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

Future Food: Securing Sustainable Food Systems in the 21st Century

Future Food

Grand Challenges has now finished for this year. We will release information on Grand Challenges 2023 in the next academic year on our Grand Challenges website. In the meantime, follow us on @gc_exeter to check out the events of GC2022 and find out information as it is released!

This innovative and fascinating Challenge was designed to improve students' understanding of a number of key themes associated with food. Students were 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.

Before and during Challenges Online Week, students heard from a range of academics working on different areas of food sustainability via online videos and interactive discussions. During the week, students worked in small interdisciplinary groups to design their own project to address an aspect of the theme they were working on. Students had to freedom to work on the issues and questions that they were most passionate about and create something exciting and relevant, whilst making an impact. For example, the student project voted the overall winner on this Challenge in 2021 created a website to promote the use of more seaweed in our diets as a more sustainable and heathier option than fish by educating people on how to grow and cook with seaweed. Students also made suggestions to improve agricultural legislation in the UK, created cookbooks and guides to help inform people to make more sustainable food choices, and designed apps to help reduce food waste in Exeter and beyond. These are just a few examples of the exciting things students have created on this Challenge!

The Challenge academics have created an online course around the key debates in this area, which you can take before Challenges Online to build your knowledge around key themes.

Enquiry Groups

Enquiry groups are the subtopic of the challenge that students will focus on for Challenges Online Week. These are the enquiry groups that ran on the Future Food Challenge in June 2021: 

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.

Meet the Challenge leads

Dr Natalia Lawrence

Associate Professor in Translational Medicine

Academic profile

Dr Dan Bebber

Associate Professor in Biosciences

Academic profile

Prof Stefano Pascucci

Professor in Sustainability and Circular Economy

Academic profile