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Lead academic: Natalia Lawrence (Psychology)
Lead academic: Dan Bebber (Biosciences)
Lead academic: Hazel Mycroft (Psychology)
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal

Food for Thought: Securing sustainable food systems in the 21st century

Challenge overview

This is an innovative and fascinating challenge, improving your understanding of a number of key themes associated with food. You 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.

During the week, you will will hear from a range of academics and external stakeholders in the food sector, and work in small interdiscplinary groups to design your own project to address an aspect of the theme you are working on. You will not be restricted in this, 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 want to carry out your own research, or collaborate with local organisations. In a previous year, students worked in collaboration with Exeter Soup to host a charity event to raise money for local causes.

2018 summary

Our speakers this year included the University of Exeter’s very own Professor Michael Winter, who advises the government on sustainable agro-food systems and food security. Students also heard from Dr Tom Curtis, a leading sustainability advisor for 3Keel whose work has been referenced in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

Closer to home, Emma Croft from the Devon County Council presented on local food initiatives; and Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, an expert from Public Health Devon, came to tell us about how we can help make Exeter Sugar Smart.

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.

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. On Friday morning, they presented their work to an expert panel and other students on their Challenge. They then showcased it later in the day at an exhibition in the Forum, which was attended by students from all Challenges, University staff and members of the general public.

Here is the 2018 Food for Thought Challenge Timetable .

Enquiry groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that students focus on for Grand Challenges Week. These are the enquiry groups that ran in 2018.

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.

Student projects

Student projects from the 2018 Challenge are shown below.

ExeFood: A Facebook group for people to share their unwanted food and prevent perfectly good food from going to waste. Students post their unwanted items in the group with a picture and details including time and place of pick up. 

Food Justice: Destigmatising the use of food banks, and mapping out where people can find help if they are in food poverty

Eat Cheap, East Easy, Eat Green!: A campaign aimed at Fresher students; raising awareness about the health, environmental and ethical benefits of a more plant based diet, and giving students ideas of vegan substitues for foods.

Stop Trumps: Raising awareness about the amount of sugar in food through a Top Trumps game and accompanying campaign

Research into the differences in the motivation of food choice between men and women

Future foods: Is food sustainability limited by social and cultural outlooks, or will people in developed states adapt to meet the demands of food shortages in a globalised world?

Should companies be doing more towards sustainable palm oil?

The positives and negatives of the future of genetically modified food

Lab-made meat: The future of meat and finding alternative protein sources

Nourish: Developing an app to make people aware of the global implications of their food choices

What can we learn from comparing the waste management policies of Europe and Asia?

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