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Some say the U.S. is close to ‘peak food,’ but what does that mean?

April 28, 2021, 5:45 PM UTC

Access to food and nutrients is so important it can define all aspects of our physical health. Yet while the U.S. is close to “peak food,” said Sensei Ag CEO Sonia Lo, that doesn’t mean everyone is being fed equitably.

Developed countries, including the U.S., are very close to peak food, Lo said in a session of Fortune’s 2021 virtual Brainstorm Health conference. This means we produce enough food to feed the planet, but the distribution of the food is flawed, she told Fortune senior editor Beth Kowitt.

Inefficient distribution leads to food waste. Products can go bad in trucks, or they never get to where they need to go. The problem only gets worse when you introduce the chaos of climate change and a pandemic, said Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker during the discussion.

“The combination of the two has actually led to a continued increase in food prices and is really leading to sort of global food inflation everywhere,” Menker said.

This food inflation is affecting low-income communities in the U.S. and around the world. Food is a big determinant of health, and when prices are unaffordable, the health of these communities also suffers.

In Brazil, Menker said, food prices are up on average 46% year on year. For a country that is also facing one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the world, this increase is significant.

“Those are some real sort of deep economic impacts to society that we’re facing,” Menker said.

A possible solution to inefficiency in the food industry, and a way to get food to the right place at the right time, said Lo, is supporting indoor growing. This type of food production brings produce closer to where people consume it and helps improve nutrition, she said.

To encourage the redistribution of agricultural infrastructure, Sensei Ag is supporting greenhouses and vertical farms.

“Our goal is to gather enough data through our growing operations and our partnership growing operations to make a greenhouse or to make a vertical farm as readily financeable as a John Deere tractor,” Lo said.

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