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Future Food Systems and Sustainability


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Izabela Delabre
  • Assessment: a 10-minute oral presentation (30%), peer-to-peer feedback on presentations (10%) and 2500-word explanation of a recipe (60%)

Module description

Given the urgency of the myriad environmental and social concerns associated with our global food system, in this module we ask:

  • What solutions are being proposed to achieve sustainable food futures?
  • How can we evaluate their competing visions and claims?

We begin by examining the ecological and human impacts of how food is currently produced, distributed and consumed globally. We then consider the role and modes of ‘future thinking’ by different food system actors and institutions in understanding the opportunities and constraints of more sustainable food futures.

We chew our way through proposed sustainable solutions and their problem framing, from debates over sustainable intensification, urban agriculture, agroecology, plant-based diets, to lab-based or insect protein sources. Drawing on case studies of practices and proposals at local and global levels, and through the analysis of 'recipes for 2050', we will consider how to cook up more sustainable food futures.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction: the (un)sustainability of the global food system
  • Calculating, envisioning and debating food and farming futures
  • Food system sustainability solutions, their effectiveness and equity impacts, underlying problem framings and discourses:
    • Land sparing: intensified futures
    • Land sharing: agroecology, permaculture and small-scale farming
    • Organic agriculture
    • The local and urban: local production networks, urban farming and allotments
    • Sustainable diets: plant-based and alternative proteins
    • Sustainable supply chains: certifications, labels, surveillance
    • Integrated solutions and decision-making processes
  • Fieldtrip: urban food-growing projects in London; insect protein lab facility tour
  • Cinema event at BIMI: plantations, the plot and the global food system, organised by the BISR Plantations Working Group

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • describe the institutional and policy-making context of the (un)sustainability of the global food system
  • examine diverse perspectives of food systems, including non-Western and indigenous framings
  • critically evaluate the sustainability impacts of global food systems for different societal groups
  • assess the effectiveness, equity and trade-offs of food system 'sustainability solutions' at global, regional and local levels
  • show familiarity with key debates, concepts and theories relating to global food systems and sustainability
  • use case studies to demonstrate understanding of the global food system and sustainability.