Food for thought: securing sustainable food systems in the 21st Century

Campus: Exeter

'Food for thought 2017' is currently being developed by Dr Natalia Lawrence, Dr Dan Bebber, and Professor Harry West. This page will be updated as activities and speakers are confirmed. Check out the gallery at the bottom of this page to get an idea of what students on this challenge will get up to.

During this challenge in 2017, students will explore a number of key debates on issues of food security, sustainable food production, food and health, global food trade, eating patterns and behaviours and food related inequality.

You will attend talks and workshops by experts - the 2016 challenge welcomed Professor Michael Winter from the University of Exeter's Politics department, Mark Shepherd from Waitrose, Ruby King from public health at Exeter Council, Esther Papies behavioural expert from the University of Glasgow, the artist Anne Marie Culhane, digital marketing expert Harry Wild, and more.

The challenge will host an array of events and activities for students to participate in. In 2016, Food for thought worked in collaboration with Exeter Soup to host a charity event to raise money for local causes. Students volunteered at the event and got to hear from several local organisations including Devon Freewheelers.

On this challenge you will also evaluate the role of the media and analyse key resources to develop your knowledge of the subject and generate ideas to address your challenge. You will become familiar with the process of ‘foodprinting’ as a methodology for assessing the impact of communities on food supply chains and the resources needed to sustain them.

Throughout the week, you will work in groups to design a solution for your enquiry group topic, from videos to poster displays, awareness raising campaign to websites. Designing these outputs will encourage you to develop skills you can use in your degree, as well as gain new transferrable skills, including working in groups, independent research, identifying as a global citizen, creative problem solving, leading group work, and more.

Some of the 2016 outputs, include the Mindful food website and Unsellfish presentation.

Enquiry groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that you will focus on during the week:

This enquiry group quantifies the impacts of food production, transport, and consumption on the physical environment. The focus will be on energy, water, and biodiversity. The overall aim is to estimate how the food supplying Exeter contributes to climate change and impacts local and global biodiversity and fresh water quality, and then to consider how changes in the Exeter food system would influence the overall environmental footprint.

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.

Recent years have seen a growing emphasis being placed on 'local' food with the implication that geographical provenance can be a desired factor in food quality, sustainability or ethical production. In this enquiry group, students will consider the relative scale of 'local' food within the broader food retail environment of Exeter and hold it in comparison with what is often described as the 'conventional' supply chain. Students will consider the specific retailing and production networks associated with 'local', as opposed to conventional food and seek to assess the different approaches each adopts to marketing and selling. Finally, students will evaluate the relative penetration of local food networks within food retail and consumption patterns within the University itself.

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

Flickr gallery from Food for thought 2016