We Need To Talk About Food

Helene Schulze’s plea to spark a conversation about food is the first of a series which aims to tackle the complex food system, and shed light on some of the problems and potential solutions to make the way we eat more sustainable, from production to consumption. 

Globally, more than one in three adults over 20 is overweight (EASO, 2013) whilst one in nine does not have enough food to live a healthy lifestyle (Conway, 2016). By 2050, the global population is expected to increase to between 8.3 billion and 10.9 billion (UN-DESA, 2013).

This global population is releasing greenhouse gases at an unsustainable and dangerous rate and, food plays a pivotal role in this.

The agricultural industry is the single largest emitter of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, primarily nitrous oxide from fertilizer, and methane from livestock rearing (FAO, 2015). Additionally, more than 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the agricultural sector (Conway, 2016). Nevertheless, circa one third of food grown for human consumption (around 1.3 billion tonnes a year) is thrown away (Gustavsson et al, 2011).

What is going on here? The way we grow, process, distribute, exchange, consume and think about food is thoroughly unsustainable. The lack of transparency in this system means we (the consumers) do not even know about it.

The agro-food system can be defined as ‘the set of activities and relationships that interact to determine what, how much, by what methods and for whom food is produced and distributed’ (Whatmore, 2002). Study of this global system highlights the intersection of questions of economic and social development, global climate change, urbanisation, health studies, the politics of scientific and technological innovation, social and environmental justice and trade.

Over the coming months, through an exploration of a series of case studies like the food justice movement in Oakland, agroforestry initiatives in the Amazon, food aid in Niger, illegal farm workers in the United States and roadkill cuisine, I hope to untangle this complex food system somewhat and shed light on some of the problems and potential solutions to clean up the way we eat.


Conway, G. (2016) ‘Can we feed the world sustainably?’ Talk on 19/01/2016 at Imperial College, London.

EASO (2013) Obesity Facts and Figures, European Association for the Study of Obesity, [Available at: http://easo.org/education-portal/obesity-facts-figures/, Accessed: 22/01/2016]

FAO (2015) FAOSTAT database, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,. [Available at: http://faostat3.fao.org/faostat-gateway/go/to/home/, Accessed: 22/01/2016]

Gustavsson J, Cederberg C, Sonesson U, van Otterdijk R, Meybeck A. (2011). Global food losses and food waste. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [Available at: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ags/publications/ GFL_web.pdf, Accessed on: 22/01/2016]

UN-DESA (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. ESA/P/WP.227, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,  New York. [Available at: http://esa.un.org/wpp/Documentation/publications.htm, Accessed: 22/01/2016]

Whatmore, S. (2002) ‘From farming to agribusiness: the global agro-food system,’ in Johnston, R., Taylor, P. and Watts, M. (eds) Geographies of Global Change, Oxford: Blackwell.

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