? You can rest easy knowing ALDI has your back this Thanksgiving, and beyond.”

Walmart is also returning to 2021 prices on some Thanksgiving foods. This includes turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.

Key Take-Aways

  1. Most foods, like turkey, eggs, flour, and margarine, will cost more this Thanksgiving. Follow the sales and discounts to ensure you’re getting the best price.
  2. Get your turkey NOW! This will help you not only get a better price but also ensure you actually get a turkey for your dinner. Might as well grab one and put it in your freezer for Christmas while you’re at it.
  3. Ask your local grocer if they’re planning on running any sales or discounts during the holiday season. More than likely, they’ll say yes and you can plan your shopping around those times.
  4. Give frozen produce a chance. Not only are these products regularly affordable and prone to frequent sales, these fruits and veggies are picked and flash-frozen at peak freshness, so you’re guaranteed a flavorful side. Consider buying frozen corn, peas, green beans, cranberries, cauliflower, and butternut squash.
  5. Enjoy the holiday with your friends and family! Remember, that no matter what we are finally able to spend the holidays with our loved ones again, so enjoy the time together.

5 Best Shopping Strategies for Thanksgiving

Whether you’re looking for quick information, or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Challenges in our global food system have caused increased food prices, empty grocery shelves, and supply chain problems. So how can we shop for Thanksgiving to get everything we need while also saving money? Let us tell you below!

1. Follow the sales

Most foods, like turkey, eggs, margarine, and flour will cost more this Thanksgiving. However, most grocery stores will have sales or rewards programs to get items for cheaper or even free. Follow the sales and discounts to ensure you’re getting the best price.

2. Get your turkey NOW

Between supply chain issues and the avian flu that wiped out many flocks, fresh turkeys and those in specific sizes may be hard to come by, so don’t be afraid to buy them now. This will help you not only get a better price but also ensure you actually get a turkey for your dinner. And while you’re at it, might as well grab two and put one in your freezer for Christmas!

3. Talk to your local grocer

As we mentioned above, many stores offer sales, discounts, and rewards programs during the holidays. A grocery store in my hometown is giving away free turkeys to anyone that reaches the necessary points from shopping. So, ask your local grocer now if they’re planning on running any sales or discounts during the holiday season. More than likely, they’ll say yes and you can plan your shopping.

4. Give frozen produce a chance!

Not only is frozen produce more affordable on a regular basis and prone to frequent sales, but these fruits and veggies are also picked and flash-frozen at peak freshness, so you’re guaranteed a flavorful side dish. Consider buying frozen corn, peas, green beans, cranberries, cauliflower, and butternut squash.

5. Enjoy the holidays!

Try not to worry too much and just enjoy the holidays this year with your friends and family. Remember that, no matter what, we are finally able to spend the holidays with our loved ones again, so take time to enjoy it together.

Lost at Sea: Ukraine Struggles to Revive Ag Sector

Sea-borne exports had ended following Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, disrupting international agricultural markets, which depend upon Ukraine for a significant portion of the corn, wheat, and sunflower oil moving in international markets. Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s agricultural exports reached almost $28 billion in value.

After the cessation of exports due to the invasion, an international agreement allowing the resumption of shipments through the Black Sea helped restore trade. But the Ukraine Ministry of Trade nonetheless has reported a decline of 30.7 percent in grain exports. Global commodity prices have receded from the peaks reached immediately after the invasion, but price volatility (coupled with comparable uncertainty in global energy markets) continues to worry inflation-conscious leaders far beyond the Black Sea theater.

A Refresher Course in Ukraine Agriculture

Dirt to Dinner first reported on the situation in Ukraine in January, including a recap of the significant role played by that country in global agricultural markets.

But as a reminder of why this subject remains so important to our global food system, here are some important facts:

  • Agricultural products are Ukraine’s most important exports. In 2021 they totaled $27.8 billion, accounting for 41 percent of the country’s $68 billion in overall exports.
  • In 2021, Ukraine was the largest global exporter of sunflower oil and meal; #3 in barley and rapeseed exports; #4 in corn exports; #5 in global wheat trade, #7 in soybean markets; #9 in sunflower trade. Ukraine exports at least 75% of total production of these top crops.

  • Largest fertilizer producer in the European Union, with exports of mineral fertilizer and ammonia to nearly 70 countries worth more than $2 billion; exports account for roughly 10 percent of the global mineral fertilizer market
  • 33% of the total population is engaged in agriculture
  • Has 80 million acres of arable land (#10 globally)
  • Prior to the invasion, it had 45,000 ag enterprises (55% gross output), and 4 million farming households. Agriculture also represented 11% of Ukraine’s GDP and 38% of total foreign exchange earnings
  • Major export partners: #1 Russia, #2 China, #3 Poland
  • Major import partners: #1 China, #2 Russia, #3 Germany, #4 Poland (energy)
  • Most Ukrainian exports pass-through ports on the Black and Azov Seas: Odessa, Pivdeny, Chornomorsk, Kherson, Mariupol, and Berdyansk
Sources for bulleted data: National Investment Council of Ukraine; International Trade Administration;, US AID, Successful Farming, USDA WASDE & PSD Database, USDA FAS.

What’s the current situation?

As has been widely reported, the invasion promoted an immediate shutdown of exports from Ukraine. Government officials, humanitarian groups, and others almost immediately began expressing grave concerns about the effect of the shutdown on the markets traditionally served through the Black Sea corridor.

Many of these customers included some of the most food-insecure populations in the entire world – markets across the Middle East and Africa, in particular. Ukraine alone provides more than 40 percent of grain distributed in the developing world by the United Nations World Food Program.

In response to the dire situation, national leaders responded by negotiating the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed a resumption of shipments under controlled conditions.

Ukraine officials reported in early November that grain exports from the country had reached 15.1 million tons since the start of the 2022-2023 agricultural year that began in July. That includes roughly 8 million tons of corn, 1.2 million tons of barley, 5.7 million tons of wheat and smaller volumes of rye, flour and other agricultural commodities.

Exports levels for wheat still are down more than half from their peak, barley shipments down almost 75 percent, and rye down by more than 80 percent. But corn shipments have shown a strong recovery, and while the export volumes remain largely well below pre-invasion levels, the success of the Sea Grain Initiative has been a major step forward for Ukraine, Ukraine farmers, local consumers and foreign customers.

Prior to the recent Ukraine announcement, data from the United Nations already had shown the progress being made. UN estimated that more than 10.4 million tons of grains and other foods have shipped from Ukraine ports since the Initiative was signed in July.

The United Nations Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) notes that 19 loaded vessels await inspection in Turkey. Ukraine officials, however, place the total number of vessels having loaded under the agreement much higher – closer to 150 in all.

Meanwhile, as many as 110 vessels are poised to enter key Ukraine ports for loading, according to some media reports.

The growing signs of the success of the initiative allowing the resumption of sea-borne shipments have raised hopes of a return to more-normal commerce, despite the continuing conflict – with commensurate hope for greater food security for the needy nations dependent upon grain and oilseeds from both Ukraine and Russia.

Recent developments are less cause for a victory parade than a reminder of the importance of a return to normal commerce for not just Ukraine but the entire global food system.

International observers express cautious optimism that the agreement allowing resumed exports will survive, despite the political bluster from Moscow and the continuing hostilities. European politicians have speculated Putin’s saber-rattling might be simply a negotiation ploy to strengthen his hand in future international discussions and negotiations.

Political figures around the world decried Putin’s statement, accusing the Russian leader of attempting to “weaponize food.” President Joe Biden called his threat of withdrawing from the agreement “purely outrageous.”

When the initial outrage over Putin’s threat subsided a bit, officials also pointed to other more-encouraging signs. For example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently announced the creation of a special project office in Ukraine dedicated to the success of the shipping agreement.

Rippling Effects

What may be overlooked in the discussion may well be the economic interests of Ukraine and its agricultural community.

Ukraine producers are wrapping up a harvest marked by the predictable effects of prolonged conflict. Ukraine agricultural officials report a total grain harvest of 50-52 million tons this year, down from the record 86 million tons recorded in 2021. The World Economic Forum estimates for the July 2022 to June 2023 season showed the predictable drops: 5.4 million tons of wheat, 7.7 million tons of corn, and 1.2 million tons of barley. (Last year’s export figures were 23 million tons of corn, 19 million tons of wheat, and 5.8 million tons of barley.)


The outlook for Ukraine’s oilseeds sector is equally dark. The numbers are more than a little mind-numbing to the average person. But the bottom line is clear: the conflict has seen one of the world’s largest players in global agricultural markets suffer some serious downturns in its economic interests.

International information group, Interfax, cited Ukrainian officials predicting the 2023 sunflower crop could be down as much as 43 percent, dropping to 9.4 million tons from 16.4 million tons last year. That would be the lowest production level in more than a decade.

Ukraine should harvest 14.86 million tons of oilseed crops this year, including 9.4 million tons of sunflower seeds, 2.87 million tons of rapeseed, and 2.59 million tons of soybeans, officials added.

About 96 percent of the harvested sunflower seed, or roughly 9 million tons, are expected to be processed, compared with 38 percent of the soybean crop (1 million tons) and 7 percent of rapeseed.

Ukraine will produce 4 million tons of sunflower oil this year, but strong global demand will prompt a draw-down of reserve stocks, resulting in total exports of 4.2 million tons.

Even so, that’s down almost a million tons from last year.

But what about the Ukrainian farmer – and consumer?

Despite the success of Ukraine’s efforts to drive out Russian invaders, farmers across the country face a difficult situation. In many regions, such as the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions, the devastation of battle has destroyed infrastructure, equipment, and even homes, leaving the entire population without the necessities of work and life.

Farms and granaries have been completely destroyed, lives lost and futures decimated. Ukrainian officials say as much as 30 percent of Ukraine’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, at a cost of $100 billion.

To make matters even more dire, land mines are strewn throughout farm fields worrying farmers each time they go out on foot or their tractor.

For the survivors and those operating outside the areas of major conflict, the outlook is only marginally better. Economists and agronomists worry that the higher input prices that followed the invasion, coupled with the “minor” matter of continuing armed conflict and political turmoil, might reduce plantings for next season.

Planning and planting for the future have become a critical issue for the entire country. A hungry and desperate population must be fed. A significant sector of the national economy needs to revive. International agencies and universal goodwill won’t be enough.

Ukrainian producers face an enormously difficult future, and functioning if not thriving export markets offer the best hope not just for financial success but perhaps more so for simple survival.

Is it all doom and gloom?

Backed by help from the international community, Ukraine has made great strides toward resuming its leading role in global agricultural markets. That’s good news for consumers everywhere. The subtraction of this important contributor to global food security has been a major worry for the entire civilized world. The resumption of grain, oilseed, and other commodity exports from this critical part of the world should be reason for celebration.

But we’re not completely out of the woods, as recent bluster from Russia has made clear. The agreement critical to renewed Black Sea shipments remains fragile, and the world must remain diligent in supporting efforts to sustain it – and assure its success. Without it, we risk more than continued turbulence in the food and energy markets that dictate much of the cost of our food.

5 Things You Don’t Need to Worry About this Holiday Season

Whether you’re looking for quick information, or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

The holidays are a busy time for all of us! Buying presents, cooking food, wrapping gifts, and hosting family and friends can be stressful. So, here are five things that shouldn’t be on your list of concerns this holiday season when it comes to your food.

1. GMOs

GMOs are still a very controversial topic in mainstream culture. But, this is because not many people truly understand what a GMO is. Well, if there is one thing you should know by now, it’s that you do not need to worry about GMOs on your dinner table. Aside from having many benefits for farmers, GMOs also have benefits for us consumers and are not a danger to our health whatsoever. It is actually, the most studied food technology that exists.

To learn more about what a GMO is, click here.

2. A Food Shortage

Between the conflict in Ukraine, the labor shortage, and high food prices, it’s easy to be worried about not finding our favorite holiday foods this year. But, we’re here to tell you, there will be no food shortage this holiday season! However, if you want to avoid higher prices, we recommend buying your food early.

3. Pesticides

A big push for the organic movement is around a pesticide-free agricultural world. However, farmers who grow organic foods still use pesticides, and these pesticides are not harmful to us. This is especially true for glyphosate or RoundUp. It’s the world’s most heavily-used herbicide, and many people believe it’s dangerous for humans, but this is simply not true.

So, don’t worry about pesticides in your food this holiday season, and to learn more about glyphosate, click here.

4. Cyberattacks

Recently, some food production companies have been attacked by cyber-hackers. These companies include JBS, NEW Cooperative, and Crystal Valley. Yikes, does this mean we should be worried about a cyberattack shutting down our food supply chain? Nope! Even with these threats, the American food system has never been safer, and industry experts are working tirelessly to keep our farms and food safe and the supply chain in motion.

5. Restrictive Diets

The holidays are about enjoying ourselves and our time with friends and family. It’s not the time to put ourselves on a restrictive diet, then punish ourselves when we don’t stick to it. The most important thing to remember this holiday season is to eat a balanced diet and everything in moderation. It’s ok to have a slice of pie or a Christmas cookie; just remember to eat your fruits and veggies, and get some exercise, too!

Bobo’s Global Balancing Act at TNC

Prior to TNC, Jack Bobo served as CEO of Futurity, a food foresight company and is the author of the 2021 book, Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices“. Recognized by Scientific American in 2015 as one of the 100 most influential people in biotechnology, Jack is a global thought leader who has delivered more than 500 speeches in 50 countries on the future of food.

He previously served as the Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President for Global Policy and Government Affairs at Intrexon Corporation. Prior to joining Intrexon, Jack worked at the U.S. Department of State for thirteen years as a senior advisor for global food policy.

An attorney with a scientific background, Jack received a J.D., M.S. in Environmental Science, B.S. in biology and B.A. in psychology and chemistry, all from Indiana University.

Feeding the World while Healing the Planet

Food is the ultimate convener…

It transcends language barriers. It is a vehicle for unity. It brings people and countries together. Food is culture. It’s no wonder food could be one our greatest solutions to the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The global food system accounts for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, 90% of habitat loss and 70% of water use globally. At the same time, climate change and biodiversity loss will make it much harder to produce food in the future, threatening the livelihoods of producers and ultimately making it more difficult to feed a growing population.

Swift improvements must come to our global food system. Business as usual cannot continue; the pressures the system faces are too great. By mid-century, accelerating climate change will generate acute stress, just as increasing global population and  affluence shift demand towards more protein-heavy diets.

Repositioning the global food system as an environmental solutions provider requires moving from high-level concepts to action. It means changing underlying incentives and norms. It means shifting global policies and markets. But how?

Foodscapes. By using a foodscape-scale approach to planning and action, we can help drive progress that benefits both people and the planet.

The Nature Conservancy is pleased to present its Global Regenerative Food Systems Director, Saswati Bora, for this in-depth Q&A session.

Many thanks to Saswati for her time educating us on foodscapes and the potential they bring to solving our humanitarian, climate and biodiversity crises.


What is a foodscape?

Foodscapes are distinct geographic areas where healthy land, freshwater and ocean ecosystems coincide with critical food production systems. They accelerate the transition of food systems from degrading and extractive to productive and restorative for nature and people.

In our science report, Foodscapes: Toward Food System Transition, we define a foodscape as a distinct food production geography with specific combinations of biophysical characteristics and management attributes, including the political, cultural and economic influences of food production.

How does mapping foodscapes help provide the scientific framework for the transition needed in the global food system?

Some attributes of foodscapes, including biophysical and agricultural management characteristics, can be mapped at a global scale. The global mapping used in our foodscapes report resulted in more than 80 foodscape classes that showcase the diversity of food production systems around the world.

Understanding the diversity that underpins our global food system is a first step toward making improvements. It can provide useful insight that can be further developed, adapted and applied using local, place-based knowledge.

We believe that mapping foodscapes helps realize the potential for nature-based solutions with varying impacts that are sensitive to local conditions, while also understanding how economic, political and community systems intersect when producing food.

© The Nature Conservancy
This map shows all 86 global foodscapes classes, making it possible for food system leaders to go from analysis to a realistic vision of the changes that need to happen at local and subnational levels in order to meet demand, improve ecosystem services and address the challenges of climate change.

What are some of the solutions that will help create a food system transformation?

There are solutions that can mitigate the interrelated climate, biodiversity and water challenges, while at the same time improve livelihoods and wellbeing of producers. Any actions we take must keep producers and rural communities at the center of the approach.

For example, in intensively cultivated breadbasket foodscapes, such as the Punjab-Haryana in India, crop residue burning due to the short window between rice harvest and wheat planting is causing respiratory harm that disproportionately impacts the poorest population and contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporting producers to mulch-till the residue instead of burning helps to clear the air and keeps people healthy. This also constitutes a regenerative ag practice which, in turn, will improve soil health, nutrient content and water management — all which lead to better outcomes for people and nature.

Amandeep Kaur, pictured here in her tractor, farms 45 acres in Punjab, India, with her father. She is a leader in adopting regenerative practices, such as using a Smart Seeder, which eliminates the need to burn and improve the soil health by trapping moisture and creating natural fertilizer.

In a mixed-use foodscape like the Argentina Gran Chaco, global demand for beef and soy has driven the destruction of native habitat and forests. The adoption of agro-silvopastoral techniques — where farmers allow cattle to graze in forests instead of clearing more land to open pastures — offer the potential to protect the traditional mixed-use landscape while producing economically important commodities that provide a livelihood to rural communities and protecting globally important biodiversity and carbon storage.

What are the challenges in transitioning to a regenerative food system?

While the foundation for a regenerative food system has been laid and long been employed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, regenerative approaches have not achieved the scale necessary. Our current economic systems are just beginning to incentivize on environmentally and socially positive outcomes. For instance, trading carbon credits helps incentivize the farmer to store more carbon through regenerative ag practices.

Behavioral norms are entwined with existing systems, and change towards regenerative outcomes is focused on marginal change, rather than systems-based approaches. There is a move to align and coordinate among entities that can create change at scale.

We also know that the diversity of production systems emphasizes the need for a place-based approach rooted in local ecosystems, market structures, cultural norms and institutions. If we are to quickly move the food sector to champion regenerative practices, we must address a fundamental gap: how do we support the producers on our food frontlines – farmers, ranchers, fishers and pastoralists – to translate this global charge into on-the-ground change?

We believe that by taking an integrated systems change approach at the level of a Foodscape can help build bridges between global ambition and local implementation. In doing so, foodscapes provide policymakers, private sector leaders, economists and community leaders an additional tool to help map a relevant path towards food system transformation.

How can we translate all of this into action?

To help propel a transition to a regenerative food system, The Nature Conservancy aims to catalyze a transition to regenerative practices in a diverse and representative set of Foodscapes in a manner that charts a course for global food system actors to move more quickly.  Through a systems-level and science-based approach that includes coalition building, coordinated planning, market development, supply chain actions and public policy, we want to unlock the pace and scale that is needed for these regenerative outcomes to impact the world’s climate, biodiversity and human welfare goals.

Over the coming years, we plan to support a portfolio of 12-15 diverse regenerative foodscapes that can be a positive force for people and nature. Here, we plan to demonstrate how to engage local producers, the private sector and policymakers to accelerate regenerative practices. By scaling deep in a portfolio representing the diversity of geographic and food production archetypes, we hope to develop pathways that other regions and organizations can replicate.

At the global level, we want to build the science, partnerships and investment pathway that catalyze change at scale. We want to influence success by building coalitions and continuously learning, adapting and replicating what works — while balancing pace and scale with equity and inclusion of local communities.

Foodscape In Action: Northwest India

In India, the economy is dominated by agriculture and key production regions – like the states of Punjab and Haryana in the Northwest – are already experiencing acute climatic stressors. As a result, many of the prevalent agricultural practices are impacting the region’s scarce groundwater levels, decreasing air quality, and negatively impacting the health of the population, reducing long-term viability of the land, and adding to global greenhouse gas emissions.

But transitions are happening, with science-backed and viable alternatives to business as usual. Farmers in the region are recognizing they can be climate heroes while simultaneously supporting their own bottom line by adopting regenerative and no-burn agricultural practices. These natural climate solutions are benefiting farmer livelihoods and climate mitigation efforts.