Lead academics Dr Natalia Lawrence and Dr Dan Bebber introducing the 2017 Food for Thought Challenge
Food for Thought: Securing Sustainable Food Systems in the 21st Century
This is an innovative and fascinating challenge, improving your understanding of a number of key themes associated with food. You will attend talks hosted by a range of academics and external stakeholders in the food sector, and be introduced to a number of key debates on issues of food security, sustainable food production, food and health, global food trade, eating behaviours and food related inequality.
Following this, you will work with students from different disciplines in small groups, and choose one area to focus on in more depth. You will expand your knowledge in this area, and design your own student-led project to address an aspect of the theme you are working on. Due to the flexibility of the programme, you can choose issues and questions that you are most passionate about and create something exciting and relevant, whilst making an impact. As part of this, you may choose to carry out your own research, or collaborate with local organisations. Students in 2016 worked in collaboration with Exeter Soup to host a charity event to raise money for local causes.
Students began the week by listening to a series of inspiring talks from experts. In 2017, the Food for Thought Challenge welcomed Michael Winter (Exeter academic) and Andrew Butler (National Famers Union), as well as a series of pitches from local food organisations about how food creates community, how our eating behaviour is affected by the food environment, and how exactly the world is fed. These talks informed the students about the various challenges faced at each of these levels.
Following this, students brainstormed questions and project ideas. Students with similar interests were then matched up to form groups that worked together on their respective projects for the remainder of the week. Some students investigated solutions at a global level, others looked into local based initiatives and some looked into changing an individual’s eating behaviour. As part of their projects, some students collected data by running online surveys or conducting interviews with members of the community and business owners. Each student group produced an output for their project, and these included videos, posters, campaigns and app designs. One group of students ran a public awareness event in town. Each of the outputs produced are shown below.
There were also additional activities that students could participate in during the week, such as an evening screening of the film 'Food Inc' and the ‘Lunch Choice Challenge’, where students tried to find the healthiest and most sustainable lunch available on campus for £5.
At the end of the week, students presented their work to all other students on the Challenge. In the afternoon, they showcased their work at an exhibition in the Forum, which was attended by students from all Challenges, University staff and members of the general public.
The timetable for the 2017 Challenge shows how the week was structured.
These are the outputs that students on the 2017 Challenge produced.
My Food: Feed Green
Students in this group set up an initiative called Feed Green to try to encourage more students to make home cooked meals, as opposed to ready meals. Feed Green would post a cooking video to their blog every week, demonstrating how to make a quick, healthy meal, with detailed written instructions beside it. They hoped that by producing these recipes in student kitchens with student equipment, this would make it relatable. The idea came out of a survey they ran of students at the University where they found that a lot people relied on ready meals, but said that they would would like to learn how to cook healthier meals. This is their promotional leaflet.
My Food: Mood Food
Students in this group focused on how what we eat affects how we feel. They decided to investigate this, because knowing that there are so many different diets, they hypothesised that these may have an impact on mood. They surveyed over a hundred people in varying age groups about their diet (omniviore, vegetrain, pescatarian or vegan) and their mood in the last fortnight. They found that, generally, vegetarians and vegans experienced better mood and higher energy levels than omnivores. They presented their results in a poster.
My Food: Sugar Smart
Students in this group assisted with the Sugar Smart Campaign, looking to educate people about the hidden sugars in foods. They surveyed students looking at their shopping habits and factors which influence them to make unhealthy or healthy eating decisions. They created a leaflet (front and back) and a blog called ‘Student Eats’, which included facts, their survey results, and ideas for quick and healthy recipes. They also took part in a public event in PrincessHay, promoting their campaign to the public and involving them in an interactive quiz highlighting the amount of hidden sugar in food. They found that people tended to underestimate the amount of sugar in savoury foods. This is their presentation.
My Food: Don't Stress, Eat Smart
Students in this group looked at the effect of mood on food choices, and created a campaign to educate students on how to become aware of when they are stressed, and how to make more conscious food choices in these situations. They also surveyed students to found out the effect that stress had on their eating habits, and found that both overeating and undereating were consequences of stress. As part of their campaign, they created a poster, a leaflet, a Facebook page, and engaged with members of the public as part of the Sugar Smart Event on 8th June. This is their presentation.
My Food: Vegetarians and Vegans
Students in this group investigated attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans. They looked at both the ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ side by engaging with both retailers and students. They conducted interviews with managers of the three main outlets on campus (Pret, Market Place and Guild Shop) and explored the managers’ opinions about the availability of vegetarian and vegan options in their own outlet. They also surveyed students focusing on the type of diet they ate and the reasons behind it. They produced two academic posters (1 and 2) to illustrate their conclusions, alongisde their presentation. Their main finding was that vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming a growing trend.
My Community: St Sidwell's
Students in this group carried out a piece of research for St Sidwell’s Community Centre, a non-profit organisation whose activities include support groups, projects and a café run by volunteers. The research investigated the eating and shopping habits of volunteers and other centre users. The aim was for the data gathered to help provide ideas for the Centre’s future projects that could improve eating habits for some of these people. The students carried out a series of informal interviews with people in the Centre, using a range of open and closed questions. They then analysed their results, and compiled their findings into a report.
My Community: 10 Mile Community Feast
Students in this group worked to raise awareness of the 10 Mile Community Feast, a social event where people come together to eat food produced by locally sourced ingredients. The students created a poster and leaflet examining the positive influence of immigration on our concepts of “local” food and investigating the historical involvement of food in bringing people together. They requested recipes from local cafes and stores that specifically stock local produce, and turned these into recipe cards (1, 2 and 3) that provided ideas of what people could bring to the feast. They distributed their leaflets, poster and recipe cards to the public in order to raise awareness of the event.
My Community: Unicorn App
Students in this group designed an app to help the student community come together and integrate through food, whilst also minimising food waste. Users select at least three ingredients that they have available, and the app then suggests a variety of meals that can be made used the limited ingredients they have. The user then chooses which meals they are interested in making, and is then able to view a list of other users nearby who want to make the same meals. The app then allows the user to start a group chat with any of these people to work out if additional ingredients are needed, and to arrange a time to meet and make the meal. They created a poster to advertise their app, and more detail can be found in their presentation.
My Community: The Real Food Store
Students in this group were impressed by the Real Food Store’s strong values in tackling the challenge of re-connecting food and communities. Having identified that there was a plateau both in sales and impact for social change, they worked closely with the Real Food Store to come up with proposals to attract Exeter students as a new customer group. Market analysis showed an increasingly competitive market niche with more and more producers choosing to forego the ‘middle-man’, retail stores. Another focus point of their work thus became identifying ways that the store could move closer to the consumer to build customer loyalty and maximise the store’s value proposition of accessibility.
My Community: Exeter Food Action
Students in this group carried out research in relation to Exeter Food Action, an organisation that looks to minimise food waste by redistributing excess food from manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to community organisations and local charities such as Exeter Foodbank and Exeter Soup Kitchen. The students spoke to variety of food supply stores in Exeter about their food waste, and looked at areas of their practice that they perceived as positive and negative. They made a presentation to summarise their findings, and hope that the information will be of use for charities such as St Petrocks.
My World: Food Waste
Students in this group surveyed 100 people to get an idea of the types of foods that are wasted the most, and the reasons for this. They researched what is currently being done across the world to reduce food waste, and came up with ideas of what can be done to further reduce it in this country, both at a societal and an individual level. Their solutions included promoting the selling of imperfect food items, and encouraging people to donate leftover food to a food bank. They produced a presentation of their work, and also made a video of different people’s opinions on food waste.
My World: Fairtrade
Students in this group investigated the impact of the Fairtrade movement on the global food system. After presenting a brief history of the movement, they evaluated the benefits and challenges of Fairtrade certification and researched and presented the effects on an industry with significant involvement with Fairtrade. They specifically looked at the banana trade; over a third of bananas sold in the UK are Fairtrade. They compiled their findings into a poster and a presentation.
My World: GMO
Students in this group looked at whether the legalisation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) post Brexit would be beneficial for the UK and its economy. They chose this topic whilst considering the risk of the fragile state of agriculture following Brexit, and the possible need to increase national crop yields. They researched pros and cons of this controversial area of bioengineering, and surveyed 200 people to assess public perception on whether this should be introduced in the UK. The results depicted clear misconceptions surrounding GMO use, highlighting the importance of public education before implementing new legislation. More detail is in their poster and presentation.
My World: Meat
Students in this group felt that meat production was an unstainable practice due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the amount of water needed for the livestock, and the land required. They carried out research looking into the advantages and disadvantages of reducing or stopping meat production, and complied their findings into a presentation and a poster. They found that cutting meat out had health, environmental, and food distribution benefits, but that there were nutritional, economic and environmental drawbacks of this. They concluded that whilst both sides had valid points, meat production cannot continue as it is, otherwise it is unsustainable in the long term.
Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that students focus on for Grand Challenges Week. These are the enquiry groups that ran in 2017.
Food is a global issue. The UK imports 40% of its food and that proportion is rising. Agriculture and land use change are responsible for one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, alongside serious impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This enquiry group will investigate the implications of major patterns and trends in global food production. Topics could include the implications of Brexit for UK farming, the amount of land, energy and water required to feed a city like Exeter, the implications of new technologies like genetic modification, the costs and benefits of the international food trade, the role of different certification systems like FairTrade, and how to manage vulnerable resources like fisheries.
This enquiry group will consider the food choices people make and the implications these choices have for health and the environment. What should our priorities for dietary change be for improved health and sustainability and how can we encourage or persuade people to change? Students will look at what drives food choices at the individual and societal level including how factors such as age and socioeconomic status influence food choices and how our food environment primes us to make certain choices. Students will also consider how we could try to harness the power of marketing, product promotions and other environmental nudges to try and change people’s food choices for the better.
Food has the potential to powerfully connect people--with one another, with the places in which they live, and with their natural environments. The industrialisation of food has profoundly challenged these connections, however. This enquiry group will explore ways of reconnecting people with the processes through which their food is produced, as well as ways of using food to connect people to the environment and to other people. Students will look at the use of food in the development of regional economies and viable livelihoods. They will also learn about ways of using food to build community and support vulnerable people. Areas of focus may include: linkages between sustainable food production and tourism; food and social enterprise; or food and mental health.
I was really impressed with the evidence-base presented in students' talks and ideas – they did some serious data-gathering and number-crunching to arrive at some clear and useful suggestions for how various food issues could be tackled. They combined their numeracy, analytical and creative skills to develop engaging and useful ideas for real projects and campaigns that address important issues. These ranged from very local issues (e.g. addressing food waste or unhealthy food marketing on campus) to global challenges (e.g. what fish humans should eat). The diversity of topics the students chose to address and the high-quality outputs they created was inspiring.
Dr Natalia Lawrence, one of the academic leads for the challenge, reflects on 2016's students