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Lead academic: Natalia Lawrence (Psychology)
Lead academic: Dan Bebber (Biosciences)
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 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 in small interdiscplinary groups, 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.

Grand Challenges 2018

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 whose work has been referenced in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. You can read more about Tom’s organisation and some of their recent work (e.g. a report for the EU Commission on palm oil) here.

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. The campaign’s focus this year was on encouraging local organisations to take action on sugar. Example pledges include: making tap water freely available; reducing promotions on sugary foods; and increasing the availability of healthy food choices. Tamsin also updated us on the progress of previous campaigns, such as changing eating behaviour in schools (launched last year in 2017). To see more about Exeter Sugar Smart, click here.

Here is the 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.

Photos from Grand Challenges 2017