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

Campus: Exeter

Press release! Dr Natalia Lawrence, one of three academics leading this Challenge, says:

"Food for Thought is developing an exciting line-up of speakers for GC week! We will hear from the National Farming Union about the future of British farming, particularly in the light of Brexit, and debates around sustainability, climate change, and competition in a globalized market.

We will also hear from members of the Exeter Food Network about the role of local food production and communities. We will discuss and hopefully contribute to local action to try and ‘reconnect’ people to the food they eat and to support the needs of those living in food poverty (e.g. via food banks and school food clubs).

We will also hear from campaigners and researchers leading national campaigns to improve our diets and remove junk foods from our environment – from the UK “Sugar Smart Cities” campaign led by Jamie Oliver’s team, to the fascinating “do not tempt me” campaign run by the Netherlands Nutrition Centre.

So come along, meet the experts, enjoy some nice food and then get stuck in to contribute to making a difference!"

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:

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

Flickr gallery from Food for thought 2016