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Lead academic: Natalia Lawrence (Psychology)
Lead academic: Dan Bebber (Biosciences)
Lead academic: Hazel Mycroft (Psychology)
Designing an App

Past students discuss their app showing global implications of food choices. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal
UN Sustainable Development Goal

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

COVID-19 update

Due to COVID-19, Grand Challenges will not be able to go ahead in its usual face to face format. Instead, we have launched an online programme similar to Grand Challenges called Challenges Online, running 22nd-26th June 2020. Please go to the Challenges Online website for more information and to sign up.

Grand Challenges will return in its usual format in 2021. 

Challenge overview

This is an innovative and fascinating challenge, improving your understanding of a number of key themes associated with food. You will 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 hear from a range of academics and external stakeholders in the food sector, and work in small interdisciplinary 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.

The Challenge academics have also created an online course around the same themes, which you can take before Grand Challenges to build your knowledge around key themes.

2019 summary

Our speakers this year included the University catering manager, and Kai Tiedermann, a Professor from the University of Rhein-Waal in Germany. Students also heard from Lucy Porter from Public Health England’s Behavioural Insights team and Shane Holland (Executive Chair Slow Food UK) who spoke about creating a grass roots movement for social change. 

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.

Enquiry groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that students focus on for Grand Challenges Week. These are the enquiry groups running in 2020.

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 may 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 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 how our major sources of food (crops, fisheries, livestock) are produced and the environmental impact this has, or whether you can eat fish and meat sustainably and what the alternatives are.

One in nine people around the world go hungry every day, and with the global population continuing to increase, food security is a growing concern. Students in this enquiry group will look at major threats to food security which may include: climate change, soil erosion, and the weeds, pests and pathogens that attack our crops. Another area of focus may include ‘climate-smart agriculture’ and looking at the impact of recent extreme weather on food production: e.g the recent early snowfalls in Canada, and drought in Australia that are putting grain prices up. Students may also consider the future of crop production: will it be organic, or genetically modified, or can we find a third way?

This enquiry group will look at issues such as the importance of farm size in driving the economics of agriculture, and what farm size means for those who produce our food. We’ll discuss how governments and organizations like the European Union and World Trade Organizations affect food prices and what is grown around the world, and whether government policies can help us to protect important ecosystem services. Students might also consider ‘sustainable intensification’, and think about what the future food system could look like to benefit our health, environment, and society.

Student projects

Some student projects from previous years 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

Following Grand Challenges Week, Food Exeter have published the map on their website, showing people where they can find free or low cost food.

Eat Cheap, Eat 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 substitutes 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?