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Study information

Food and Sustainability: Economy, Society and Environment

Module titleFood and Sustainability: Economy, Society and Environment
Module codeSOCM045
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Matt Lobley (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module surveys the ways in which food production and consumption is connected to the contemporary crisis of sustainability, as well as ways in which associated problems may be addressed. You will critically examine the technologies of contemporary food production, processing, and retailing. You will focus on the impact of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics on soil, water, biodiversity, food productivity and consumer health; the promises and threats arising from new technologies such as genetic engineering, automation and artificial intelligence; and the causes and effects of waste along the food chain. You will also learn how proponents and practitioners of innovative approaches—from regenerative agriculture to a circular economy approach—draw selectively on knowledge systems, old and new, in attempts to build more sustainable food systems. In the examination of each of these topics, you will look at the social, political, economic, and environmental dimensions of problems and proposed solutions, with a view toward understanding the tensions between these as well as potential synergies.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will read works on food and sustainability from a range of disciplines, including agricultural and aquacultural sciences, environmental studies, nutrition and health sciences, science and technology studies, sociology, anthropology, geography, development studies, and political economy. Through engagement with the literature, you will develop perspectives on food and sustainability at various scales, analysing problems as well as critically examining proposed solutions. The module will prepare you for your own research in the field of study, whether academic or within the context of public institutions, industries, or third sector organisations with an interest in food and its place in sustainable communities, sustainable economies, and sustainable environments.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Critically analyse a range of sustainability challenges in the production, processing, retailing and consumption of food
  • 2. Identify and critically assess the roles of a range of actors of various types and scales in food related sustainability challenges

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Discern the social, political, economic, and technological factors in food related sustainability challenges
  • 4. Recognize and articulate critical perspectives on a range of proposed solutions to food related sustainability challenges

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Critically analyse sources that identify and propose solutions to food related sustainability challenges
  • 6. Present relevant information in support of coherent critical appraisal of food related sustainability challenges and proposed solutions

Syllabus plan

Introduction: Food, Agriculture, Climate, Biodiversity, Nutrition and Health: Threats, Mitigation and Opportunities

Land, Soil and Productivity

Chemical Inputs and Biodiversity

Biotechnology: Promise and Peril

Antibiotics and Anti-Microbial Resistance


The Global Fisheries Crisis

Food Waste

Regenerative Agriculture and Circular Economies

Meat: from Concentrated Feed Lots, to Pasture, to Veganism

Automation and Artificial Intelligence in Food and Farming

Food Livelihoods, Wellbeing and Sustainable Communities

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities 2211 x 2-hour weekly seminar
Guided independent study 5010 x 5-hours weekly reading for seminar preparation
Guided independent study 2010 x 2-hours weekly preparation of reading response papers
Guided independent study 208Research and preparation of extended essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Weekly reading response papers and their use in class discussions2 weekly reading response papers totalling 500 words1-6Oral feedback after week 2

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio of weekly reading response papers and their use in class discussions25Portfolio of 8 weekly reading response papers totalling 2,000 words1-6Mark with written feedback on portfolio
Essay503,000-word essay on a relevant topic of student’s choice, approved by convener1-6Mark with written feedback
Recorded presentation2515 minutes1-6Mark with written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Portfolio of weekly reading response papersPortfolio of weekly reading response papers (2,000 words)1-6August/September
EssayEssay (3,000 words)1-6August/September
Recorded presentationRecorded presentation (15 minutes)1-6August/September

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Jackson, Cameron et al (2021) “Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People: An outline of the H3 Project”, Nutrition Bulletin 46(4): 497-505.

Kahn (2016) One Health and the Politics of Antimicrobial Resistance, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kilpatrick et al (2014) “Supporting Farmer and Fisher Health and Wellbeing in ‘Difficult Times’: Communities of Place and Industry Associations”, Rural Society 22(1): 31-44.

Oosterveer and Sonnenfeld (2012) Food, Globalization and Sustainability, Earthscan.

Pretty (2004) The Pesticide Detox: Towards a More Sustainable Agriculture, Routledge.

Sage (2012) Environment and Food, Routledge.

Schurman and Munro (2010) Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology, University of Minnesota Press.

Sexton, Garnett and Lorimer (2022) “Vegan Food Geographies and the Rise of Big Veganism”, Progress in Human Geography

Temm, Marshood and Stedman-Edwards (2008) The Global Fisheries Crisis, Poverty and Coastal Small-Scale Fishers, WWF.

Thu and Durrenberger (1998) Pigs, Profits and Rural Communities, State University of New York Press.

Wolfert et al (2017) “Big Data in Smart Farming: A Review”, Agricultural Systems 153: 69-80.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The Biggest Little Farm, FarmLore Films

The End of the Line, Dartmouth Films

Kiss the Ground, Big Picture Ranch

Gill (2020) It’s Not the Cow, It’s the How, Ted Talk

Key words search

Food, agriculture, fisheries, sustainability, environment, climate, biodiversity, health, livelihoods, community, development

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date