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Food Sustainability

The Factors, Choices, and Impact

essay on food sustainability

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What Is Sustainability?

Factors of food sustainability, sustainable food organizations, how to make sustainable food choices, more ways to support food sustainability.

The concept of food sustainability has been the subject of research for several decades, and it's a topic that has increasingly occupied the public consciousness in recent years. But what is sustainability, and what does food sustainability mean?

Food sustainability means producing food in a way that protects the environment, makes efficient use of natural resources, ensures that farmers can support themselves, and enhances the quality of life in communities that produce food, including the animals as well as the people. This idea is the driving force behind a movement to address the fact that significantly more resources go into our global food system than come out of it.

Why Is It Important?

Food sustainability is important for a number of reasons, all of which are interrelated. But the primary reason is that it determines humankind's ability to produce enough food for everyone on the planet now, as well as for future generations. As things stand now, we are already unable to feed the world's population (9 percent of the world's population doesn't have enough food). And since the population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, food production would need to increase 60 to 70 percent by then to meet this additional demand.  

To accomplish this growth, hundreds of millions of hectares of forest would need to be converted to farmland, which would have a massively negative impact on the environment. Moreover, the agriculture industry currently produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation industry, including all road transport, aviation and shipping. Increasing the size of this industry by 60 to 70 percent would be devastating to the environment. It might not even be possible. Food production currently accounts for 70 percent of the planet's freshwater usage. Increasing that usage to keep up with the growing demand for food will put even greater pressure on already scarce resources.

Food sustainability is about feeding the world today and in the future, not by making the world's agriculture system bigger, but by transforming it into something new. This effort faces significant challenges, as it's a multifaceted issue with many factors contributing to it. 

In addition to food security (being able to feed the current population without compromising the ability to feed future generations), other factors include nutrition and health, social justice, natural resources, and animal welfare. Farms need healthy soil to be able to grow healthy produce, and the way we deal with food waste (which is a massive problem ) needs to become more sustainable as well. Additionally, sustainability includes ensuring that food systems benefit everyone equally, not just those in wealthy countries or urban areas. Creating a system where farmers can subsist above poverty is a big part of this.

There are many organizations worldwide that are working to promote food sustainability. Here a some of the best.

FoodTank , a nonprofit research group, pushes for food system change through education, advocacy, and building networks to support food sustainability while alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty.

Sustainable Food Trust focuses on leadership and advocacy, research and policy, and communications to influence and enhance the work of other organizations.

International Food Policy Research Institute has more than 600 employees in over 50 countries working to provide policy solutions to reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, all in a sustainable manner.

One of the most powerful forces behind food sustainability is consumers making choices. Each time a consumer chooses one food product over another, or one type of food over another, they are effectively casting a vote for what sort of future they want to see. To that end, meeting the world's increased food demand by 2050 will require making substantial changes to our diets. Consumption of fruits, vegetable, nuts, and legumes will have to double, while consumption of red meat and sugar will have to be cut by at least half. So making sustainable food choices includes choosing plant-based foods over animal-based ones.

Eating Local : If your food originates close to where you live, it requires less energy to transport it to you, and refrigerate it on its way. Traveling a shorter distance also means fewer emissions are produced.

Eat Seasonally: This goes hand in hand with eating locally, since what's in season locally will naturally match the season you're in. CSAs are a great tool to support eating locally and seasonally .

Eat More Variety: Increasing the diversity of what you eat promotes diversity in agriculture, which in turn is better for the environment. 

Reduce Waste: More than 40 percent of food in the U.S. ends up being thrown away, which means all the resources that went into producing that food are being thrown away with it.

Hunger and Undernourishment . Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie , OurWorldInData.org

Growing at a slower pace, world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100 . United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Feeding the world in 2050 and beyond . George Silva, Michigan State University Extension

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from? Hannah Ritchie, OurWorldInData.org

Water for Food, Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture . London: Earthscan, and Colombo: International Water Management Institute.

Food Planet Health . The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems

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Six brilliant student essays on the power of food to spark social change.

Read winning essays from our fall 2018 “Feeding Ourselves, Feeding Our Revolutions,” student writing contest.


For the Fall 2018 student writing competition, “Feeding Ourselves, Feeding Our Revolutions,” we invited students to read the YES! Magazine article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,”   by Korsha Wilson and respond to this writing prompt: If you were to host a potluck or dinner to discuss a challenge facing your community or country, what food would you cook? Whom would you invite? On what issue would you deliberate? 

The Winners

From the hundreds of essays written, these six—on anti-Semitism, cultural identity, death row prisoners, coming out as transgender, climate change, and addiction—were chosen as essay winners.  Be sure to read the literary gems and catchy titles that caught our eye.

Middle School Winner: India Brown High School Winner: Grace Williams University Winner: Lillia Borodkin Powerful Voice Winner: Paisley Regester Powerful Voice Winner: Emma Lingo Powerful Voice Winner: Hayden Wilson

Literary Gems Clever Titles

Middle School Winner: India Brown  

A Feast for the Future

Close your eyes and imagine the not too distant future: The Statue of Liberty is up to her knees in water, the streets of lower Manhattan resemble the canals of Venice, and hurricanes arrive in the fall and stay until summer. Now, open your eyes and see the beautiful planet that we will destroy if we do not do something. Now is the time for change. Our future is in our control if we take actions, ranging from small steps, such as not using plastic straws, to large ones, such as reducing fossil fuel consumption and electing leaders who take the problem seriously.

 Hosting a dinner party is an extraordinary way to publicize what is at stake. At my potluck, I would serve linguini with clams. The clams would be sautéed in white wine sauce. The pasta tossed with a light coat of butter and topped with freshly shredded parmesan. I choose this meal because it cannot be made if global warming’s patterns persist. Soon enough, the ocean will be too warm to cultivate clams, vineyards will be too sweltering to grow grapes, and wheat fields will dry out, leaving us without pasta.

I think that giving my guests a delicious meal and then breaking the news to them that its ingredients would be unattainable if Earth continues to get hotter is a creative strategy to initiate action. Plus, on the off chance the conversation gets drastically tense, pasta is a relatively difficult food to throw.

In YES! Magazine’s article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” Korsha Wilson says “…beyond the narrow definition of what cooking is, you can see that cooking is and has always been an act of resistance.” I hope that my dish inspires people to be aware of what’s at stake with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and work toward creating a clean energy future.

 My guest list for the potluck would include two groups of people: local farmers, who are directly and personally affected by rising temperatures, increased carbon dioxide, drought, and flooding, and people who either do not believe in human-caused climate change or don’t think it affects anyone. I would invite the farmers or farm owners because their jobs and crops are dependent on the weather. I hope that after hearing a farmer’s perspective, climate-deniers would be awakened by the truth and more receptive to the effort to reverse these catastrophic trends.

Earth is a beautiful planet that provides everything we’ll ever need, but because of our pattern of living—wasteful consumption, fossil fuel burning, and greenhouse gas emissions— our habitat is rapidly deteriorating. Whether you are a farmer, a long-shower-taking teenager, a worker in a pollution-producing factory, or a climate-denier, the future of humankind is in our hands. The choices we make and the actions we take will forever affect planet Earth.

 India Brown is an eighth grader who lives in New York City with her parents and older brother. She enjoys spending time with her friends, walking her dog, Morty, playing volleyball and lacrosse, and swimming.

High School Winner: Grace Williams

essay on food sustainability

Apple Pie Embrace

It’s 1:47 a.m. Thanksgiving smells fill the kitchen. The sweet aroma of sugar-covered apples and buttery dough swirls into my nostrils. Fragrant orange and rosemary permeate the room and every corner smells like a stroll past the open door of a French bakery. My eleven-year-old eyes water, red with drowsiness, and refocus on the oven timer counting down. Behind me, my mom and aunt chat to no end, fueled by the seemingly self-replenishable coffee pot stashed in the corner. Their hands work fast, mashing potatoes, crumbling cornbread, and covering finished dishes in a thin layer of plastic wrap. The most my tired body can do is sit slouched on the backless wooden footstool. I bask in the heat escaping under the oven door.

 As a child, I enjoyed Thanksgiving and the preparations that came with it, but it seemed like more of a bridge between my birthday and Christmas than an actual holiday. Now, it’s a time of year I look forward to, dedicated to family, memories, and, most importantly, food. What I realized as I grew older was that my homemade Thanksgiving apple pie was more than its flaky crust and soft-fruit center. This American food symbolized a rite of passage, my Iraqi family’s ticket to assimilation. 

 Some argue that by adopting American customs like the apple pie, we lose our culture. I would argue that while American culture influences what my family eats and celebrates, it doesn’t define our character. In my family, we eat Iraqi dishes like mesta and tahini, but we also eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. This doesn’t mean we favor one culture over the other; instead, we create a beautiful blend of the two, adapting traditions to make them our own.

 That said, my family has always been more than the “mashed potatoes and turkey” type.

My mom’s family immigrated to the United States in 1976. Upon their arrival, they encountered a deeply divided America. Racism thrived, even after the significant freedoms gained from the Civil Rights Movement a few years before. Here, my family was thrust into a completely unknown world: they didn’t speak the language, they didn’t dress normally, and dinners like riza maraka seemed strange in comparison to the Pop Tarts and Oreos lining grocery store shelves.

 If I were to host a dinner party, it would be like Thanksgiving with my Chaldean family. The guests, my extended family, are a diverse people, distinct ingredients in a sweet potato casserole, coming together to create a delicious dish.

In her article “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” Korsha Wilson writes, “each ingredient that we use, every technique, every spice tells a story about our access, our privilege, our heritage, and our culture.” Voices around the room will echo off the walls into the late hours of the night while the hot apple pie steams at the table’s center.

We will play concan on the blanketed floor and I’ll try to understand my Toto, who, after forty years, still speaks broken English. I’ll listen to my elders as they tell stories about growing up in Unionville, Michigan, a predominately white town where they always felt like outsiders, stories of racism that I have the privilege not to experience. While snacking on sunflower seeds and salted pistachios, we’ll talk about the news- how thousands of people across the country are protesting for justice among immigrants. No one protested to give my family a voice.

Our Thanksgiving food is more than just sustenance, it is a physical representation of my family ’s blended and ever-changing culture, even after 40 years in the United States. No matter how the food on our plates changes, it will always symbolize our sense of family—immediate and extended—and our unbreakable bond.

Grace Williams, a student at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, enjoys playing tennis, baking, and spending time with her family. Grace also enjoys her time as a writing editor for her school’s yearbook, the Pioneer. In the future, Grace hopes to continue her travels abroad, as well as live near extended family along the sunny beaches of La Jolla, California.

University Winner: Lillia Borodkin

essay on food sustainability

Nourishing Change After Tragedy Strikes

In the Jewish community, food is paramount. We often spend our holidays gathered around a table, sharing a meal and reveling in our people’s story. On other sacred days, we fast, focusing instead on reflection, atonement, and forgiveness.

As a child, I delighted in the comfort of matzo ball soup, the sweetness of hamantaschen, and the beauty of braided challah. But as I grew older and more knowledgeable about my faith, I learned that the origins of these foods are not rooted in joy, but in sacrifice.

The matzo of matzo balls was a necessity as the Jewish people did not have time for their bread to rise as they fled slavery in Egypt. The hamantaschen was an homage to the hat of Haman, the villain of the Purim story who plotted the Jewish people’s destruction. The unbaked portion of braided challah was tithed by commandment to the kohen  or priests. Our food is an expression of our history, commemorating both our struggles and our triumphs.

As I write this, only days have passed since eleven Jews were killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. These people, intending only to pray and celebrate the Sabbath with their community, were murdered simply for being Jewish. This brutal event, in a temple and city much like my own, is a reminder that anti-Semitism still exists in this country. A reminder that hatred of Jews, of me, my family, and my community, is alive and flourishing in America today. The thought that a difference in religion would make some believe that others do not have the right to exist is frightening and sickening.  

 This is why, if given the chance, I would sit down the entire Jewish American community at one giant Shabbat table. I’d serve matzo ball soup, pass around loaves of challah, and do my best to offer comfort. We would take time to remember the beautiful souls lost to anti-Semitism this October and the countless others who have been victims of such hatred in the past. I would then ask that we channel all we are feeling—all the fear, confusion, and anger —into the fight.

As suggested in Korsha Wilson’s “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” I would urge my guests to direct our passion for justice and the comfort and care provided by the food we are eating into resisting anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds.

We must use the courage this sustenance provides to create change and honor our people’s suffering and strength. We must remind our neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that anti-Semitism is alive and well today. We must shout and scream and vote until our elected leaders take this threat to our community seriously. And, we must stand with, support, and listen to other communities that are subjected to vengeful hate today in the same way that many of these groups have supported us in the wake of this tragedy.

This terrible shooting is not the first of its kind, and if conflict and loathing are permitted to grow, I fear it will not be the last. While political change may help, the best way to target this hate is through smaller-scale actions in our own communities.

It is critical that we as a Jewish people take time to congregate and heal together, but it is equally necessary to include those outside the Jewish community to build a powerful crusade against hatred and bigotry. While convening with these individuals, we will work to end the dangerous “otherizing” that plagues our society and seek to understand that we share far more in common than we thought. As disagreements arise during our discussions, we will learn to respect and treat each other with the fairness we each desire. Together, we shall share the comfort, strength, and courage that traditional Jewish foods provide and use them to fuel our revolution. 

We are not alone in the fight despite what extremists and anti-semites might like us to believe.  So, like any Jew would do, I invite you to join me at the Shabbat table. First, we will eat. Then, we will get to work.  

Lillia Borodkin is a senior at Kent State University majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Child Psychology. She plans to attend graduate school and become a school psychologist while continuing to pursue her passion for reading and writing. Outside of class, Lillia is involved in research in the psychology department and volunteers at the Women’s Center on campus.   

Powerful Voice Winner: Paisley Regester

essay on food sustainability

As a kid, I remember asking my friends jokingly, ”If you were stuck on a deserted island, what single item of food would you bring?” Some of my friends answered practically and said they’d bring water. Others answered comically and said they’d bring snacks like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or a banana. However, most of my friends answered sentimentally and listed the foods that made them happy. This seems like fun and games, but what happens if the hypothetical changes? Imagine being asked, on the eve of your death, to choose the final meal you will ever eat. What food would you pick? Something practical? Comical? Sentimental?  

This situation is the reality for the 2,747 American prisoners who are currently awaiting execution on death row. The grim ritual of “last meals,” when prisoners choose their final meal before execution, can reveal a lot about these individuals and what they valued throughout their lives.

It is difficult for us to imagine someone eating steak, lobster tail, apple pie, and vanilla ice cream one moment and being killed by state-approved lethal injection the next. The prisoner can only hope that the apple pie he requested tastes as good as his mom’s. Surprisingly, many people in prison decline the option to request a special last meal. We often think of food as something that keeps us alive, so is there really any point to eating if someone knows they are going to die?

“Controlling food is a means of controlling power,” said chef Sean Sherman in the YES! Magazine article “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” by Korsha Wilson. There are deeper stories that lie behind the final meals of individuals on death row.

I want to bring awareness to the complex and often controversial conditions of this country’s criminal justice system and change the common perception of prisoners as inhuman. To accomplish this, I would host a potluck where I would recreate the last meals of prisoners sentenced to death.

In front of each plate, there would be a place card with the prisoner’s full name, the date of execution, and the method of execution. These meals could range from a plate of fried chicken, peas with butter, apple pie, and a Dr. Pepper, reminiscent of a Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, to a single olive.

Seeing these meals up close, meals that many may eat at their own table or feed to their own kids, would force attendees to face the reality of the death penalty. It will urge my guests to look at these individuals not just as prisoners, assigned a number and a death date, but as people, capable of love and rehabilitation.  

This potluck is not only about realizing a prisoner’s humanity, but it is also about recognizing a flawed criminal justice system. Over the years, I have become skeptical of the American judicial system, especially when only seven states have judges who ethnically represent the people they serve. I was shocked when I found out that the officers who killed Michael Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith were exonerated for their actions. How could that be possible when so many teens and adults of color have spent years in prison, some even executed, for crimes they never committed?  

Lawmakers, police officers, city officials, and young constituents, along with former prisoners and their families, would be invited to my potluck to start an honest conversation about the role and application of inequality, dehumanization, and racism in the death penalty. Food served at the potluck would represent the humanity of prisoners and push people to acknowledge that many inmates are victims of a racist and corrupt judicial system.

Recognizing these injustices is only the first step towards a more equitable society. The second step would be acting on these injustices to ensure that every voice is heard, even ones separated from us by prison walls. Let’s leave that for the next potluck, where I plan to serve humble pie.

Paisley Regester is a high school senior and devotes her life to activism, the arts, and adventure. Inspired by her experiences traveling abroad to Nicaragua, Mexico, and Scotland, Paisley hopes to someday write about the diverse people and places she has encountered and share her stories with the rest of the world.

Powerful Voice Winner: Emma Lingo

essay on food sustainability

The Empty Seat

“If you aren’t sober, then I don’t want to see you on Christmas.”

Harsh words for my father to hear from his daughter but words he needed to hear. Words I needed him to understand and words he seemed to consider as he fiddled with his wine glass at the head of the table. Our guests, my grandma, and her neighbors remained resolutely silent. They were not about to defend my drunken father–or Charles as I call him–from my anger or my ultimatum.

This was the first dinner we had had together in a year. The last meal we shared ended with Charles slopping his drink all over my birthday presents and my mother explaining heroin addiction to me. So, I wasn’t surprised when Charles threw down some liquid valor before dinner in anticipation of my anger. If he wanted to be welcomed on Christmas, he needed to be sober—or he needed to be gone.

Countless dinners, holidays, and birthdays taught me that my demands for sobriety would fall on deaf ears. But not this time. Charles gave me a gift—a one of a kind, limited edition, absolutely awkward treat. One that I didn’t know how to deal with at all. Charles went home that night, smacked a bright red bow on my father, and hand-delivered him to me on Christmas morning.

He arrived for breakfast freshly showered and looking flustered. He would remember this day for once only because his daughter had scolded him into sobriety. Dad teetered between happiness and shame. Grandma distracted us from Dad’s presence by bringing the piping hot bacon and biscuits from the kitchen to the table, theatrically announcing their arrival. Although these foods were the alleged focus of the meal, the real spotlight shined on the unopened liquor cabinet in my grandma’s kitchen—the cabinet I know Charles was begging Dad to open.

I’ve isolated myself from Charles. My family has too. It means we don’t see Dad, but it’s the best way to avoid confrontation and heartache. Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like if we talked with him more or if he still lived nearby. Would he be less inclined to use? If all families with an addict tried to hang on to a relationship with the user, would there be fewer addicts in the world? Christmas breakfast with Dad was followed by Charles whisking him away to Colorado where pot had just been legalized. I haven’t talked to Dad since that Christmas.

As Korsha Wilson stated in her YES! Magazine article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” “Sometimes what we don’t cook says more than what we do cook.” When it comes to addiction, what isn’t served is more important than what is. In quiet moments, I like to imagine a meal with my family–including Dad. He’d have a spot at the table in my little fantasy. No alcohol would push him out of his chair, the cigarettes would remain seated in his back pocket, and the stench of weed wouldn’t invade the dining room. Fruit salad and gumbo would fill the table—foods that Dad likes. We’d talk about trivial matters in life, like how school is going and what we watched last night on TV.

Dad would feel loved. We would connect. He would feel less alone. At the end of the night, he’d walk me to the door and promise to see me again soon. And I would believe him.

Emma Lingo spends her time working as an editor for her school paper, reading, and being vocal about social justice issues. Emma is active with many clubs such as Youth and Government, KHS Cares, and Peer Helpers. She hopes to be a journalist one day and to be able to continue helping out people by volunteering at local nonprofits.

Powerful Voice Winner: Hayden Wilson

essay on food sustainability

Bittersweet Reunion

I close my eyes and envision a dinner of my wildest dreams. I would invite all of my relatives. Not just my sister who doesn’t ask how I am anymore. Not just my nephews who I’m told are too young to understand me. No, I would gather all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins to introduce them to the me they haven’t met.

For almost two years, I’ve gone by a different name that most of my family refuses to acknowledge. My aunt, a nun of 40 years, told me at a recent birthday dinner that she’d heard of my “nickname.” I didn’t want to start a fight, so I decided not to correct her. Even the ones who’ve adjusted to my name have yet to recognize the bigger issue.

Last year on Facebook, I announced to my friends and family that I am transgender. No one in my family has talked to me about it, but they have plenty to say to my parents. I feel as if this is about my parents more than me—that they’ve made some big parenting mistake. Maybe if I invited everyone to dinner and opened up a discussion, they would voice their concerns to me instead of my parents.

I would serve two different meals of comfort food to remind my family of our good times. For my dad’s family, I would cook heavily salted breakfast food, the kind my grandpa used to enjoy. He took all of his kids to IHOP every Sunday and ordered the least healthy option he could find, usually some combination of an overcooked omelet and a loaded Classic Burger. For my mom’s family, I would buy shakes and burgers from Hardee’s. In my grandma’s final weeks, she let aluminum tins of sympathy meals pile up on her dining table while she made my uncle take her to Hardee’s every day.

In her article on cooking and activism, food writer Korsha Wilson writes, “Everyone puts down their guard over a good meal, and in that space, change is possible.” Hopefully the same will apply to my guests.

When I first thought of this idea, my mind rushed to the endless negative possibilities. My nun-aunt and my two non-nun aunts who live like nuns would whip out their Bibles before I even finished my first sentence. My very liberal, state representative cousin would say how proud she is of the guy I’m becoming, but this would trigger my aunts to accuse her of corrupting my mind. My sister, who has never spoken to me about my genderidentity, would cover her children’s ears and rush them out of the house. My Great-Depression-raised grandparents would roll over in their graves, mumbling about how kids have it easy nowadays.

After mentally mapping out every imaginable terrible outcome this dinner could have, I realized a conversation is unavoidable if I want my family to accept who I am. I long to restore the deep connection I used to have with them. Though I often think these former relationships are out of reach, I won’t know until I try to repair them. For a year and a half, I’ve relied on Facebook and my parents to relay messages about my identity, but I need to tell my own story.

At first, I thought Korsha Wilson’s idea of a cooked meal leading the way to social change was too optimistic, but now I understand that I need to think more like her. Maybe, just maybe, my family could all gather around a table, enjoy some overpriced shakes, and be as close as we were when I was a little girl.

 Hayden Wilson is a 17-year-old high school junior from Missouri. He loves writing, making music, and painting. He’s a part of his school’s writing club, as well as the GSA and a few service clubs.

 Literary Gems

We received many outstanding essays for the Fall 2018 Writing Competition. Though not every participant can win the contest, we’d like to share some excerpts that caught our eye.

Thinking of the main staple of the dish—potatoes, the starchy vegetable that provides sustenance for people around the globe. The onion, the layers of sorrow and joy—a base for this dish served during the holidays.  The oil, symbolic of hope and perseverance. All of these elements come together to form this delicious oval pancake permeating with possibilities. I wonder about future possibilities as I flip the latkes.

—Nikki Markman, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California

The egg is a treasure. It is a fragile heart of gold that once broken, flows over the blemishless surface of the egg white in dandelion colored streams, like ribbon unraveling from its spool.

—Kaylin Ku, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, Princeton Junction, New Jersey

If I were to bring one food to a potluck to create social change by addressing anti-Semitism, I would bring gefilte fish because it is different from other fish, just like the Jews are different from other people.  It looks more like a matzo ball than fish, smells extraordinarily fishy, and tastes like sweet brine with the consistency of a crab cake.

—Noah Glassman, Ethical Culture Fieldston School,  Bronx, New York

I would not only be serving them something to digest, I would serve them a one-of-a-kind taste of the past, a taste of fear that is felt in the souls of those whose home and land were taken away, a taste of ancestral power that still lives upon us, and a taste of the voices that want to be heard and that want the suffering of the Natives to end.

—Citlalic Anima Guevara, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas

It’s the one thing that your parents make sure you have because they didn’t.  Food is what your mother gives you as she lies, telling you she already ate. It’s something not everybody is fortunate to have and it’s also what we throw away without hesitation.  Food is a blessing to me, but what is it to you?

—Mohamed Omar, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri

Filleted and fried humphead wrasse, mangrove crab with coconut milk, pounded taro, a whole roast pig, and caramelized nuts—cuisines that will not be simplified to just “food.” Because what we eat is the diligence and pride of our people—a culture that has survived and continues to thrive.

—Mayumi Remengesau, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Some people automatically think I’m kosher or ask me to say prayers in Hebrew.  However, guess what? I don’t know many prayers and I eat bacon.

—Hannah Reing, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, The Bronx, New York

Everything was placed before me. Rolling up my sleeves I started cracking eggs, mixing flour, and sampling some chocolate chips, because you can never be too sure. Three separate bowls. All different sizes. Carefully, I tipped the smallest, and the medium-sized bowls into the biggest. Next, I plugged in my hand-held mixer and flicked on the switch. The beaters whirl to life. I lowered it into the bowl and witnessed the creation of something magnificent. Cookie dough.

—Cassandra Amaya, Owen Goodnight Middle School, San Marcos, Texas

Biscuits and bisexuality are both things that are in my life…My grandmother’s biscuits are the best: the good old classic Southern biscuits, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Except it is mostly Southern people who don’t accept me.

—Jaden Huckaby, Arbor Montessori, Decatur, Georgia

We zest the bright yellow lemons and the peels of flavor fall lightly into the batter.  To make frosting, we keep adding more and more powdered sugar until it looks like fluffy clouds with raspberry seed rain.

—Jane Minus, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

Tamales for my grandma, I can still remember her skillfully spreading the perfect layer of masa on every corn husk, looking at me pitifully as my young hands fumbled with the corn wrapper, always too thick or too thin.

—Brenna Eliaz, San Marcos High School, San Marcos, Texas

Just like fry bread, MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) remind New Orleanians and others affected by disasters of the devastation throughout our city and the little amount of help we got afterward.

—Madeline Johnson, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama

I would bring cream corn and buckeyes and have a big debate on whether marijuana should be illegal or not.

—Lillian Martinez, Miller Middle School, San Marcos, Texas

We would finish the meal off with a delicious apple strudel, topped with schlag, schlag, schlag, more schlag, and a cherry, and finally…more schlag (in case you were wondering, schlag is like whipped cream, but 10 times better because it is heavier and sweeter).

—Morgan Sheehan, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

Clever Titles

This year we decided to do something different. We were so impressed by the number of catchy titles that we decided to feature some of our favorites. 

“Eat Like a Baby: Why Shame Has No Place at a Baby’s Dinner Plate”

—Tate Miller, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas 

“The Cheese in Between”

—Jedd Horowitz, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Harvey, Michael, Florence or Katrina? Invite Them All Because Now We Are Prepared”

—Molly Mendoza, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama

“Neglecting Our Children: From Broccoli to Bullets”

—Kylie Rollings, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri  

“The Lasagna of Life”

—Max Williams, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas

“Yum, Yum, Carbon Dioxide In Our Lungs”

—Melanie Eickmeyer, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri

“My Potluck, My Choice”

—Francesca Grossberg, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Trumping with Tacos”

—Maya Goncalves, Lincoln Middle School, Ypsilanti, Michigan

“Quiche and Climate Change”

—Bernie Waldman, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Biscuits and Bisexuality”


—Miles Oshan, San Marcos High School, San Marcos, Texas

“Bubula, Come Eat!”

—Jordan Fienberg, Ethical Culture Fieldston School,  Bronx, New York

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Environmental Impacts of Food Production

Agriculture has a significant environmental impact in three key ways. 

First, it requires large amounts of fresh water , which can cause significant environmental pressures in regions with water stress. It needs water as input and pollutes rivers, lakes, and oceans by releasing nutrients.

It is a crucial driver of climate change, responsible for around one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions .

Finally, agriculture has a massive impact on the world’s environment due to its enormous land use . Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.

Large parts of the world that were once covered by forests and wildlands are now used for agriculture. This loss of natural habitat has been the main driver for reducing the world’s biodiversity . Wildlife can rebound if we reduce agricultural land use and allow natural lands to restore.

Ensuring everyone has access to a nutritious diet sustainably is one of the most significant challenges we face. On this page, you can find our data, visualizations, and writing relating to the environmental impacts of food.

Related topics

  • Biodiversity
  • Hunger and Undernourishment
  • CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Key insights on the Environmental Impacts of Food

Food production has a large environmental impact in several ways.

What are the environmental impacts of food and agriculture?

The visualization here shows a summary of some of the main global impacts:

  • Food production accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. 1
  • Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Habitable land is land that is ice- and desert-free.
  • 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture 2 .
  • 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication is caused by agriculture. 3 Eutrophication is the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich water.
  • 94% of non-human mammal biomass is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1. 4 This share is 97% when only land-based mammals are included.
  • 71% of bird biomass is poultry livestock. This means poultry livestock outweigh wild birds by a factor of more than 3-to-1. 5

Tackling what we eat, and how we produce our food, plays a key role in tackling climate change, reducing water stress and pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.

Environmental impacts of agriculture v2

Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture

Around half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Habitable land is land that is ice- and desert-free. This is what the visualization shows.

Agricultural land is the sum of pasture used for livestock grazing, and cropland used for direct human consumption and animal feed.

Agriculture is, therefore, the world’s largest land user, taking up more area than forests, or wild grasslands.

Three-quarters of this agricultural land is used for livestock, which is pasture plus cropland used for the production of animal feed. This gives the world just 18% of global calories, and 37% of its protein. The other quarter of land is for crops for human consumption, which provide the majority of the world’s calories and protein.

Agriculture land use map

What you should know about this data

  • Other studies find similar distributions of global land: in an analysis of how humans have transformed global land use in recent centuries, Ellis et al. (2010) found that by 2000, 55% of Earth’s ice-free (not simply habitable) land had been converted into cropland, pasture, and urban areas. 6 This left only 45% as ‘natural’ or ‘semi-natural’ land.
  • The study by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018) estimates that 43% of ice- and desert-free land is used for agriculture. 83% of this is used for animal-sourced foods. 7
  • The difference in these figures is often due to the uncertainty of the size of ‘rangelands’. Rangelands are grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, wetlands, and deserts that are grazed by domestic livestock or wild animals. The intensity of grazing on rangelands can vary a lot. That can make it difficult to accurately quantify how much rangelands are used for grazing, and therefore how much is used for food production.
  • But as the review above showed, despite this uncertainty, most analyses tend to converge on an estimate of close to half of habitable land being used for agriculture.

Global land use graphic

Food is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s emissions

Food systems are responsible for around one-quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. 8

This includes emissions from land use change, on-farm production, processing, transport, packaging, and retail.

We can break these food system emissions down into four broad categories:

30% of food emissions come directly from livestock and fisheries . Ruminant livestock – mainly cattle – for example, produce methane through their digestive processes. Manure and pasture management also fall into this category.

1% comes from wild fisheries , most of which is fuel consumption from fishing vessels. 

Crop production accounts for around a quarter of food emissions. This includes crops for human consumption and animal feed.

Land use accounts for 24% of food emissions. Twice as many emissions result from land use for livestock (16%) as for crops for human consumption (8%).

Finally, supply chains account for 18% of food emissions . This includes food processing, distribution, transport, packaging, and retail.

Other studies estimate that an even larger fraction – up to one-third – of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. 9 These differences come from the inclusion of non-food agricultural products – such as textiles, biofuels, and industrial crops – plus uncertainties in food waste and land use emissions.

Food ghg emissions thumbnail

  • The source of this data is the meta-analysis of global food systems from Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science . 10 This dataset is based on data from 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries and 40 products.
  • Environmental impacts are calculated based on life-cycle analyses that consider impacts across the supply chain, including land use change, on-farm emissions, the production of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, food processing, transport, packaging, and retail.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO 2 eq). This means each greenhouse gas is weighted by its global warming potential value. Global warming potential measures the amount of warming a gas creates compared to CO 2 . In this study, CO 2 eq and warming effects are measured over a 100-year timescale (GWP 100 ).

How much of ghgs come from food

Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

One-quarter to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from our food systems. The rest comes from energy.

While energy and industry make a bigger contribution than food, we must tackle both food and energy systems to address climate change.

Michael Clark and colleagues modeled the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be emitted from food systems this century across a range of scenarios. 

In a business-as-usual scenario, the authors expect the world to emit around 1356 billion tonnes of CO 2-we by 2100.

As the visualization shows, this would take us well beyond the carbon budget for 1.5°C – we would emit two to three times more than this budget. And it would consume almost all of our budget for 2°C.

Ignoring food emissions is simply not an option if we want to get close to our international climate targets.

Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow – an impossibility – we would still go well beyond our 1.5°C target, and nearly miss our 2°C target.

Food budgets thumbnail

  • The source of this data is the meta-analyses of global food systems from Michael Clark et al. (2020), published in Science . 11
  • Their ‘business-as-usual’ projection makes the following assumptions: global population increases in line with the UN’s medium fertility scenario; per capita diets change as people around the world get richer (shifting towards more diverse diets with more meat and dairy); crop yields continue to increase in line with historical improvements, and rates of food loss and the emissions intensity of food production remain constant.
  • This is measured in global warming potential CO 2 warming-equivalents (CO 2-we ). This accounts for the range of greenhouse gasses, not just CO 2 but also others such as methane and nitrous oxide. We look at the differences in greenhouse gas metrics at the end of our article on the carbon footprint of foods .

Food emissions vs. temp limits

What we eat matters much more than how far it has traveled

‘Eat local’ is a common recommendation to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet. But it’s often a misguided one.

Transport tends to be a small part of a food’s carbon footprint. Globally, transport accounts for just 5% of food system emissions. Most of food’s emissions come from land use change and emissions from their production on the farm.

Since transport emissions are typically small, and the differences between foods are large, what types of food we eat matter much more than how far it has traveled. Locally-produced beef will have a much larger footprint than peas, regardless of whether it’s shipped across continents or not.

The visualization shows this.

Producing a kilogram of beef, for example, emits 60 kilograms of greenhouse gasses (CO 2 -equivalents). The production of a kilogram of peas, shown at the bottom of the chart, emits just 1 kilogram of greenhouse gasses. Whether the beef or peas are produced locally will have little impact on the difference between these two foods.

The reason that transport accounts for such a small share of emissions is that most internationally traded food travels by boat, not by plane. Very little food is air-freighted; it accounts for only 0.16% of food miles. 12 For the few products which are transported by air, the emissions can be very high: flying emits 50 times more CO 2 eq than boat per tonne kilometer.

Unlike aviation, shipping is a very carbon-efficient way to transport goods. So, even shipping food over long distances by boat emits only small amounts of carbon. A classic example of traded food is avocados. Shipping one kilogram of avocados from Mexico to the United Kingdom would generate 0.21kg CO 2 eq in transport emissions. 13 This is only around 8% of avocados’ total footprint. 

Even when shipped at great distances, its emissions are much less than locally-produced animal products.

Environmental impact of food by life cycle stage

  • The source of this data is the meta-analyses of global food systems from Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science . 14 This dataset is based on data from 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries and 40 products.

Environmental impact of food by life cycle stage

Meat and dairy foods tend to have a higher carbon footprint

When we compare the carbon footprint of different types of foods, a clear hierarchy emerges.

Meat and dairy products tend to emit more greenhouse gasses than plant-based foods. This holds true whether we compare on the basis of mass (per kilogram) , per kilocalorie , or per gram of protein, as shown in the chart.

Within meat and dairy products, there is also a consistent pattern: larger animals tend to be less efficient and have a higher footprint. Beef typically has the largest emissions; followed by lamb; pork; chicken; then eggs and fish.

  • This data presents global average values. For some foods – such as beef – there are large differences depending on where it is produced, and the farming practices used. Nonetheless, the lowest-carbon beef and lamb still have a higher carbon footprint than most plant-based foods.
  • The source of this data is the meta-analyses of global food systems from Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science . 15 This dataset covers 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries and 40 products.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO 2 eq). This means each greenhouse gas is weighted by its global warming potential value. Global warming potential measures the amount of warming a gas creates compared to CO 2 . For CO 2 eq, this is measured over a 100-year timescale (GWP 100 ).

There are also large differences in the carbon footprint of the same foods

The most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food system is to change what we eat . 

Adopting a more plant-based diet by reducing our consumption of carbon-intensive foods such as meat and dairy – especially beef and lamb – is an effective way for consumers to reduce their carbon footprint.

But there are also opportunities to reduce emissions by optimizing for more carbon-efficient practices and locations to produce foods. For some foods – in particular, beef, lamb, and dairy – there are large differences in emissions depending on how and where they’re produced. This is shown in the chart.

Producing 100 grams of protein from beef emits 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalents (CO 2 eq), on average. But this ranges from 9 kilograms to 105 kilograms of CO 2 eq – a ten-fold difference.

Optimizing production in places where these foods are produced with a smaller footprint could be another effective way of reducing global emissions.

Carbon meat curves

  • The source of this data is the meta-analyses of global food systems from Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science . 16 This dataset covers 38,700 commercially viable farms in 119 countries and 40 products.

Carbon footprint of protein foods 2

Explore data on the Environmental Impacts of Food

Research & writing.

Local food thumbnail 1

‘Eat local’ is a common recommendation to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet. But transport tends to account for a small share of greenhouse gas emissions. How does the impact of what you eat compare to where it’s come from?

Hannah Ritchie

Food ghg emissions thumbnail

One-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions result from food and agriculture. What are the main contributors to food’s emissions?

More key articles on the Environmental Impacts of Food

Less meat is nearly always better than sustainable meat, to reduce your carbon footprint, dairy vs. plant-based milk: what are the environmental impacts, yields vs. land use: how the green revolution enabled us to feed a growing population, food production and climate change.

Food emissions thumbnail

Food miles and transport

Faq food impacts

Environmental impacts of meat and dairy

Carbon meat curves

Land use and deforestation

Deforestation drivers thumbnail 01

Other articles on food impacts

Food waste thumbnail

Interactive charts on Environmental Impacts of Food Production

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News from the Columbia Climate School

Future of Food: Exploring Challenges to Global Food Systems

Mahak Agrawal

pineapple farmer in a field

Food is fuel to human existence, and in the evolution of human settlements, food— its production, availability, demand and supply — and food systems have steered the development, expansion and decline of human settlements.

In the 21st century, global food systems face dual challenges of increasing food demand while competing for resources — such as land, water, and energy — that affect food supply. In context of climate change and unpredictable shocks, such as a global pandemic, the need for resiliency in global food systems has become more pressing than ever.

With the globalization of food systems in 1950s, the global food production and associated trade has witnessed a sustained growth, and continues to be driven by advancements in transport and communications, reduction in trade barriers and agricultural tariffs. But, the effectiveness of global food system is undermined by two key challenges: waste and nutrition.

Food wastage is common across all stages of the food chain. Nearly 13.8% of food is lost in supply chains — from harvesting to transport to storage to processing. However, limited research and scientific understanding of price elasticity of food waste makes it tough to evaluate how food waste can be reduced with pricing strategy.

When food is wasted, so are the energy, land, and resources that were used to create it . Nearly 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions between 2007-2016 were derived from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. Apart from cultivation and livestock rearing, agriculture also adds emissions through land clearance for cultivation. Overfishing, soil erosion, and depletion and deterioration of aquifers threaten food security. At the same time, food production faces increasing risks from climate change — particularly droughts, increasing frequency of storms, and other extreme weather events.

The world has made significant progress in reducing hunger in the past 50 years. Yet there are nearly 800 million people without access to adequate food. Additionally, two billion people are affected by hidden hunger wherein people lack key micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine. Apart from nutrient deficiency, approximately two billion people are overweight and affected by chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

In essence, the global food system is inadequate in delivering the changing and increasing demands of the human population. The system requires an upgrade that takes into account the social-cultural interactions, changing diets, increasing wealth and wealth gap, finite resources, challenges of inequitable access, and the needs of the disadvantaged who spend the greatest proportion of their income on food. To feed the projected 10 billion people by 2050, it is essential to increase and stabilize global food trade and simultaneously align the food demand and supply chains across different geographies and at various scales of space and time.

infographic showing connections with various sdgs

Back in 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus, in his essay on the principle of population, concluded that “ the power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must come in some shape or other visit the human race .” Malthus projected that short-term gains in living standards would eventually be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, thereby pushing back living standards towards subsistence.

Malthus’ projections were based on a model where population grew geometrically, while food production increased arithmetically. While Malthus emphasized the importance of land in population-food production dynamics, he understated the role of technology in augmenting total production and family planning in reducing fertility rates. Nonetheless, one cannot banish the Malthusian specter; food production and population are closely intertwined. This close relationship, however, is also affected by changing and improving diets in developing countries and biofuel production — factors that increase the global demand for food and feed.

Around the world, enough food is produced to feed the planet and provide 3,000 calories of nutritious food to each human being every day. In the story of global food systems once defined by starvation and death to now feeding the world, there have been a few ratchets — technologies and innovations that helped the human species transition from hunters and gatherers to shoppers in a supermarket . While some of these ratchets have helped improve and expand the global food systems, some create new opportunities for environmental damage.

To sum it up, the future of global food systems is strongly interlinked to the planning, management and development of sustainable, equitable and healthy food systems delivering food and nutrition security for all. A bundle of interventions and stimulus packages are needed at both the supply and demand ends to feed the world in the present as well as the future — sustainably, within the planetary boundaries defining a safe operating space for humanity. It requires an intersectoral policy analysis, multi-stakeholder engagement — involving farms, retailers, food processors, technology providers, financial institutions, government agencies, consumers — and interdisciplinary actions.

This blog post is based on an independent study — Future of Food: Examining the supply-demand chains feeding the world — led by Mahak Agrawal in fall 2020 under the guidance of Steven Cohen.

Mahak Agrawal is a medical candidate turned urban planner, exploring innovative, implementable, impactful solutions for pressing urban-regional challenges in her diverse works. Presently, she is studying environmental science and policy at Columbia University as a Shardashish Interschool Fellow and SIPA Environmental Fellow. In different capacities, Mahak has worked with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Town and Country Planning Organization-Government of India, Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo. In 2019, she founded Spatial Perspectives as an initiative that uses the power of digital storytelling and open data to dismantle myths and faulty perspectives associated with spaces around the world. In her spare time, Mahak creates sustainable artwork to tell tales of environmental crisis.

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I’m doing an assignment on food production, ad I just happened to come across this article! Wow, what a lucky find! I’m going to use it for some information in my paragraphs.

Aniita Michelle

it’s more better to have new fruits and reduce human and other thing more thing that you can do.

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12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth" by Lily Tran

Learning outcomes.

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

  • Analyze how writers use evidence in research writing.
  • Analyze the ways a writer incorporates sources into research writing, while retaining their own voice.
  • Explain the use of headings as organizational tools in research writing.
  • Analyze how writers use evidence to address counterarguments when writing a research essay.


In this argumentative research essay for a first-year composition class, student Lily Tran creates a solid, focused argument and supports it with researched evidence. Throughout the essay, she uses this evidence to support cause-and-effect and problem-solution reasoning, make strong appeals, and develop her ethos on the topic.

Living by Their Own Words

Food as change.

public domain text For the human race to have a sustainable future, massive changes in the way food is produced, processed, and distributed are necessary on a global scale. end public domain text

annotated text Purpose. Lily Tran refers to what she sees as the general purpose for writing this paper: the problem of current global practices in food production, processing, and distribution. By presenting the “problem,” she immediately prepares readers for her proposed solution. end annotated text

public domain text The required changes will affect nearly all aspects of life, including not only world hunger but also health and welfare, land use and habitats, water quality and availability, energy use and production, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, economics, and even cultural and social values. These changes may not be popular, but they are imperative. The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact—and starting now. end public domain text

annotated text Thesis. Leading up to this clear, declarative thesis statement are key points on which Tran will expand later. In doing this, she presents some foundational evidence that connects the problem to the proposed solution. end annotated text


public domain text The world population has been rising exponentially in modern history. From 1 billion in 1804, it doubled to approximately 2 billion by 1927, then doubled again to approximately 4 billion in 1974. By 2019, it had nearly doubled again, rising to 7.7 billion (“World Population by Year”). It has been projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 (Berners-Lee et al.). At the same time, the average life span also has been increasing. These situations have led to severe stress on the environment, particularly in the demands for food. It has been estimated, for example, that by 2050, milk production will increase 58 percent and meat production 73 percent (Chai et al.). end public domain text

annotated text Evidence. In this first supporting paragraph, Tran uses numerical evidence from several sources. This numerical data as evidence helps establish the projection of population growth. By beginning with such evidence, Tran underscores the severity of the situation. end annotated text

public domain text Theoretically, the planet can produce enough food for everyone, but human activities have endangered this capability through unsustainable practices. Currently, agriculture produces 10–23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases—the most common being carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor— trap heat in the atmosphere, reradiate it, and send it back to Earth again. Heat trapped in the atmosphere is a problem because it causes unnatural global warming as well as air pollution, extreme weather conditions, and respiratory diseases. end public domain text

annotated text Audience. With her audience in mind, Tran briefly explains the problem of greenhouse gases and global warming. end annotated text

public domain text It has been estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions will increase by as much as 150 percent by 2030 (Chai et al.). Transportation also has a negative effect on the environment when foods are shipped around the world. As Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford commented, “It’s essential to be mindful about everything we consume: air-transported fruit and veg can create more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than poultry meat, for example” (qtd. in Gray). end public domain text

annotated text Transition. By beginning this paragraph with her own transition of ideas, Tran establishes control over the organization and development of ideas. Thus, she retains her sources as supports and does not allow them to dominate her essay. end annotated text

public domain text Current practices have affected the nutritional value of foods. Concentrated animal-feeding operations, intended to increase production, have had the side effect of decreasing nutritional content in animal protein and increasing saturated fat. One study found that an intensively raised chicken in 2017 contained only one-sixth of the amount of omega-3 fatty acid, an essential nutrient, that was in a chicken in 1970. Today the majority of calories in chicken come from fat rather than protein (World Wildlife Fund). end public domain text

annotated text Example. By focusing on an example (chicken), Tran uses specific research data to develop the nuance of the argument. end annotated text

public domain text Current policies such as government subsidies that divert food to biofuels are counterproductive to the goal of achieving adequate global nutrition. Some trade policies allow “dumping” of below-cost, subsidized foods on developing countries that should instead be enabled to protect their farmers and meet their own nutritional needs (Sierra Club). Too often, agriculture’s objectives are geared toward maximizing quantities produced per acre rather than optimizing output of critical nutritional needs and protection of the environment. end public domain text


Hunger and nutrition.

annotated text Headings and Subheadings. Throughout the essay, Tran has created headings and subheadings to help organize her argument and clarify it for readers. end annotated text

public domain text More than 820 million people around the world do not have enough to eat. At the same time, about a third of all grains and almost two-thirds of all soybeans, maize, and barley crops are fed to animals (Barnard). According to the World Health Organization, 462 million adults are underweight, 47 million children under 5 years of age are underweight for their height, 14.3 million are severely underweight for their height, and 144 million are stunted (“Malnutrition”). About 45 percent of mortality among children under 5 is linked to undernutrition. These deaths occur mainly in low- and middle-income countries where, in stark contrast, the rate of childhood obesity is rising. Globally, 1.9 billion adults and 38.3 million children are overweight or obese (“Obesity”). Undernutrition and obesity can be found in the same household, largely a result of eating energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars. The global impact of malnutrition, which includes both undernutrition and obesity, has lasting developmental, economic, social, and medical consequences. end public domain text

public domain text In 2019, Berners-Lee et al. published the results of their quantitative analysis of global and regional food supply. They determined that significant changes are needed on four fronts: end public domain text

Food production must be sufficient, in quantity and quality, to feed the global population without unacceptable environmental impacts. Food distribution must be sufficiently efficient so that a diverse range of foods containing adequate nutrition is available to all, again without unacceptable environmental impacts. Socio-economic conditions must be sufficiently equitable so that all consumers can access the quantity and range of foods needed for a healthy diet. Consumers need to be able to make informed and rational choices so that they consume a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet (10).

annotated text Block Quote. The writer has chosen to present important evidence as a direct quotation, using the correct format for direct quotations longer than four lines. See Section Editing Focus: Integrating Sources and Quotations for more information about block quotes. end annotated text

public domain text Among their findings, they singled out, in particular, the practice of using human-edible crops to produce meat, dairy, and fish for the human table. Currently 34 percent of human-edible crops are fed to animals, a practice that reduces calorie and protein supplies. They state in their report, “If society continues on a ‘business-as-usual’ dietary trajectory, a 119% increase in edible crops grown will be required by 2050” (1). Future food production and distribution must be transformed into systems that are nutritionally adequate, environmentally sound, and economically affordable. end public domain text

Land and Water Use

public domain text Agriculture occupies 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free land mass (Barnard). While the net area used for producing food has been fairly constant since the mid-20th century, the locations have shifted significantly. Temperate regions of North America, Europe, and Russia have lost agricultural land to other uses, while in the tropics, agricultural land has expanded, mainly as a result of clearing forests and burning biomass (Willett et al.). Seventy percent of the rainforest that has been cut down is being used to graze livestock (Münter). Agricultural use of water is of critical concern both quantitatively and qualitatively. Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of freshwater use, making it “the world’s largest water-consuming sector” (Barnard). Meat, dairy, and egg production causes water pollution, as liquid wastes flow into rivers and to the ocean (World Wildlife Fund and Knorr Foods). According to the Hertwich et al., “the impacts related to these activities are unlikely to be reduced, but rather enhanced, in a business-as-usual scenario for the future” (13). end public domain text

annotated text Statistical Data. To develop her points related to land and water use, Tran presents specific statistical data throughout this section. Notice that she has chosen only the needed words of these key points to ensure that she controls the development of the supporting point and does not overuse borrowed source material. end annotated text

annotated text Defining Terms. Aware of her audience, Tran defines monocropping , a term that may be unfamiliar. end annotated text

public domain text Earth’s resources and ability to absorb pollution are limited, and many current agricultural practices undermine these capacities. Among these unsustainable practices are monocropping [growing a single crop year after year on the same land], concentrated animal-feeding operations, and overdependence on manufactured pesticides and fertilizers (Hamilton). Such practices deplete the soil, dramatically increase energy use, reduce pollinator populations, and lead to the collapse of resource supplies. One study found that producing one gram of beef for human consumption requires 42 times more land, 2 times more water, and 4 times more nitrogen than staple crops. It also creates 3 times more greenhouse gas emissions (Chai et al.). The EAT– Lancet Commission calls for “halting expansion of new agricultural land at the expense of natural ecosystems . . . strict protections on intact ecosystems, suspending concessions for logging in protected areas, or conversion of remaining intact ecosystems, particularly peatlands and forest areas” (Willett et al. 481). The Commission also calls for land-use zoning, regulations prohibiting land clearing, and incentives for protecting natural areas, including forests. end public domain text

annotated text Synthesis. The paragraphs above and below this comment show how Tran has synthesized content from several sources to help establish and reinforce key supports of her essay . end annotated text

Greenhouse Gas and Climate Change

public domain text Climate change is heavily affected by two factors: greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration. In nature, the two remain in balance; for example, most animals exhale carbon dioxide, and most plants capture carbon dioxide. Carbon is also captured, or sequestered, by soil and water, especially oceans, in what are called “sinks.” Human activities have skewed this balance over the past two centuries. The shift in land use, which exploits land, water, and fossil energy, has caused increased greenhouse-gas emissions, which in turn accelerate climate change. end public domain text

public domain text Global food systems are threatened by climate change because farmers depend on relatively stable climate systems to plan for production and harvest. Yet food production is responsible for up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (Barnard). While soil can be a highly effective means of carbon sequestration, agricultural soils have lost much of their effectiveness from overgrazing, erosion, overuse of chemical fertilizer, and excess tilling. Hamilton reports that the world’s cultivated and grazed soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their ability to accumulate and store carbon. As a result, “billions of tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere.” end public domain text

annotated text Direct Quotation and Paraphrase. While Tran has paraphrased some content of this source borrowing, because of the specificity and impact of the number— “billions of tons of carbon”—she has chosen to use the author’s original words. As she has done elsewhere in the essay, she has indicated these as directly borrowed words by placing them within quotation marks. See Section 12.5 for more about paraphrasing. end annotated text

public domain text While carbon sequestration has been falling, greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing as a result of the production, transport, processing, storage, waste disposal, and other life stages of food production. Agriculture alone is responsible for fully 10 to 12 percent of global emissions, and that figure is estimated to rise by up to 150 percent of current levels by 2030 (Chai et al.). Münter reports that “more greenhouse gas emissions are produced by growing livestock for meat than all the planes, trains, ships, cars, trucks, and all forms of fossil fuel-based transportation combined” (5). Additional greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are produced by the decomposition of organic wastes. Methane has 25 times and nitrous oxide has nearly 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (Curnow). Agricultural and food production systems must be reformed to shift agriculture from greenhouse gas source to sink. end public domain text

Social and Cultural Values

public domain text As the Sierra Club has pointed out, agriculture is inherently cultural: all systems of food production have “the capacity to generate . . . economic benefits and ecological capital” as well as “a sense of meaning and connection to natural resources.” Yet this connection is more evident in some cultures and less so in others. Wealthy countries built on a consumer culture emphasize excess consumption. One result of this attitude is that in 2014, Americans discarded the equivalent of $165 billion worth of food. Much of this waste ended up rotting in landfills, comprised the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste, and contributed a substantial portion of U.S. methane emissions (Sierra Club). In low- and middle-income countries, food waste tends to occur in early production stages because of poor scheduling of harvests, improper handling of produce, or lack of market access (Willett et al.). The recent “America First” philosophy has encouraged prioritizing the economic welfare of one nation to the detriment of global welfare and sustainability. end public domain text

annotated text Synthesis and Response to Claims. Here, as in subsequent sections, while still relying heavily on facts and content from borrowed sources, Tran provides her synthesized understanding of the information by responding to key points. end annotated text

public domain text In response to claims that a vegetarian diet is a necessary component of sustainable food production and consumption, Lusk and Norwood determined the importance of meat in a consumer’s diet. Their study indicated that meat is the most valuable food category to consumers, and “humans derive great pleasure from consuming beef, pork, and poultry” (120). Currently only 4 percent of Americans are vegetarians, and it would be difficult to convince consumers to change their eating habits. Purdy adds “there’s the issue of philosophy. A lot of vegans aren’t in the business of avoiding animal products for the sake of land sustainability. Many would prefer to just leave animal husbandry out of food altogether.” end public domain text

public domain text At the same time, consumers expect ready availability of the foods they desire, regardless of health implications or sustainability of sources. Unhealthy and unsustainable foods are heavily marketed. Out-of-season produce is imported year-round, increasing carbon emissions from air transportation. Highly processed and packaged convenience foods are nutritionally inferior and waste both energy and packaging materials. Serving sizes are larger than necessary, contributing to overconsumption and obesity. Snack food vending machines are ubiquitous in schools and public buildings. What is needed is a widespread attitude shift toward reducing waste, choosing local fruits and vegetables that are in season, and paying attention to how foods are grown and transported. end public domain text

annotated text Thesis Restated. Restating her thesis, Tran ends this section by advocating for a change in attitude to bring about sustainability. end annotated text


annotated text Counterclaims . Tran uses equally strong research to present the counterargument. Presenting both sides by addressing objections is important in constructing a clear, well-reasoned argument. Writers should use as much rigor in finding research-based evidence to counter the opposition as they do to develop their argument. end annotated text

public domain text Transformation of the food production system faces resistance for a number of reasons, most of which dispute the need for plant-based diets. Historically, meat has been considered integral to athletes’ diets and thus has caused many consumers to believe meat is necessary for a healthy diet. Lynch et al. examined the impact of plant-based diets on human physical health, environmental sustainability, and exercise performance capacity. The results show “it is unlikely that plant-based diets provide advantages, but do not suffer from disadvantages, compared to omnivorous diets for strength, anaerobic, or aerobic exercise performance” (1). end public domain text

public domain text A second objection addresses the claim that land use for animal-based food production contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and is inefficient in terms of nutrient delivery. Berners-Lee et al. point out that animal nutrition from grass, pasture, and silage comes partially from land that cannot be used for other purposes, such as producing food directly edible by humans or for other ecosystem services such as biofuel production. Consequently, nutritional losses from such land use do not fully translate into losses of human-available nutrients (3). end public domain text

annotated text Paraphrase. Tran has paraphrased the information as support. Though she still cites the source, she has changed the words to her own, most likely to condense a larger amount of original text or to make it more accessible. end annotated text

public domain text While this objection may be correct, it does not address the fact that natural carbon sinks are being destroyed to increase agricultural land and, therefore, increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. end public domain text

public domain text Another significant dissenting opinion is that transforming food production will place hardships on farmers and others employed in the food industry. Farmers and ranchers make a major investment in their own operations. At the same time, they support jobs in related industries, as consumers of farm machinery, customers at local businesses, and suppliers for other industries such as food processing (Schulz). Sparks reports that “livestock farmers are being unfairly ‘demonized’ by vegans and environmental advocates” and argues that while farming includes both costs and benefits, the costs receive much more attention than the benefits. end public domain text


public domain text The EAT– Lancet Commission calls for a transformation in the global food system, implementing different core processes and feedback. This transformation will not happen unless there is “widespread, multi-sector, multilevel action to change what food is eaten, how it is produced, and its effects on the environment and health, while providing healthy diets for the global population” (Willett et al. 476). System changes will require global efforts coordinated across all levels and will require governments, the private sector, and civil society to share a common vision and goals. Scientific modeling indicates 10 billion people could indeed be fed a healthy and sustainable diet. end public domain text

annotated text Conclusion. While still using research-based sources as evidence in the concluding section, Tran finishes with her own words, restating her thesis. end annotated text

public domain text For the human race to have a sustainable future, massive changes in the way food is produced, processed, and distributed are necessary on a global scale. The required changes will affect nearly all aspects of life, including not only world hunger but also health and welfare, land use and habitats, water quality and availability, energy use and production, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, economics, and even cultural and social values. These changes may not be popular, but they are imperative. They are also achievable. The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now. end public domain text

annotated text Sources. Note two important aspects of the sources chosen: 1) They represent a range of perspectives, and 2) They are all quite current. When exploring a contemporary topic, it is important to avoid research that is out of date. end annotated text

Works Cited

Barnard, Neal. “How Eating More Plants Can Save Lives and the Planet.” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine , 24 Jan. 2019, www.pcrm.org/news/blog/how-eating-more-plants-can-save-lives-and-planet. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Berners-Lee, M., et al. “Current Global Food Production Is Sufficient to Meet Human Nutritional Needs in 2050 Provided There Is Radical Societal Adaptation.” Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene , vol. 6, no. 52, 2018, doi:10.1525/elementa.310. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020.

Chai, Bingli Clark, et al. “Which Diet Has the Least Environmental Impact on Our Planet? A Systematic Review of Vegan, Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diets.” Sustainability , vol. 11, no. 15, 2019, doi: underline 10.3390/su11154110 end underline . Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Curnow, Mandy. “Managing Manure to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 2 Nov. 2020, www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/managing-manure-reduce-greenhouse-gas-emissions. Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.

Gray, Richard. “Why the Vegan Diet Is Not Always Green.” BBC , 13 Feb. 2020, www.bbc.com/future/article/20200211-why-the-vegan-diet-is-not-always-green. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Hamilton, Bruce. “Food and Our Climate.” Sierra Club, 2014, www.sierraclub.org/compass/2014/10/food-and-our-climate. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Hertwich. Edgar G., et al. Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production. United Nations Environment Programme, 2010, www.resourcepanel.org/reports/assessing-environmental-impacts-consumption-and-production.

Lusk, Jayson L., and F. Bailey Norwood. “Some Economic Benefits and Costs of Vegetarianism.” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review , vol. 38, no. 2, 2009, pp. 109-24, doi: 10.1017/S1068280500003142. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Lynch Heidi, et al. “Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 12, 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10121841. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Münter, Leilani. “Why a Plant-Based Diet Will Save the World.” Health and the Environment. Disruptive Women in Health Care & the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2012, archive.epa.gov/womenandgirls/web/pdf/1016healththeenvironmentebook.pdf.

Purdy, Chase. “Being Vegan Isn’t as Good for Humanity as You Think.” Quartz , 4 Aug. 2016, qz.com/749443/being-vegan-isnt-as-environmentally-friendly-as-you-think/. Accessed 7 Dec. 2020.

Schulz, Lee. “Would a Sudden Loss of the Meat and Dairy Industry, and All the Ripple Effects, Destroy the Economy?” Iowa State U Department of Economics, www.econ.iastate.edu/node/691. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Sierra Club. “Agriculture and Food.” Sierra Club, 28 Feb. 2015, www.sierraclub.org/policy/agriculture/food. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Sparks, Hannah. “Veganism Won’t Save the World from Environmental Ruin, Researchers Warn.” New York Post , 29 Nov. 2019, nypost.com/2019/11/29/veganism-wont-save-the-world-from-environmental-ruin-researchers-warn/. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

Willett, Walter, et al. “Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT– Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems.” The Lancet, vol. 393, no. 10170, 2019. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4. Accessed 6 Dec. 2020.

World Health Organization. “Malnutrition.” World Health Organization, 1 Apr. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malnutrition. Accessed 8 Dec. 2020.

World Health Organization. “Obesity and Overweight.” World Health Organization, 1 Apr. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight. Accessed 8 Dec. 2020.

World Wildlife Fund. Appetite for Destruction: Summary Report. World Wildlife Fund, 2017, www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/WWF_AppetiteForDestruction_Summary_Report_SignOff.pdf.

World Wildlife Fund and Knorr Foods. Future Fifty Foods. World Wildlife Fund, 2019, www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-02/Knorr_Future_50_Report_FINAL_Online.pdf.

“World Population by Year.” Worldometer , www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2020.

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  • 30 August 2021

Food systems: seven priorities to end hunger and protect the planet

  • Joachim von Braun 0 ,
  • Kaosar Afsana 1 ,
  • Louise O. Fresco 2 &
  • Mohamed Hassan 3

Joachim von Braun is professor for economic and technological change at Bonn University, Bonn, Germany; and chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Kaosar Afsana is professor of public health in the James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh; and vice-chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

Louise O. Fresco is president of the executive board, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands; and vice-chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

Mohamed Hassan is president of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Trieste, Italy; and vice-chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.

School children in Madagascar eat lunch provided as part of a nutrition initiative run by the World Food Programme. Credit: Rijasolo/AFP/Getty

You have full access to this article via your institution.

The world’s food system is in disarray. One in ten people is undernourished. One in four is overweight. More than one-third of the world’s population cannot afford a healthy diet. Food supplies are disrupted by heatwaves, floods, droughts and wars. The number of people going hungry in 2020 was 15% higher than in 2019, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts 1 .

Our planetary habitat suffers, too. The food sector emits about 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Expanding cropland, pastures and tree plantations drive two-thirds of the loss in forests (5.5 million hectares per year), mostly in the tropics 2 . Poor farming practices degrade soils, pollute and deplete water supplies and lower biodiversity.

As these interlinkages become clear, approaches to food are shifting — away from production, consumption and value chains towards safety, networks and complexity. Recent crises around global warming and COVID-19 have compounded concerns. Policymakers have taken note.

essay on food sustainability

Counting the hidden $12-trillion cost of a broken food system

In September, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, will convene a Food Systems Summit. This is only the sixth UN summit on food since 1943, and the first with heads of states in the UN General Assembly. A group of leading scientists, known as the Scientific Group, has been tasked with ensuring that the science underpinning the 2021 summit is robust, broad and independent. We, the authors, are this group’s chair and vice-chairs. Although such approaches are familiar in areas such as climate change and biodiversity, this marks the first time that scientists have been explicitly brought in to multilateral discussions around food (see Nature 595 , 332; 2021 ).

The global food system needs a revamp — in policies and institutions as well as on social, business and technology fronts 3 . Science is one lens for making sure that changes are integrated and collectively deliver better outcomes. But the task is challenging. Food spans many disciplines — not least agriculture, health, climate science, artificial intelligence and digital science, political science and economics. The indirect, adverse effects of policies on climate change, biodiversity loss and health need to be factored in to the true costs of food; these are estimated to be about twice the current market value of food consumption globally 4 . A range of voices is crucial. The Scientific Group is engaging with hundreds of experts across civil society, including Indigenous peoples, producer and youth organizations and the private sectors.

Here we highlight the key roles that scientists should take to accelerate the transformation to healthier, more sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. These seven priorities reflect the Scientific Group’s evidence base, comprising more than 50 reports and briefs (see go.nature.com/3dtoazu ).

A Bolivian woman in traditional dress carrying a bushel of quinoa in a field

A farmer in Bolivia harvests quinoa for its edible seeds. Credit: Giraudou Laurent/Sygma/Getty

Seven priorities

Science-driven advances are needed to address the following challenges.

End hunger and improve diets. Scientists need to identify optimal conditions and opportunities for investments to make healthy and nutritious foods more available, affordable and accessible. Measures that jointly improve more than one of these are most effective. For example, increased irrigation on small farms in Tanzania and Ethiopia has enhanced productivity, dietary diversity and farmers’ incomes 5 .

Three big game-changers are: enhancing research and development in agriculture and food to increase productivity in a sustainable way; slashing food waste and losses; and adding income and nutrition components to social-protection programmes. Research priorities to cut waste include scaling up solar energy and battery storage technologies to make food processing and preservation more affordable. New forms of packaging using recycled materials, coatings of nanomaterials and even edible films would keep foods fresh for longer. School feeding programmes, together with incentives to keep children in education (such as take-home rations for parents) have seen success in Mali, for example, where they increased school enrolment by 10 percentage points 6 . Under COVID-19 lockdowns, these types of programme became even more relevant.

essay on food sustainability

Europe’s Green Deal offshores environmental damage to other nations

Researchers also need to study behavioural barriers to healthy eating, such as snacking under stress. They should develop policy guidelines for educational food labels, and model the impacts of putting taxes and regulations on unhealthy foods (such as sugar and trans-fats). The health properties of fortified foods and cultivated meats must also be established.

De-risk food systems. The more global, dynamic and complex food systems become, the more open they are to new risks. Scientists need to improve how they understand, monitor, analyse and communicate such vulnerabilities. For example, droughts, the expansion of biofuels and financial speculation after the sudden imposition of trade barriers led to food price hikes in 2008 7 . The COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts have shaken food value chains across Africa this year, driving up food prices. Successful initiatives exist, combining on-the-ground observations of food systems and nutrition with forecasting. These include FEWS NET ( https://fews.net ) and the joint analyses from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme on early warnings of food insecurity 8 .

Policies and economic solutions are needed. For example, new insurance products aided by remote sensing and weather forecasts would provide cover for lost crops and livestock. Solar-powered irrigation systems would reduce risk from drought. Smartphone apps would provide farmers with information on local crop pests, weather risks and market opportunities; these are already used in Kenya, Senegal, India and Bangladesh 9 . Payment schemes are needed to encourage farmers to manage and capture carbon in soils and trees, and to trade it.

A female seaweed farmer stands in the shallows holding a mass of seaweed in Indonesia

A seaweed farmer in Bali, Indonesia. Credit: Anton Raharjo/NurPhoto/Getty

Protect equality and rights. Poverty and inequalities associated with gender, ethnicity and age restrict many people’s access to healthy foods. Socio-economic researchers need to suggest inclusive ways to transform the more than 400 million smallholder farms worldwide. They must identify pathways out of inequitable and unfair arrangements over land, credit and labour, and empower the rights of women and youth. For example, if female-headed households in southern Ethiopia had the same resources as male-headed ones, their productivity in maize (corn) would increase by more than 40%, to match that of the latter 10 .

Protecting the land rights of smallholders, women and Indigenous peoples is paramount. Technology can ensure transparency and efficiency. For example, using blockchain ledgers of ownership rights to allocate land could be an opportunity in Ghana 11 . At the trans-national scale, the Land Matrix Initiative collects and shares data on big land acquisitions and investments in low- and middle-income countries; it covers deals in almost 100 nations worldwide. Similar solutions are needed to protect the land rights of Indigenous peoples 12 . Also required are efforts to build local research capacity, educational programmes around food and farming, and training and financing opportunities in rural areas.

Boost bioscience. Researchers need to find ways to restore soil health and improve the efficiency of cropping, crop breeding and recarbonizing the soil and biosphere. Linkages among all Earth systems must be considered together — known as a One Health approach (see go.nature.com/3jy7ekh ).

essay on food sustainability

Five priorities for a sustainable ocean economy

Alternative sources of healthy protein need to be advanced, such as plant-based and insect-derived proteins, including for animal feed. Plant-breeding techniques that capture nitrogen from the air, to reduce the need for fertilizers and increase nutrients, should be investigated. Genetic engineering and biotechnology should be applied to increase the productivity, quality and resistance of crops to pests and drought. Recent examples include banana varieties that are resistant to Fusarium wilt fungal diseases, and pest-resistant Bt aubergines. To widen access to bioscience technologies, intellectual-property rights, skills and data sharing should be addressed.

Protect resources. Tools are needed to help people to manage soils, land and water sustainably. For example, hand-held digital devices and remote sensing can track concentrations of soil carbon and other nutrients. Artificial-intelligence systems and drones allow farmers to spot areas that need irrigation, fertilization and protection from pests. Soil microbes can be harnessed to improve soil structure, carbon storage and yields. Researchers need to adapt and scale up such technologies.

Biodiversity and genetic bases need to be protected. Seed varieties must be preserved, and their phenotypes and genotypes explored in the contexts of climate change and nutrition. Traditional food and forest systems, including those of Indigenous peoples, need to be better understood and supported in national agricultural research systems. Cooperation for mutual benefit should be explored, as has been done for climate adaptation in US Indigenous areas 13 .

essay on food sustainability

Averting hunger in sub-Saharan Africa requires data and synthesis

Sustain aquatic foods. Most of the focus on food so far has been on soil-based agriculture. Fish, shellfish and aquatic plants such as seaweed have much to offer nutritionally and environmentally. Aquatic foods need to be better integrated into the understanding of food systems 14 . Researchers should look for ways to increase nutritional diversity in aquatic foods and sequester carbon in marine and freshwater environments.

Ecological-science perspectives and global cooperation and institutions are needed to make harvesting of oceans, coastal waters and freshwater resources sustainable and protect biodiversity. The sustainability of fish-feeding systems needs attention; for example, by exploring the use of insect rearing, oil-rich modified legumes and micro-algae as fish feed.

Harness digital technology. Robots, sensors and artificial intelligence are increasingly used on farms: to harvest crops and milk cows, for example. Sensors can monitor the origin and quality of ingredients and products along the food-processing chain to reduce losses and guarantee food safety. But most farmers and producers still don’t have access. To spread the benefits, devices need to become cheaper and easier to purchase and use. Rental services similar to Uber for farm machinery should be developed, as has been done with tractors in India. Rural electricity supplies will have to be expanded, along with IT training and education.

First steps

The 2021 Food Systems Summit is a great opportunity to end hunger by 2030 and set in train a sustainable food system. Previous summits have delivered change: creating the FAO (after 1943); strengthening the global food-research partnership CGIAR and founding the International Food Policy Research Institute (after 1974); accelerating the human right to food (2002); and establishing monitoring systems to warn of food-price crises (2009).

essay on food sustainability

Without food, there can be no exit from the pandemic

The breadth of the 2021 agenda could be a hindrance, however, to achieving its goals. To avoid failure, delegates should focus. They should prioritize establishing a guiding framework — for transforming diverse national and local food systems, as well as global networks, with the challenges of trade, finance, climate, innovation and governance.

Debates will be fierce. Food is a contentious topic. Disagreements abound over goals, pathways and speed of change, and the roles of science and technology, the private sector and the UN. For example, some see agroecology as the only acceptable way of farming; some view biotechnology and gene editing as dangers; others see opportunities. The Scientific Group has aimed to offer a scientific basis to this diversity of perspectives.

Actions and targets

Once plans are agreed, the UN Food Systems Summit will need to move to implementation. Here are our suggestions.

essay on food sustainability

Nature-based solutions can help cool the planet — if we act now

First, boost finance. On the research front, we propose that governments allocate to food research at least 1% of the proportion of their nations’ gross domestic product that relates to food systems. Many countries spend only half of that. Least-developed countries should be given aid to reach a similar level. To end hunger for the poorest, we propose the establishment of a special fund. This would be supported by development-aid donors and bonds backed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Research and modelling would be required on implementation and impacts.

Second, increase scientific capacity. The special fund could be used to strengthen research capacity in low- and middle-income countries, and expand research collaborations between the public and private sectors, and among farmers, start-up firms in food value chains and science communities. Sharing research infrastructure and data between the global south and global north would be a good start.

Third, strengthen science–policy interfaces. In stark contrast to many other fields, agriculture, food security and nutrition do not have an international agreement or convention to consolidate actions. We call on the UN Food Systems Summit and UN member states to explore an intergovernmental treaty or framework convention on food systems, analogous to the conventions on climate, biodiversity and desertification agreed on in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The framework will need to include a strong independent scientific body that provides policy advice in the follow-up to the summit. We recommend that all science organizations and academies with food-relevant research be included in a preparatory process.

Bringing the tools of science to the table will help to transform the global food system to end hunger and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Nature 597 , 28-30 (2021)

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Transforming food systems for sustainable healthy diets: a global imperative

Purnima menon, deanna olney.

IFPRI report

Poor diets have wide-ranging impacts, from malnutrition to noncommunicable diseases accounting for more than 73 percent of deaths globally. On the other hand, improving diets could save lives. So, what are healthy diets, and how should we be transforming food systems to achieve them?

Healthy diets provide the nutrients needed for an active, healthy life. They include a diversity of foods — fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and animal-source foods, and have limited sugar, salt and fat.

While it’s clear that healthy diets are needed to prevent malnutrition and disease, for many people around the world, healthy diets are often not desirable, affordable, accessible, or available. The reasons are complex and interconnected. Through our work on diets and food environments in low- and middle-income countries, for example, we see that people are increasingly eating cheap and unhealthy ultra-processed foods as a result of changing lifestyles coupled with intensive advertising and marketing campaigns. By contrast, many nutritious foods are increasingly unaffordable and are often inaccessible for many people, especially marginalized populations.

In addition, food systems need to increasingly take climate change and environmental constraints into account. It has been estimated that food systems produce one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions and often negatively affect land quality, water use, and biodiversity. In turn, climate change and natural resource degradation harm our food supply and the nutritional content of crops.

Improving diets, and reducing their impact on the environment, therefore, are global imperatives that require us to tackle health and sustainability as two sides of the same coin. The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition underscores the need for a comprehensive approach that places healthy diets at the core, while embracing economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.

Prioritizing diets as a critical entry point for tackling all forms of malnutrition allows us to consider the wide range of possible policies and actions to meet realistic, measurable goals for food systems transformation.

In our newly released Global Food Policy Report on “ Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Nutrition ,” we emphasize the need for sustainable healthy diets and provide evidence-based recommendations on ways to make the foods that form these diets more desirable, affordable, accessible, and available.

This holistic approach recognizes the interplay between dietary patterns, food environments, production and policies, together with broader societal and environmental factors.

Optimal dietary intake involves consuming adequate quantities from diverse food groups while avoiding overconsumption of unhealthy foods. Achieving this will require policies and actions adapted to each country context, that focus on improving supply, food environments, and demand. Further leveraging food systems to achieve nutrition and health outcomes will require  linking actions around food systems to improve diets with complementary systems like health and social protection.

For example, we need solutions like behavior change communication coupled with social assistance programs that can address some of the primary barriers to sustainable healthy diets and help directly shift consumer preferences toward healthier food choices. We also need to address well-known challenges around the commercial production and marketing of ultra-processed and other unhealthy foods, as well as increasing the supply of diverse, safe, and affordable nutritious food like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and animal source foods.  

Changes in food environments such as using regulations and laws to support healthy food environments are critical in this regard.  Affordability is an important aspect that requires us to promote pro-poor economic growth, realigning agricultural policies to support nutrient-dense foods, and improving infrastructure and logistics to lower the relative cost of healthy foods and improve their accessibility and availability.  

This agenda will require coordinating the actions of diverse stakeholders and navigating different interests. Trade-offs need to be identified and negotiated across health, economic, sustainability, and development goals.

We also need to address remaining data gaps to inform programs and policies and to measure impact. Despite substantial efforts, publicly available information on dietary intake patterns, drivers of food choice, food environments, and environmental impacts remains insufficient.

Last, but not least, we need a strong and sustained global commitment to facilitating sustainable healthy diets. Although global commitments on nutrition are strong, the strategies, financing, and accountability mechanisms required for the world to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2 on malnutrition are lagging behind. In order to get there, we need to identify successes and learn from failures.

The future of the world's most vulnerable people hinges on our ability to make significant progress in ensuring healthy diets. It's time to prioritize this agenda.

Purnima Menon

Senior Director, Food and Nutrition Policy, CGIAR and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Deanna Olney

Director of the Nutrition, Diets and Health Unit at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

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Stay up to date:, retail, consumer goods and lifestyle.

  • There's a growing interest in climate-friendly foods, but consumers find it hard to know if the food choices they make are environmentally sustainable;
  • From ready-made snacks to algae, cacti and grains, options for climate beneficial foods are increasing;
  • With better supply chain structures, food producers can have greater access to these ingredients too.

With the food system responsible for a third of overall global CO2 emissions, attention on climate beneficial foods has been slowly but steadily increasing. According to IFIC’s 2020 Food and Health Survey , 6 in 10 consumers in the US say it is important that the food products they purchase or consume are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

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That’s great, right? Not so fast: the same report also points out that, despite this increased interest, consumers find the buzzing and sometimes obscure world of climate beneficial food puzzling. From complex labels to opaque sourcing and unclear carbon impact, 6 in 10 consumers say it is hard to know if the food choices they make are environmentally sustainable; of those, 63% say it would have a greater influence on their choices if it were easier. There are even examples of people sharing their frustration .

From food and beverage companies to universities and non-profits , the sustainable food development and communication industry is experiencing a real boost but has a long way to go before making the transition to a more sustainable diet seamless for consumers. Here’s some inspiration for consumers looking to make the change:

Ready to eat and drink

If you want to introduce more climate-beneficial food into your diet but don’t have time to go to the farmer’s market every week or to cook your own food on a daily basis, a first positive step could be turning to sustainable snacks that are ready to eat or drink and can perfectly fit into your busy everyday schedule.

How CO2 emissions from the supply chain differ by food product

Some brands' ingredients come from a fully traceable network involving verified regenerative agriculture farmers who have built soil health into their cultivation methods. Look for snack providers who are investing in recyclable packaging, carbon offsetting and a shortened supply chain, so as to reduce the impact of transportation while keeping ingredients fresh and preserving their flavour, to explore all the climate benefits of these products.

Climate-beneficial foods can also give food waste products a new lease of life. Avocado seeds, for example, have been used to brew a drink rich in antioxidants and low in calories unlocking access to a nutrition source that has so far remained unexplored.

Simple ingredients

If you feel a bit bolder and want to give a sustainable shift to your cooking, why not add some unusual ingredients to your diet? This category includes both new and innovative options that have started making their way to the global market only recently; and options that have been part of our culinary tradition for ages but partially forgotten due to the cannibalization of their market share by more popular ingredients.

  • Algae: combining their carbon-negative profile with sustainable sourcing, algae have the potential to change the food system for the better while being good for your health, thanks to their essential fatty acids and high vitamin and antioxidants content. Although may not appeal to the most squeamish consumers, algae actually possess a meat-like, umami flavour that makes them an ideal replacement for meat. They can also be dried and minced to obtain healthy salt-like condiments and dressings.
  • Cacti: many varieties of cacti are edible and contain high amounts of vitamins C and E, carotenoids, fibre and amino acids. Cacti stems have long been part of the Mexican culinary tradition and are now starting to enter the international market through new, delicious concepts.
  • Uncommon grains: if you don’t feel like revolutionizing your diet with unusual ingredients, you can opt for a more gradual change by diversifying your sources of carbohydrates. Despite the existence of 21 different families of grains, at the moment rice, wheat and maize make up more than 50% of global cereal consumption . Opting for diverse grain varieties (like amaranth, fonio or buckwheat) will not only provide you with more nutritional value, but also help improve soil health and preserve biodiversity.

As a general reference, you can find lots of inspiring ingredients and ideas in the Future 50 Foods report.

How global meat sales could change

Processed ingredients

It may be hard to believe, but processed foods can be just as climate-beneficial as unprocessed ones. Feeling sceptical? What began as an internal initiative of beer giant ABInbev to reduce its waste is now a fully independent company turning beer-production by-products into nutritious and versatile flours. Can you imagine making delicious pasta, cookies or bread with something that, until yesterday, was destined for the bin?

Elsewhere, climate-beneficial foods are reducing food waste by making use of products that would otherwise not make it to the market because of their appearance or size. This is how green banana powder is produced, for example. It combines the textural properties of starch and the nutritional benefits of bananas. It’s tasteless and can be used as a substitute for traditional flour for healthier and gluten-free solutions or as a clean-label binding agent in place of chemicals. It’s also great for adding texture and prebiotic fibre to a recipe.

There are plenty of climate-beneficial food options already on the market with more and more are expected in the near future. The next steps to make the most of such an endless potential lie in initiatives aimed at increasing education on the topic among final consumers, as well as in building more structured supply chains so as to make it easier for producers to get access to the above-mentioned ingredients.

Although it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount or lack of information, it’s important not to let yourself be discouraged: a better future for humans and the planet is just a forkful away.

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Healthy and Sustainable Diets and Food Systems: the Key to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2?

  • Discussion Paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 12 November 2019
  • Volume 4 , pages 159–174, ( 2019 )

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are considered a unifying global goal setting agenda that every country is meant to achieve. One of those goals, SDG2, promises to ensure food security and nutrition within sustainable food systems. However, achieving that goal is riddled with uncertainty because of the way in which the world currently produces and consumes foods. The global trends of diets and the food systems that produce those diets suggest that they are neither healthy nor sustainable, which has implications for achieving SDG2. This paper characterizes the current state of global diets and food systems, the concept of “healthy and sustainable diets,” and the ethical considerations to achieving healthy and sustainable diets for sustainable development.

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Food systems consists of all the inputs (environment, people, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.), activities and actors that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the outcomes of these activities, namely nutrition and health, economic, social and environmental outcomes (HLPE 2014 ). Food systems are meant to provide the diversity of food that make up diets (Glopan 2016 ).

The ideal diet is one that is healthy, of sufficient quality and quantity, affordable, safe and culturally acceptable for human ideal nutrition and health status (Drewnowski 2014 ; Donati et al. 2016 ). However, something has gone awry (Afshin et al. 2019 ; DI 2018 ; Glopan 2016 ; Swinburn et al. 2019 ; FAO et al. 2019 ). Every country is affected by malnutrition at least in some form, whether it be undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, or overweight and obesity with some countries struggling with multiple forms (DI 2018 ). These forms of malnutrition present a major impediment to achieving sustainable development, with crippling consequences for human health, the environment and human capabilities.

While there are multiple underlying determinants of malnutrition, sub-optimal diets serve as a common, factor for poor nutrition outcomes (Lartey 2008 ; Imamura et al. 2015 ; Mozaffarian and Forouhi 2018 ). Knowing that diets, be they healthy or unhealthy, come from food systems, it is important to understand how food systems are changing and their ability to deliver nutritious diets while at the same time minimizing negative environmental impacts (Ranganathan et al. 2016a , b ; Willett et al. 2019 ).

With urbanization and globalization, economic growth, and food industry consolidation, food systems and actors have become more complex with potential negative impacts on health and nutrition (Glopan et al. 2016 ; HLPE 2017 ). There are also global calls for concern that food systems are less sustainable, producing significant environmental degradation and pollution (IPCC 2019 ; Willett et al. 2019 ; WRI 2019 ). If current trends continue, the effects of these increases will be felt most strongly in low and middle-income countries that are already grappling with double and triple forms of malnutrition (DI 2018 ; HLPE 2017 ).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the world’s main accountability tool for sustainable development over the coming 15 years – have ambitious targets embedded within their goals that include food security, nutrition, climate stability, sustainable consumption and human justice and dignity. One of these targets, SDG2, focuses on eliminating hunger and malnutrition and improving the sustainability of food systems. Achieving this goal presents challenges when looking at the current trends and trajectories of diets and food systems, and solutions to these challenges engages a range of compelling ethical values that must be examined. This purpose of this paper is to examine global progress in achieving SDG2 and the role of diets and food systems in achieving SDG2, highlight the challenges of fulfilling sustainable diets, and suggest some ethical issues associated with sustainable diets to address SDG2.

The Mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals

The sustainable development goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals were agreed upon in September of 2015 during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which came to an end in 2015. The SDGs build upon the achievements of the MDG era and are meant to put every country on a path towards sustainable development. They are considered a blueprint, a road map, or a codex so-to-speak to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone (Byerlee and Fanzo 2019 ).

There are seventeen aspirational SDGs that span the necessary bricks and mortar for sustainable development -- development that meets the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs for a resilient future for both people and the planet. To this end, there must be promotion of sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems (UN 2015 ).

While the MDGs focused mainly on developing countries looking to end poverty, the SDGs are universal to all countries – low-, middle-, and high-income countries to end all forms of malnutrition, improve health, tackle climate change and environmental degradation, fight inequalities and ensure social justice. They are to make certain that no one is left behind and that development works for everyone. They are meant to be broader in scope, cover more ground and go further than the MDGs in addressing inequalities, building sustainable jobs, cities and industry, protecting oceans and ecosystems, mitigating climate change, and putting into place peace and justice (DI 2017 ). While not legally binding, countries are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks and guidance on how to achieve the seventeen goals through improved means of implementation, and mobilization of finance, capacity building technology and data and institutions (Byerlee and Fanzo 2019 ; Fanzo 2018 ).

SDG2 Is Pivotal to Sustainable Development

SDG2 is the goal within the larger agenda that focuses on ending hunger and malnutrition, increasing agriculture productivity, and improving food system sustainability. The targets within SDG2 are lofty (Box 1). Over half of the SDGs relate to global food security and nutrition, with SDG2 being the most critical, but also including the goals that relate to poverty, gender equality, health, water and sanitation, responsible production and consumption, and climate change (FAO et al. 2018 ; DI 2017 ).

Status of Progress on SDG2

Progress made on SDG2 targets is varied. After a prolonged decline, world hunger appears to be on the rise again. Conflict, drought and disasters linked to climate change are among the key factors causing this reversal in progress (FAO et al. 2018 ). The proportion of undernourished people worldwide increased slightly from 10.6% in 2015 to 10.8% in 2018. This translates to 821 million people worldwide in 2018, up from 785 million in 2015 (FAO 2019 ).

In 2018, 151 million children under age 5 suffered from stunting (low height for their age), 51 million suffered from wasting (low weight for height), and 38 million were overweight (Unicef et al. 2018 ). Stunting among children under five years of age is declining, albeit it slowly, with overall prevalence down from 32.6% in 2000 to 22.2% in 2017. Regionally, Asia has declined from 38.1% to 23.2% since 2000 and Latin America has declined from 16.9% to 9.6%. The prevalence of stunting has also declined in Africa from 38.32 to 30.3% since 2000 (Unicef et al. 2018 ).

Of the 150.8 million stunted, 58.7 million live in Southern Asia. Same with wasting - more than half of wasted children, 26.9 million, live in Southern Asia. Of the 38.3 million children overweight, Southern and East Asia have 5.4 million and 4.8 million children grappling with early overweight onset respectively (Unicef et al. 2018 ). While adult overweight and obesity is not tracked within the SDG framework, it is central to the nutrition agenda. Two billion adults are overweight in which 678 million are obese (NCD Risc 2018 ). Globally, women have had shown a higher prevalence of both overweight and obesity compared to men every year since 1990. Data on the prevalence of overweight adults increased from 35.7% in 2010 to 38.9% in 2016. Obesity prevalence in adults increased from 11.2% in 2010 to 13.1% in 2016 (DI 2018 ).

Likewise, anemia is not tracked within the SDG framework. However, one and three women of reproductive age suffer from anemia which can have life-long impacts on work and personal capacity and cognitive functioning. Women with anemia stands at 32.8% and has risen (DI 2018 ).

Figure 1 shows the progress made on these core set of nutrition indicators since 2012, with projections out to 2025, and 2030, the deadline to achieve the SDGs (FAO 2019 ). Strong policies with substantive investments will have to be stepped up to achieve the 2030 projections across all of the indicators.

figure 1

The prevalence of different forms of malnutrition from 2012 to 2018 with estimates in achieving 2025 World Health Assembly Targets and 2030 SDG targets. Source: FAO 2019

The Essentiality of Food Systems and Diets for Sustainable Development

Food systems are central for achieving the sdgs.

A food system consists of all the inputs (environment, people, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.), activities and actors that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the outcomes of these activities, namely nutrition and health, economic, social and environmental outcomes (HLPE 2014 ). With increasing urbanization, income growth and globalization, food systems have become more complex and nuanced with multiple actors shaping their transformation.

Food systems have distinct entry points for achieving the multiple objectives of the SDGs: “In our increasingly interconnected world, strengthened agriculture and food systems have a critical role to play in achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating poverty and hunger, and increasing our resilience to climatic and economic shocks” (Byerlee and Fanzo 2019 ; FAO 2016 ). Food systems embody complex relationships between the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainable development, as part of a collaborative network that integrates food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management (IFPRI 2016 ). To achieve the SDGs, society expects for food systems to be that much more efficient, healthy, and inclusive, with supporting policies and legal frameworks that address income inequality, support livelihoods, and ensure resiliency. Yet, shaping complex food systems is never easy (Denning 2016 ; Garnett 2017 ). A plethora of formal and informal actors, vested interests, and technology and innovation inequities make shaping food systems all the more challenging (IPES 2017 ).

Diets, a Central Output of Food Systems, in Turn, Shape Nutrition

Diets comprise the foods that an individual consumes that meet energy needs, provide the diversity of safe foods to meet nutritional needs, that are accessible and affordable, and that enrich and preserve social and cultural traditions (USDA 2015 ). Dietary patterns are the quantities and combinations of those said foods and beverages in diets and the frequency of how they are habitually consumed (Hu et al. 1999 ; Kant 2004 ; Mozaffarian and Ludwig 2010 ).

While there have been attempts to define and characterize diets or dietary patterns that are “healthy” or “nutritious”, there is less agreement on what is considered a healthy or nutritious food (HLPE 2017 ). The International Conference on Nutrition Rome Declaration states, “nutrition improvement requires healthy, balanced, diversified diets, including traditional diets where appropriate, meeting nutrient requirements of all age groups and all groups with special nutrition needs, while avoiding the excessive intake of saturated fat, sugars and sodium, and virtually eliminating trans fats, among others” (WHO and FAO 2014 ). While this definition encompasses a general picture of what constitutes a healthy diet, it does not provide detailed guidance on the specific constituents and quantities necessary to consume an optimal healthy diet. There has been a wealth of long-term epidemiology studies describing certain “territorial diets” such as the Mediterranean, Nordic or Japanese diets and their impacts on human health (Kuhnlein et al. 2006 ; Lipski 2010 ; Trichopoulou et al. 2014 ). These diets have shed light on compositions of diets, and their impacts on certain disease outcomes as well as protective effects (Eleftheriou et al. 2018 ; Martínez-González 2016 ).

While diets shape human health and nutrition outcomes, nutrition and health, in turn, affect human capital. Optimal nutrition is a basic building block of human capital and, as such, contributes to economic development (Shekar et al. 2006 ). Human capital is the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual that add value to a country or community. Nutrition early in life is essential to adult productivity and capital. Improving nutrition contributes to productivity, economic development, and poverty reduction by improving physical work capacity, cognitive development, school performance, and health by reducing disease and mortality (Shekar et al. 2006 ). Because nutrition plays such an essential role for human capability, or a person’s freedom or opportunity to achieve their full potential that Martha Nussbaum articulated (Nussbaum 2011 ), it is an avenue to address the SDGs.

Current State of Healthy, Sustainable Diets

Sustainability implies a state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without diminishing the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs or without causing harm to the environment and natural assets (Brundtland 2018 ). Globally, it is recognized that the health of human beings cannot be isolated from that of ecosystems (TEEB 2018 ).

The Concept of Healthy, Sustainable Diets

Recently, the concept of sustainable food systems and diets has grown in importance. It is thought that while the benefit of the global food system is a safe, nutritious, and consistent food supply, that same system also places significant strain on land, water, air, and other natural resources. The idea of “sustainable diets,” which combines dietary recommendations with healthier environments and consumers, was proposed in the 1980s, using perhaps different terminology, but has recently been revived in the context of more emphasis on sustainable development. Newer concepts of “sustainable diets” are those that promote environmental and economic stability through low-impact and affordable foods, while at the same time improving public health through adequate nutrition (Johnston et al. 2014 ; Mason and Lang 2017 ).

FAO further defined sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations.” Sustainable diets are protective and are respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems; they are culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy while at the same time optimizing natural and human resources (Burlingame and Dernini 2012 ).

Defining sustainable diets is important, yet more work is needed on what constitutes a sustainable diet from environmental, biological, cultural and health standpoints, at the global, regional, local and individual levels (Jones et al. 2016 ). Better measurements and indicators are needed to assess the impact of the various determinants of sustainable diets and the potential synergies and trade-offs associated with any recommendations aimed at increasing the sustainability of our food system (Auestad and Fulgoni, 2015 ; Meybeck and Gitz 2017 ). It also remains unclear how these diets can be assessed within our global food system and how environmental sustainability in our consumption patterns and dietary goals can be achieved (Johnston et al. 2014 ; Jones et al. 2016 ). Auestad and Fulgoni ( 2015 ) argue that there is a need for better guidance on what constitutes healthy, sustainable diets, but this is difficult with the current gaps in research of what works to achieve these diets. Beyond just issues of evidence of what works, in certain contexts, there is also a lack of “consensus and political will to act in the face of perceived competing agendas between promoting healthy and sustainable diets and promoting economic growth” (Lawrence et al. 2015 ).

The Health Status of Diets

One of the major causes of malnutrition and its subsequent health outcomes is diets (Afshin et al. 2019 ; Willett et al. 2019 ; Swinburn et al. 2019 ). Unhealthy diets are now one of the top risk factors globally for deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) lost (GBD 2017 ; Afshin et al. 2019 ), surpassing for example tobacco smoking and high blood pressure (Fig.  2 ). These unhealthy diets are those low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk, fiber, calcium, seafood and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and diets high in red meat, processed meat (smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved), sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and sodium (Forouzanfar et al., 2015 ; Imamura et al. 2015 ; Lawrence et al. 2019 ; Willett et al. 2019 ). Highly-processed foods are usually characteristically high in salt, trans fats and added sugar (Baker and Friel 2014 ; Monteiro et al., 2013 ). Diets serve as a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases including diabetes and heart disease (Branca et al. 2019 ; Mozafarrian et al. 2018 ; Yakoob et al. 2016 ). Still, child and maternal undernutrition is a significant risk factor of morbidity and mortality, particularly in low-income countries (Black et al. 2013 ; Swinburn et al. 2019 ).

figure 2

Sub-optimal diets are now a major risk factor of mortality. Source: Afshin et al. 2019

Global dietary patterns have been changing, affecting people in all parts of the world (Popkin et al. 2012 ; Glopan 2016 ; HLPE 2017 ). While some of these changes have had positive impacts on health, some have been negative. The “nutrition transition,” illustrated in Fig.  3 , refers to these changes in dietary patterns as populations undergo demographic transition, urbanization and economic development. These shifts subsequently influence epidemiological disease patterns among those populations that are undergoing lifestyle changes (Popkin et al. 2012 ). Figure 3 places food systems or these transitions as established by the UN High Level Panel of Experts Report on Food Systems in Nutrition ( 2017 ), into three broad types which are illustrated below.

figure 3

The nutrition transition. Source: UN HLPE Report 2017

In traditional, rural food systems, people have access to more locally produced foods, and less highly-processed food. A majority of the diet is comprised of staple grains and tubers, legumes and some seasonal vegetables and fruits, with less access to animal source foods. Food supply chains are often short, informal, and have limited diversity in some places. Populations living in these systems tend to be more vulnerable to infectious diseases, wasting and/or stunting, high maternal and child mortality, and other factors resulting in a shorter life expectancy. Even if famines have receded, people still experience seasonal hunger (HLPE 2017 ).

In transitioning economies, urbanization and income growth influence lifestyle changes and changing, mixed food systems. Urbanization can also cause demographic and technological changes such as more women entering the labor force, which opens new career and lifestyle opportunities (Seto and Ramankutty, 2016 ). These changes in income and routine also affect food preferences with an increased demand for convenient foods such as street food, fast food, and highly-processed foods that are affordable, convenient, and easier to cook (Drewnowski and Popkin, 1997 ). Populations may be dealing with multiple burdens of malnutrition, but overall, overweight, obesity and non-communicable disease replaces high burdens of undernutrition (Dietz 2017 ; Popkin 2015 ; Popkin 2017 ). This outcome results in longer life spans but higher disability with suboptimal quality of life. The architecture of many cities, also known as the built environment, is often not sufficient to promote physical activity in many economically transitioning countries, which has important implications for obesity and non-communicable diseases (Kearney 2010 ).

In more progressive, “modern” food systems, there is a plethora of food outlets – some healthy, some not as healthy – with a heavy reliance on hyper- and supermarkets. These modern systems afford people with the skills and tools to change behavior which can reverse the negative tendencies of the preceding patterns, although currently this is rare, even in high-income countries. It is that that in these progressive places, people are more concerned with their health, consciously eat healthier foods, and increase their levels of physical activity, which facilitates healthy aging (Popkin 2017 ). These changes may be due to increased education and awareness or may occur out of necessity in the case of people who suffer from diet-related non-communicable diseases themselves (Popkin et al. 2012 ). As a result, life span is long, and disability decreases.

These patterns of the “nutrition transition” do not necessarily indicate that every food system, and every country will follow this pattern and not every country has a set fate. There are ways to bypass the unhealthy aspects of these patterns and, for low- and middle-income countries; it is possible for transitioning countries to avoid the path that some high-income countries have taken. Still, it will take a concerted effort to avoid these trends and their detrimental impacts (HLPE 2017 ).

The Environmental Sustainability Status of Diets

The literature has described in some detail the pattern of diets prevalent in many middle- and high-income countries, as well as those transitioning economies, from both a health and environmentally sustainable perspective (Garnett 2016 ). They are often characterized as high energy intake, sub-optimal dietary diversity, and high intake of vegetable oil and sugar and animal source foods (ASF) (Roos et al. 2017 ). Production of ASF, and particularly that of beef which is a common source of protein in Western diets, contributes significantly to negative environmental outcomes (Tilman and Clark 2014 ; Poore and Nemecek 2018 ). Additionally, such diets have negative impacts on cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes (Mozaffarian 2016 ; Springmann et al. 2017 ).

There are diets that can be either environmentally sustainable and not healthy, or healthy and not environmentally sustainable (Garnett 2017 ). For example, diets with low dietary diversity and which derive the majority of dietary energy from starches and grains, have lower environmental footprints. These low-impact diets often fail to address individuals’ micro- and macronutrient needs (Garnett 2014 ). They can also be associated with high levels of sugar and salt consumption (Alesandrowicz et al. 2016 ) and low levels of key micronutrients, such as iron and zinc (Payne et al. 2016 ). Such diets are common among many individuals in low-income countries and contribute significantly to the global burden of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (Afshin et al. 2016 ).

Similarly, there are healthy diets that negatively impact the environment. Diets with high amounts of dairy, lean meat, fish and seafood, nuts, and fruits and vegetables, and minimal amounts of processed foods and sugars, might be healthy, but can come at a high environmental cost (Garnett 2016 ). For instance, certain fish and seafood production practices negatively affect greenhouse gas emissions, land and water quality, and biodiversity, nut production can have a high blue (irrigation) water footprint, and lean meats have differential impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, crop diversity, water use, and pollution. (Tilman and Clark 2014 ; Farmery et al. 2017 ; Downs and Fanzo, 2015 ; Fry et al. 2016 ; Alesandrowicz et al. 2016 ; Tom et al. 2016 ; Garnett et al. 2017 ).

Which type of diet is good for both human and environmental health? Some research suggests that it is a diet that includes more fruits and vegetables, and less ASF, sugars, and vegetable oils (Roos et al. 2017 ; Garnett 2016 ; Mozafarrian 2016 ). Dietary patterns that replace animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives confer significant environmental benefits (Payne et al. 2016 ) Additionally, diets that replace ruminants with other alternatives, such as fish, poultry and pork, show reduced environmental impacts, as well as with plant-based alternatives (Auestad and Fulgoni 2015 ; Hallstrom et al. 2015 ; Springmann et al. 2018a ).

Recent literature reviews summarized the environmental impacts of dietary patterns (Joyce et al. 2014 , Auestad and Fulgoni 2015 , Hallström et al. 2015 , Nelson et al. 2016 ), including three that explicitly explored health outcomes alongside environmental outcomes (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016 , Payne et al. 2016 , Perignon et al. 2016 ). These reviews found that dietary patterns that replace animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives confer the greatest environmental benefits (Springmann et al. 2018a ; Springmann et al. 2018b ). Vegan and vegetarian diets were associated with significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use. (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016 ). Diets that consumed more fish, poultry and pork, and less ruminants, also show reduced environmental impacts, but less so than plant-based alternatives (Auestad and Fulgoni 2015 , Hallström et al. 2015 ).

However, the environmental benefits of sustainable dietary patterns do not consistently correlate with the health benefits. In general, many studies report reductions in all-cause mortality and in the risks of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and diabetes mellitus for more sustainable dietary patterns (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016 ; Nelson et al. 2016 ). However, these findings have been largely heterogeneous and are often not statistically significant (Payne et al. 2016 ). Additionally, sustainable diets with lower greenhouse gas emissions are associated with higher levels of sugar and salt consumption (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016 ), and decreased levels of key micronutrients, such as zinc (Payne et al. 2016 ).

As such, recommendations of healthy sustainable diets can be particularly problematic, especially in low- and middle-income countries that already struggle with nutrition transitions and micronutrient deficiencies. In countries where undernutrition of women and children contributes more to the burden of disease than metabolic dietary risk factors (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia), it is essential that we not exacerbate high rates of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies through diet (GBD 2017 ; Springmann et al. 2017 ). For example, vegan diets might not be appropriate for populations with high prevalence of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Increasing animal-sourced food consumption might improve health outcomes for these groups, due to content and bioavailability of key micronutrients (Perignon et al. 2017 ).

In summary, diets can produce co-benefits for human and environmental health. Harnessing these co-benefits requires an integrated approach to health and sustainability that considers the complex linkages and feedback loops between food systems, diets, human health and the environment.

Ethical Considerations of Healthy and Sustainable Diets

There are ethical considerations to be elucidated on how realistic healthy, sustainable diets are with the current population pressures, economic instability, and increasingly inequitable food supplies and demands.

There are profound inequities both globally and within countries, with respect to access to and affordability of nutritious foods (Headey and Alderman 2019 ). The increased demand for certain resource-intensive foods has serious potential ramifications for both climate change and human health (Mearns and Norton, 2010 ; Willett et al. 2019 ; IPCC 2019 ). There are four ethical points of contention.

First, overconsumption and escalating demand for livestock have created ethical conflicts over ensuring animal welfare and limiting demands on the environment (Garnett, 2009 ; Stokstad, 2010 ; Willett et al. 2019 ). In addition, many of these livestock production system use grain as the main feed for their animals, resulting in a significant amount of land devoted to growing feed (Lappe et al. 2013 ). One-third of global cereal crop production is fed to animals (Godfray et al. 2010 ), while we know that the world still faces seasonal hunger periods and in the last few years, famines in several countries (FAO 2019 ). This presents an ethical dilemma on feeding people to stave off hunger and food insecurity or feeding animals to keep up a changing dietary demand of consumers with disposable income to spend on costly foods. There are also concerns of the role of highly-processed foods that are considered “empty calories” and contain high amounts of unhealthy fats, sugars and salt, on health and sustainability (Lawrence et al. 2019 ).

Second, the distribution and access to costly foods, such as ASF, is currently not equitable if we consider these foods as being critically important for human health in that they provide iron, zinc and other vital micronutrients (Varijakshapanicker et al. 2019 ). There needs to be a re-setting of the balance to ensure that access or better distributed (Michalk et al. 2019 . While there are low-resource alternative sources that should be considered in filling nutrient gaps for all countries to consider, they are often not in high demand with the exception of fish (Hicks et al. 2019 ). Farmed fish, mollusks, insects and protein-rich plant foods can serve as important and alternative sources of nutrient rich foods (including protein, fatty acids, zinc, iron, B12, Vitamin D), as compared to muscle and organ meats from livestock (Hicks et al. 2019 ).

Third, the issue of eating ASF is also a matter of consumer preferences, taste, and social standing. And putting restrictions or limitations on meat could infringe on issues of self liberties. Popkin noted: “We have created societies in the West that value and consume meat, dairy, poultry, fish and seafood. Over generations, a particular way of life has been promoted and this has shifted expectations about diet to include large amounts of animal sourced foods. The developing world wants to eat the same way and is rapidly increasing its demand for meat and other animal products” (Popkin 2011 ). Even if eating “higher status” ASF is not essential for optimal nutrition, does it matter ethically that people have inequitable access to foods that give them pleasure and social status? The EAT Lancet Commission (Willett et al. 2019 ) argued for a flexitarian diet that was lower in ASF, however there was significant criticism on whether this diet is locally adaptable, and culturally, socially and geographically appropriate. Many critics struggled to find how these recommendations fit within the local context for specific populations (Lawrence et al. 2019 ).

Living with Tradeoffs in the Era of Sustainable Development

There is no ethically simple way to reconcile these competing demands in the face of growing economies, international trade, globalization, and urbanization (FAO, 2013 ). Is it possible for everyone to consume a sustainable diet for both human and planetary health that fits well within the mandate of SDG2? And if yes, what would global cooperation look like to get to that goal??

Food systems require and influence three major societal outcomes – economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion and human health. Economic vitality is made through different policies, such as trade and employment, are influenced by food systems and vice versa. The environmental sustainability occurs through the protection of ecosystem services and natural capital that in turn have co-benefits with food systems. Social inclusion and human health are very much dependent on food security, nutrition, food culture and animal welfare. Although one change in the system may bring multiple outcomes, these outcomes may not all be what is considered progress. A nutritional intervention may have an unintended consequence for environmental, economic, and social outcomes or an economic incentive may have profound impacts on the environment or natural resource base. Therefore, even though the food system is complex, it is important to consider the synergies, trade-offs, and negative externalities that result from changes across the entire food system (Ingram 2011 ).

There will be inherent trade-offs depending on what set of outcomes are chosen. Economic gains may have negative impacts on diets or the environment. In achieving SDG2, there will be negative impacts on other SDGs and vice versa. We all want food systems that are sustainable, end hunger, improve nutrition and improve economies. “But not everyone has the same vision on “how to get there and what that may look like. The ethical perspectives people bring to the food sustainability problem influence both their use of the evidence and the solutions they propose and these often lead to stakeholders arguing at cross-purposes, the result being conflict, or inaction” (Garnett 2017 ). The solutions proposed are often different and can conflict with other goals. It is important to be realistic on what outcomes can be delivered upon and what trade-offs the world is willing to live with.

Final Thoughts on Healthy and Sustainable Diets

The decision of what to eat is inextricably linked to the ethics of how that choice affects environmental sustainability and human well-being. If certain resource-intense foods are considered critically important for human health, then their distribution and access must be made equitable—an existing imbalance that needs to be addressed. The dietary choices of people in high-income countries have significant ramifications for less wealthy populations. Energy intensive lifestyles and diets of those in HICs are significant anthropogenic contributors to climate change. However, economically poor households are likely to experience a disproportionate burden of the impacts of climate change (Olsson et al., 2014 ). The food security of those households will most likely not improve under climate variability, and diets will actually deteriorate along with nutrition outcomes. Those who are wealthier will suffer less even though their choices have far-reaching consequences.

Where there is sufficient scientific and ethical justification to strive for healthy, sustainable diets, how can policies and interventions be constructed and implemented in specific national contexts? Is it ethically acceptable to mandate specific interventions such as taxes, incentives, nudges, and subsidies without regressive consequences? It will be important to identify morally relevant differences between middle-income countries (where the aim would be to prevent meat consumption levels from reaching a threshold), and high-income countries (where the aim would be to alter already entrenched patterns of consumption) as compared to low-income countries where options and choices are fewer and far between. It will also be important to identify morally relevant obligations and interventions to promote access to healthy, sustainable diets that allow for sustainable development for all.

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Fanzo, J. Healthy and Sustainable Diets and Food Systems: the Key to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2?. Food ethics 4 , 159–174 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41055-019-00052-6

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Focus: Nutrition and Food Science

Food sustainability in the context of human behavior.

The long-term goal of food sustainability is to produce enough food to maintain the human population. The intrinsic factors to guarantee a sustainable food system are a fertile land, water, fertilizers, a stable climate, and energy. However, as the world population grows, the volume of food needed in the future will not depend just on these intrinsic factors, but on human choices. This paper analyzes some of the human actions that may affect the sustainable future of the food supply chain, including diet, obesity, food miles, food waste, and genetically modified organisms.


In addition to food directly harvested from the wild, food is mostly produced at farms, and therefore, food sustainability is directly linked to sustainable agriculture. In 1990, the U.S. Congress addressed the issue of sustainable agriculture in the farm bill, which stated that “sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

• provide human food and fiber needs;

• enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;

• make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;

• sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and

• enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Based on the U.S. Congress’ definition and the now famous 1997 United Nations’ definition about sustainable development, which states that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” definitions of sustainability have emerged in all sectors of the population.

Most businesses have embraced what is called the three dimensions of sustainability, or “triple bottom line,” and some variations like “people-planet-profit,” “the three pillars,” or “the three E’s,” for economy, equity, and ecology. This idea is based on the premise that for a company to be sustainable it needs to be economically feasible, environmentally dependable, and socially responsible. The concept of the triple bottom line goes even further by allowing interchangeability, which means that if a business falls short in one of the dimensions, it can make up by “investing” in another dimension. For instance, a mining company is environmentally unsustainable in the long term because it depletes the resource. However, according to the triple bottom line concept, this company could compensate by making social contributions.

The general public has their own ideas of food sustainability, which often includes concepts like social justice, animal welfare, fair labor and trade, local farming, organic food production, and the concept of “natural,” just to mention the most important ones. There is no official definition of natural. So different people have different ideas of the meaning of “natural.” Another idea that most of the time is wrongly attributed to food sustainability by the general public is food miles. Many people believe the biggest impact on the whole environmental impact of food products is transportation and therefore favor local products, which in many cases is not necessarily true.

Regardless of definitions and beliefs, food sustainability is about generating food at a productivity level that is enough to maintain the human population. Sustainable food production is fundamentally grounded on the availability of fertile land, water, nutrients, and an adequate climate. In addition, the volume of food needed to feed humans is linked to intended or unintended human behavior. This paper analyzes some population attitudes and choices that have an impact on both the volume of food needed and the environmental impact to produce it.

The Effect of Diet

Besides their effect on health, different diets have different environmental impacts. One change in the global diet in the last 50 years has been the increased consumption of animal protein, which correlates with increased affluence around the world [ 1 ]. Production of animal protein is very tasking on the environment. One reason for this is the efficiency (or inefficiency) of conversion of feed into animal tissue, ruminants being the most inefficient animals to convert feed into muscle. On average, to produce 1 kcal of beef using a feedlot system, which is common in North America and is now becoming popular around the world, takes the input of 40 kcal of energy. Grass-fed beef takes approximately half of that energy. The advantage of ruminants is that they can ingest low-grade feed because they are capable of digesting cellulose. Monogastric animals like swine and poultry are more efficient at converting feed into muscle, but they require specialized diets with low cellulose content. Swine, turkey, and chicken need an input of 14, 10, and 4 kcal of energy respectively per 1-kcal output [ 2 ].

In addition to land use, livestock production has an enormous role in soil destruction, water depletion and pollution, impact on biodiversity, and a disturbance of the nitrogen and carbon cycles. Livestock grazing occupies the equivalent of 26 percent of ice-free surface of the planet in addition to 33 percent of arable land dedicated to the production of feed crops [ 3 ]. Besides land use, cattle raising has a profound impact on soil properties. The constant animal traffic, especially cattle, compacts the soil, which reduces water infiltration and promotes runoff. Runoff not only translates into soil erosion but also carries nutrients to surface water [ 3 ].

Ruminants, in particular, are major producers of greenhouse gases through enteric fermentation. Besides carbon dioxide, a byproduct of enteric fermentation is methane, which has a greenhouse potential twelve times higher than carbon dioxide. Ammonia is another gas resulting from animal production. Ammonia is not a greenhouse gas but has local and regional effects and is responsible for alteration of the nitrogen cycle [ 2 ].

One way to reduce the environmental impact of animal production would be a diet with more vegetable protein. One disadvantage is that vegetable protein does not have a complete amino acid profile, thus requiring the right combination to have all the essential amino acids in the diet. A second disadvantage is that vegetable proteins are more difficult to get broken down by the human digestive system. Nevertheless, perhaps the most difficult issue that we humans confront in the reduction of consumption of animal products is the undeniable preference we have for animal protein.

Insects are another source of protein used in many countries around the world but not very well accepted yet in western countries. Insects have a significant advantage in terms of lower environmental impact in relation to traditional livestock. Insects need much less water and produce fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia emissions. According to one source, the emission of greenhouse gases from insects is 1 percent of the emissions of ruminants for the same amount of protein [ 4 ].

Obesity and Overconsumption

Worldwide, an estimated 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, are overweight, and out of these over 650 million are obese. More alarming is the fact that 41 million children under the age of 5, and more than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 were reported overweight or obese by the WHO in 2016 [ 5 ].

Weight increase and obesity is the result of consuming more calories than the calories spent in physical activities. Most foods can cause weight gain, but the main offenders are calorie dense foods. According to FAO, Americans eat an average of over 3,600 calories a day, which is well above the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations of 2,000 to 2,600 calories per day for a sedentary adult male and 1,600 to 2,000 for a sedentary adult female [ 6 ]. Besides consuming too many calories, Americans, especially children, are getting their calories from calorie dense foods and sweetened beverages made with fats and sugars [ 7 ].

The growing obesity pandemic presents one more challenge for agricultural sustainability. In addition to keeping up with food production to tend to a growing population, more food will be needed to maintain population’s extra weight.

Overweight and obesity have both significant health and environmental implications. Being overweight decreases physical activity and personal mobility leading to increased use of motor vehicles [ 8 ]. Even airlines have recognized the effect of the increased average weight of passengers on fuel consumption [ 8 ]. Other scientists are studying the impact of obesity on the environment from direct emissions of CO 2 through respiration, which is proportional to body mass. According to results reported by Gryka et al . [ 9 ], a 10-kg weight loss of all overweight and obese people would translate into a 0.2 percent reduction in the global CO 2 emissions. Although this percentage is small, the main issue, however, is the extra burden placed on the environment to produce, process, and transport additional food to provide the extra calories required by overweight populations.

A 2009-study reported that an overweight population with an average body mass index of 29 needs 19 percent more calories than a normal population with a body mass index of 24.5 [ 10 ]. To produce these extra calories, more land, water, fertilizer, and fossil fuels are needed.

Local vs. Transported

It is often believed that locally produced foods have a lower environmental impact than food grown or raised somewhere else and transported; and “food miles” is the indicator commonly used to illustrate how far the food has traveled from production to consumption [ 11 ]. Nevertheless, does the food produced locally have a lower environmental impact than food produced in other regions and transported? The answer is it depends on the food product and the transportation mode. As a general rule, the faster the transportation mode the higher the environmental impact it produces. Regarding energy used, planes have the highest consumption per ton of food transported followed by trucks, trains, inland barges, and maritime ships [ 2 ].

Because of the perishable nature of foods, not all food products can be transported with all transportation modes. Dry materials, such as grains, can be carried in barges or maritime ships. Fresh produce and fruits, on the other hand, have to rely on faster transportation modes such as trains, trucks, and planes [ 2 ]. On average in the U.S., the energy used to transport foods represents only 14 percent of the total energy used to produce, process, distribute, and prepare the food at home, restaurants, and institutions [ 12 ].

Another factor to consider in the debate of local vs. transported is climate and seasons. Fruits and vegetables cannot be grown in high latitude climates in open agricultural fields during winter. The only alternative is to use greenhouses or to transport the food from temperate climates. If grown in greenhouses, plants need supplemental light and heat with the resulting expenditure of energy and the emission of greenhouse gases.

Other foods are more favorable to be produced throughout all the seasons in specific parts of the world. A classic example is lamb meat produced in New Zealand vs. in the UK. Even when grazing is the main source of nutrition for both countries, pastures are more productive in New Zealand due to more solar irradiation and less use of synthetic fertilizers. Therefore, an advantage may exist in terms of lower environmental impact for lamb produced in New Zealand instead of the UK even when factoring transportation by ship to the UK [ 13 ].

Another consideration is seasonality. In this day and age, especially in developed countries, and as a result of low-cost transportation and logistics, most food products are available all year round. Due to their short shelf life, fruit and vegetables are in most cases transported by plane with the associated environmental impact. On average, the operational energy of a long-haul cargo plane, expressed in MJ/metric ton-km, is around four times more than a truck and 30 times more than a train [ 14 ].

According to estimates, of the 200 million metric tons of food produced annually in the U.S., 60 million metric tons go to waste [ 15 ]. From the analysis of food waste that reaches landfills, 47 percent of the waste comes from the residential sector [ 15 ].

Clearly, not all food waste is edible. Food waste can be classified into three main types: avoidable, possibly avoidable, and unavoidable. Avoidable waste is food or drinks that before disposal were perfectly edible or drinkable and for no particular reason were discarded. Potentially avoidable are parts of foods that are eaten by some people and discarded by others. For instance, some fruit peels are edible, but some people prefer not to eat them. The third category, unavoidable food waste, encompasses inedible parts of the food like bones, eggshells, inedible peels, and spent coffee grains [ 16 ].

What are the reasons for the food waste generated by the residential sector? There are several, the most important ones being: availability of inexpensive food, poor purchase planning, perishable nature of foods, and confusing shelf life statements.

It is fair to say that the main drive to food waste at the household level in the U.S. is that food is inexpensive. According to USDA data, the disposable income to buy food to eat at home has decreased from 10 percent in 1970 to around 6 percent in 2009 [ 17 ]. In the same period, food waste increased by 50 percent [ 18 ]. It is important to point out that in the same period, food eaten away from home rose only from 3.5 to 4 percent [ 17 ].

Another reason food purchased to be consumed at home is often wasted is a combination of lack of purchasing planning and the nature of perishable food, especially fruits and vegetables. Very often, this is exacerbated by packages containing a large volume of food at a reduced price, which is often offered in wholesale clubs.

Most foods in the U.S. have some shelf life statement such as “use by,” “sell by,” or “best by” date. “Use by,” mostly used in meat, fish, and cheese, is a firm expiration date that is related to the safety of the food. “Sell by” is a statement aimed at retailers, which informs them when the product has to be pulled from the shelf. Typically, one-third of the product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home. “Best by” is an indicator to the consumer about when the product will have an optimal quality [ 19 ]. Unfortunately, most consumers are not acquainted with the exact meaning of these terms and take them as firm expiration dates. As a consequence, they do not buy the products close to these dates, or they discard the food products once they reach the “sell by” or a “best by” date [ 19 ].

Besides being morally questionable, food waste uses resources to produce and transport extra food such as land, energy, water, and fertilizers with the consequent emission of greenhouse gases. At the end of the cycle, wasted food needs to be transported and disposed of with subsequent land use, fuel use, and emission of greenhouse gases from trucks, machinery, and decomposing food [ 18 ].

Genetically Modified Organisms

Projections indicate that the world population will increase to 9.2 billion by 2050. To provide food for this growing population, a substantial increase in agricultural production will be required. Scientists have estimated that the agricultural production has to grow at a rate of 1.1 percent annually to cover food demand in 2050 [ 20 ].

Agricultural biotechnology based on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) offer new prospects and opportunities to increase the productivity of agriculture while decreasing the environmental detriment caused by current agricultural practices. Genetically modified organisms, also known as “genetically modified food,” refer to the alteration of the genetic makeup of crops by the insertion of novel genes from other sources or deletion of existing genes. Scientists and farmers agree that there are many advantages in applying biotechnology in the food industry, including the possibilities of solving the world’s hunger problem, developing superfoods with added vitamins and nutrients, while generating economic growth for the farmers [ 21 ].

The first generation of GMO crops, mainly GMO soybeans, canola, corn, and cotton were approved for commercialization in 1996. The goal of this first generation of genetically modified crops was primarily the improvement of pest management such as herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, some yield enhancement, but not profitability. The rapid adoption of these technologies in agriculture demonstrated their benefits to farmers around the world, but did not have a tangible benefit to the consumers. The second generation of GMO crops focused on output traits such as enhanced nutritional features and processing characteristics. These had no impact on profits received by farmers because the products are indistinguishable from conventional crops. The most recent third generation of genetically modified crops, which are currently produced only at small scale, includes plants engineered to generate specialty chemicals, including biodegradable plastics, adhesives, and synthetic proteins. A particular subset of the third generation of GMOs, also known as “Pharmacrops,” has been genetically modified to produce vaccines and antibodies [ 22 ].

Despite its benefits, controversial debates on the advantages of GMOs persist. After two decades using and developing GMO crops, some social and environmental implications have recently raised serious concerns. Some of the negative socio-economic effects include corporate dominance, land concentration, loss of farm jobs, and an increase in income inequality. Many argue that it is still too early to know for sure if GMOs will not have an adverse impact on the environment and human health in the long term. Environmentalists have expressed their growing concern regarding the possibility of engineered genes exposure to wild populations. Others fear that the use of biotech crops will affect the biodiversity by the persistence of genes after a GMO has been harvested, the susceptibility of non-target organisms, and the instability of new genes. As for human health, the main fear has been the creation of new allergens and the gene transfer from GMO foods to human cells or the intestinal microflora. Another hazard is the transfer of genes from GMO plants into conventional crops, as well as the mixing of GM crops with those derived from conventional seeds, which could have an indirect effect on food safety and food security [ 22 ].

GMOs promoters, on the other hand, consider biotechnology agriculture a crucial tool to enhance crop productivity, food quality, and the production of vaccines and therapeutic medicines. GMO crops advocates claim that there is enough evidence that GMOs are essential for promoting sustainable agriculture since it can decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint by reducing the use of pesticides, saving fossil fuels, lowering CO 2 emissions and conserving soil and moisture [ 21 ].

Even though GMO crops are not presented as the “absolute solution,” they could undoubtedly make a significant contribution to find a solution to the global food security problem. A recent meta-analysis of 147 published biotech crop studies from 1995 to 2014 concluded that biotech crops have generated multiple and tangible benefits over the past 20 years [ 23 ]. According to this study, on average, the adoption of GMO technology has reduced the use of chemical pesticides by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent, and increased farmer profits by 68 percent. There are also health benefits for farm workers as a result of less chemical pesticide spraying [ 22 ]. The adoption of GM insect resistant and herbicide tolerant technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 581.4 million kg (8.2 percent reduction), and the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops, measured by the EIQ indicator, dropped by 18.5 percent since 1996 [ 24 ].

In spite of the fears, very likely GMO technology will play an increasingly significant role in agricultural sustainability in the years to come. This technology offers the opportunity to generate new crop varieties that would be more resistant to pest or drought, and consequently will increase and enhance productivity yields to ameliorate hunger and the food insecurity problem worldwide.

The food system, particularly in terms of emission of greenhouse gases, has impacts at all stages of the supply chain. However, the agricultural stage is the single largest greenhouse gases emitter with meat and dairy products as the most greenhouse gases-intensive foods. Nevertheless, the role of humans and their consumption patterns have a significant impact on the production of food and the population set of beliefs and attitudes will dictate whether or not the long-term sustainability of the food supply chain can be achieved.

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A systematic literature review of food sustainable supply chain management (FSSCM): building blocks and research trends

The TQM Journal

ISSN : 1754-2731

Article publication date: 6 December 2021

Issue publication date: 19 December 2022

The purpose of this paper is to explore the increased research attention gained by sustainability in food supply chain management. Although previous review studies have focused on aspects such as traceability, food safety, and performance measurement, sustainability has rarely been considered as a means of integrating these issues.


The paper presents a comprehensive review of the literature on food sustainable supply chain management (FSSCM). Using systematic review methods, relevant studies published from 1997 to early 2021 are explored to reveal the research landscape and the gaps and trends.

The paper shows the building blocks and the main research directions in FSSCM, particularly considering the opportunities in “neglected” emerging countries. Insights are provided into the various elements of the sustainability supply chain in the food industry, which have previously been analysed separately.


Only a few researchers have systematically reviewed the literature or taken a bibliometric approach in their analyses to provide an overview of the current trends and links between sustainability and food supply chain management.

  • Systematic literature review
  • Food sustainable supply chain management (FSSCM)
  • Food industry
  • Global supply chain
  • Emerging countries
  • Sustainability

Palazzo, M. and Vollero, A. (2022), "A systematic literature review of food sustainable supply chain management (FSSCM): building blocks and research trends", The TQM Journal , Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 54-72. https://doi.org/10.1108/TQM-10-2021-0300

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Maria Palazzo and Agostino Vollero

Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode

1. Introduction

The debate over the approach to sustainability has become central to most businesses, as a proper sustainability perspective holistically considers all of a company's functions and business relationships along supply chains, which are increasingly interconnected globally ( Carter and Rogers, 2008 ; Solér et al. , 2010 ). Managing the integration of sustainable environmental, social and economic criteria along the multiple aspects of the supply chain represents a major challenge for manufacturers and producers ( Massaroni et al. , 2015 ).

Supply chain management (SCM) has been defined as “the configuration and operation of efficient and effective production and logistics networks and the intra- and inter-organizational management of supply, transformation and delivery processes” ( Brandenburg and Rebs, 2015 ). A revolution in SCM has occurred in recent years, which has been noted by many scholars and researchers, as its focus has shifted from economic performance to an integrated social and environmental approach ( Seuring and Müller, 2008 ; Ahi and Searcy, 2013 ; Khan et al. , 2020 ).

Exploring the intersection between sustainability and SCM involves considering different viewpoints, as SCM is based on both downstream and upstream flows of goods ( Cosimato and Troisi, 2015 ; Fahimnia et al. , 2015 ; Maditati et al. , 2018 ). The downstream flows of goods (towards the final customer) has been traditionally viewed as involving responsibility and ethical issues ( Seuring and Müller, 2008 ), while upstream flows of products/services (towards the supplier) are explored from manufacturing, product recovery and reverse logistics perspectives ( Feng et al. , 2017 ), and thus more concerned with environmental issues, such as energy and waste reduction ( Naik and Suresh, 2018 ; Kumar et al. , 2020 ; Kumari et al. , 2021 ). There is general agreement that the sustainable management of a supply chain requires an integrated approach to social, environmental and economic goals ( Carter and Rogers, 2008 ; Hassini et al. , 2012 ; Juettner et al. , 2020 ). Thus, the means by which SCM can develop sustainable features and follow the path of sustainable development have been considered ( Manning, 2013 ; Zhu et al. , 2018 ). This can be challenging in industries such as food, in which the SCM can have a strong effect on not only the final consumer but also other stakeholders in the value chain ( Matopoulos et al. , 2015 ; Ghadge et al. , 2017 ; Mangla et al. , 2019 ).

A food supply chain (FSC) is particularly complex, as it connects different sectors of the economy (agriculture and the food-processing industry and distribution sector) in a market dominated by rapidly changing customer preferences ( Beske et al. , 2014 ). Food types can affect the natural environment, due to the food production systems, transport distances from producers and consumers, waste management, and workers' conditions in the sectors involved ( Beer and Lemmer, 2011 ). The situation is even more complicated in the agri-fresh food sector due to the perishability of products and the short shelf-life ( Siddh et al. , 2017 ). Thus, examining sustainable development in the FSC is extremely complex due to the high level of unpredictability in terms of demand and cost, the fragile nature of food and consumers' increased awareness of risks and safety issues associated with diets and eating disorders ( Siddh et al. , 2018 ). Finally, many firms in the FSC are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) ( Beer and Lemmer, 2011 ; Ghadge et al. , 2017 ) that may find it difficult to address sustainability challenges and implement practices. The various FSC duties and tasks are often perceived as more demanding when sustainability is applied to enrich conventional profit-oriented models ( Allaoui et al. , 2018 ). Studies in this area have addressed issues such as the triple bottom line, ethics and corporate social responsible principles in their analyses ( Siddh et al. , 2018 ; Allaoui et al. , 2018 ), but few have provided an integrated overview of the phenomenon.

Only a few researchers have systematically reviewed the literature or taken a bibliometric approach in their analyses to provide an overview of the current trends and links between sustainability and food supply chain management (FSCM). However, many articles have applied specific methods to explore particular themes or typical processes. These themes and processes include sustainable sourcing ( Ghadge et al. , 2017 ), food traceability ( Bosona and Gebresenbet, 2013 ), approaches for enhancing sustainability in SCM ( Sharma et al. , 2017 ; Dania et al. , 2018 ), sustainable supply chain strategies and tactics ( Beske et al. , 2014 ; Zhong et al. , 2017 ), food safety ( Siddh et al. , 2018 ), controls of the level of sustainability ( Sharma et al. , 2017 ), measurements of sustainable items ( Sharma et al. , 2021 ) and the circular economy ( Corallo et al. , 2020 ).

Bosona and Gebresenbet (2013) , for example, presented a literature review that focussed mainly on food traceability, which highlights several features, definitions, items and measurements of the food traceability system. The bibliometric approach was also taken by Beske et al. (2014) , who described how sustainable supply chain management tactics allow organizations to manage their supply chain while putting into practice dynamic capabilities. Zhong et al. (2017) used the bibliometric approach to review the FSCM, and considered it in terms of systems and implementations. Siddh et al. (2017) explored the agri-fresh food supply chain quality features and definitions, by collecting and analysing relevant academic papers. Using the same method, Sharma et al. (2017) analysed the performance indicators and sub-indicators of green SCM implementation. Dania et al. (2018) proposed a systematic review of sustainable agri-food supply chains to assess and manage collaborative performances, while Govindan (2018) focused on the influence of stakeholders in the food industry.

Thomé et al . (2020) recently provided several insights into food supply chains and short food supply chains based on a bibliometric analysis, while Kamble et al. (2020) proposed a framework for managers in the agri-food supply chain based on an extensive literature review, to increase supply chain visibility and resources. Finally, Sharma et al. (2020) applied a systematic literature review of machine learning applications in agricultural supply chains.

These studies demonstrate the pressing need to examine the “green” side of SCM in the food sector. They show that the number of empirical papers in this area is increasing, but that there is a lack of an integrated perspective for holistically linking recent trends and facets of the FSCM. The focus is on very specific viewpoints rather than a broader exploration. To increase our understanding of the intellectual progress and knowledge structure of food sustainable supply chain management (FSSCM), a comprehensive analysis is required. Thus, in the present paper, we aim to outline a comprehensive framework of the research and current trends in the FSSCM, and to identify specific research gaps that must be addressed.

To achieve this, earlier review analyses of FSSCM and broad research trends are identified objectively and systematically, by providing an analysis of the evolution of FSSCM over the past years, exploring the international research, studying the mainly empirical FSSCM research, examining the research tools applied, identifying any issues that arise, and by identifying the main gaps and directions for future research in the field of FSSCM.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents the methodology used for the literature review. Section 3 provides the results and analyses of the selected papers. Sections 4 and 5 present the findings, a discussion and the implications in terms of FSSCM that can enrich further research. Finally, a conclusion and limitations are presented in Section 6 .

2. Methodology

As other studies take various specific perspectives, we applied a comprehensive analysis of the literature focussing on the link between sustainability and FSCM. This offers a complete view and several insights for further studies in various emerging business contexts.

Unlike other conventionally structured literature reviews, a systematic review was selected as this can be effective in managing the exploration of a huge number of academic publications and enables the development of a complex framework for the research subjects ( Garcia-Buendia et al. , 2021 ). The method can also help researchers and scholars explore the literature by considering its bibliographic elements ( Xu et al. , 2020 ). This analytical approach also helps in terms of recognizing the main features and definitions of specific research field(s), identifying the main research questions and gaps, identifying the theoretical area in which the analyses will have an effect, understanding the theoretical concepts and their terminology, providing a list of the relevant resources available, and highlighting the research designs, methodologies and approaches that can be applied ( Soni and Kodali, 2011 ; Fahimnia et al. , 2015 ; Feng et al. , 2017 ).

Time horizon: The first step is the selection of a time period. The exploration period for academic and research articles is between 1997 and early 2021, as SCM and corporate social responsibility (CSR) were implemented in the food industry to a greater extent after 1997 ( Henk and Hans, 1997 ). We end our paper collection in early 2021.

Selection of publications: Only papers written in English were selected, and the articles were selected in Scopus. This database is commonly used by management science researchers (or in related fields) for bibliometric analyses or systematic literature review methods in SCM ( Soni and Kodali, 2011 ; Fahimnia et al. , 2015 ). The Scopus database has greater coverage than the Web of Science, and it was deemed more appropriate for exploring complex research areas that are constantly changing and developing ( Feng et al. , 2017 ).

The keywords used for the selection of the publications: The keywords chosen for developing the search of the main publications in Scopus were “supply”, “food”, and “sustainabl*”. In total, after using the “title, abstract, keywords” search in the Scopus, 1,930 papers were found by searching with these keywords. “Sustainabl*” involves environmental, economic, and social facets, and thus papers identified by searching for “sustainabl*” and “supply” were examined. The papers resulting from the searches were then analysed for information including title, author(s), affiliation(s), source title, number of citations, keywords, abstract and references.

The categorization of academic publications according to the Association of Business Schools (ABS) 2018 list: The number of papers was further reduced by selecting only academic and well-referred journals that were considered in this list. Of the 1,930 papers, some were non-referred publications appearing in 0-star journals, magazines and conference proceedings that did not follow a rigorous scientific editorial approach. Chapters of books and whole books were also not selected for the analysis. After deleting these, 733 articles remained and were filtered from the total number of downloaded publications.

Categorization of academic publications: After reading the abstracts and the complete papers, the number was further reduced by considering the relevance of the publications. The sample size was condensed in this phase to create a representative data set. The rule for selecting the articles was that they had to be related to the food sector, supply chain management and sustainability. Thus, 176 papers remained.

Systematic classifications of the papers: The articles were then categorized according to leading journals in FSSCM research and journal name per number of published articles; number of published articles in FSSCM research per field; number of publications; trending articles about the food sustainable supply chain; geographical locations by region of the first author's affiliation; the methodology used; theoretical frameworks; tool/research methods; data collection; the entity of analysis and sustainability issues.

3. Results and analysis

All of the identified papers are presented, discussed and analysed in the following sections in terms of their various aspects and features.

3.1 Year-based classification of number of publications

The number of articles about FSSCM has increased, probably due to the increased interest and awareness of managers and academics in the area of sustainability and SCM. The annual number of published articles has increased in recent times (2017–2020) to three times that of the 2015–2016 period (in fact, in 2017, 26 papers were published; in 2018, 29 articles were proposed; while in 2019 and 2020, 23 and 27 studies were focused on the selected topics).

3.2 Journal-based categorization of papers

This categorization illustrates the frequency of papers presented in various leading academic journals. Many of these appear to be very interested in issues and problems related to FSSCM. These include Business Strategy and the Environment (BSE), the British Food Journal (BFJ), Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management (CSREM), Food Policy (FP), Industrial Management and Data Systems (IMDS), International Journal of Production Economics (IJPE), International Journal of Production Research (IJPR), Journal of Cleaner Production (JCP), Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management (JMTM), Production Planning and Control (PPC), and Supply Chain Management – An International Journal (SCM-IJ).

In total, 176 papers that focused on SCM definitions and features in the food industry from the perspective of sustainability were selected. This demonstrates that a considerable number of papers were published in the relevant fields of study. Table 1 shows the number of total articles published (PSC) and average global citations received per paper (AGC), and most are from JCP (49 PSC, 28.24 AGC), followed by IJPE (18 PSC, 94.56 AGC), PPC (7 PSC, 4.14 AGC), SCM-IJ (7 PSC, 17.29 AGC), and BSE (6 PSC, 21.67 AGC). Considering the average global citations received per paper (AGC), the journals with the highest are IJPE (18 PSC, 94.56 AGC), IJPR (5 PSC, 81.60 AGC), FP (4 PSC, 75.50 AGC), CSREM (4 PSC, 41.25 AGC) and JCP (49 PSC, 28.24 AGC).

Moreover, the distribution of published articles in FSSCM research per field (economics; ethics-csr management; international business and area; information management; marketing; operations research and management science; organizational studies; regional studies; sector; social studies), based on how they are ranked in the ABS Journal Guide of 2018 was analysed.

It was highlighted that, especially, in the fields of “Operations Research and Management Science” and “Sector”, there were many articles published in 2018, 2019 and 2020 in the realm of FSSCM.

3.3 Categorization of publications based on the geographical location of first authors

Publications are classified based on the first authors' affiliated regions and include developed and emerging economies. This classification clearly shows that most papers are from developed countries in Europe (63%), Asia (18%) and North America (8%), with less attention paid to FSSCM in developing areas such as South America (5%) and Africa (1%), although many countries in these regions are still mainly agrarian.

3.4 Categorization of trending articles in the field of FSSCM

Several of the papers achieved a remarkable number of total citations. The data presented in Table 2 show that two papers gained more than 300 total citations, four achieved over 200, and the remaining four publications gained more than 100 total citations.

3.5 Categorization based on methodology and tools/research methods

FSSCM papers can be analysed according to the methodology (approach) applied. Most publications utilized a qualitative approach (78%) and only 22% take a quantitative approach.

Table 3 shows that theoretical and empirical explorations of SCM sustainability in the food sector have been conducted ( Pohlmann et al. , 2020 ; Yakavenka et al. , 2020 ; Khan et al. , 2021 ).

Case study analysis is the most used (26%: 46 papers) followed by statistical analysis (22%: 38 papers), conceptual analysis and/or frameworks (19%: 34 articles), mathematical models (13%: 23 articles), quality tool (11%: 19 articles) and finally bibliometric analysis and/or literature review (9%: 16 papers). Examples of the methodologies and tools applied to this complex concept include the following: Taghikhah et al. (2020) used several mathematical models to explore the relation between consumer preferences and environmental factors related to food production. Morley (2020) used case studies to analyse the impact of public procurement on various food company strategies. Thomé et al . (2020) used a structured literature review to examine studies of short food supply chains. Sharma et al. (2020) statistically analysed aspects of food and other industries during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

3.6 Research publications categorization on the basis of data collection

We first examine the data collection (data sources) applied in the FSSCM papers and find that the majority of the publications use primary data (i.e. survey, experiment, interviews, focus groups, observation, etc.) (56%: 99 papers). Secondary data (i.e. archival, content extraction, bibliometric records, etc.) are used in 46 papers (26%), a combination of primary and secondary data is used in 10 (6%), and 21 papers (12%) do not use data collection as they are based on conceptual analyses, viewpoint research, etc.

3.7 Research publications categorization based on issues of FSSCM

We then categorize the papers based on the FSSCM issues addressed, as shown in Figure 2 . FSSCM involves multiple sustainability issues, and the majority of articles focused on “supplier management” (20%: 36 papers). “Sustainable development” was the next most common (17%: 30 papers), followed by “collaboration and coordination management” in 25 (14%), “performance management” in 17 (10%), “circular economy” in 15 (9%), “logistic management” in 14 (8%), “strategic management” in 11 (6%), “innovation” in 10 (6%), “agriculture” in 6 (3%), a “comprehensive view” (involving more than one issue) in 5 (3%), “quality management” in 4 (2%), and “other issues” were analysed in 3 papers (2%).

Thus, “supplier management”, “sustainable development” and “collaboration and coordination management” were the most common issues, covered by over half of the total selected publications. Other issues are also significant in the area of FSSCM, but not to the same extent, while others are mainly neglected (i.e. “agriculture” and “quality management”)

3.8 Research publications categorization on the basis of theoretical framework

The theoretical framework applied to develop the selected papers was then explored. Nearly two-thirds (114) of the articles did not follow any specific theoretical approach. The stakeholder approach was considered in 11 articles, 8 papers were based on the triple bottom line, 8 took the life cycle approach, 7 the circular economy approach, 6 applied resource-based view (RBV) and knowledge-based view (KBV) frameworks, 6 the institutional theory, 4 applied the resource dependency theory and 2 the decision theory-based framework. Other approaches (i.e. country of origin, TOE, critical success factors, etc.) were taken in ten articles.

3.9 Publications categorization on the basis of entity of analysis

Finally, we examined the main perspectives taken when exploring FSSCM issues.

Many research publications use the supply chain as the entity of analysis (EOA) (70 papers). However, a significant number (23) consider the whole supply network or the manufacturer's point of view (21); 18 are mainly conceptual; 10 are based on the distributor's perspective; 10 take a dyadic view (more than 1 EOA); 9 take the suppliers'/farmers' perspectives; the logistic industry is examined in 7; consumers in 5; and the remaining 3 papers do not use any of these EOA.

4. Discussion: main themes and trends in FSSCM

The increase and evolution of FSSC studies suggests that supply chains in the food sector are moving towards a sustainable approach. Several new trends have emerged in the field, which focus on both intra- and inter-firm dimensions ( Figure 3 ).

Increasingly, the multiplicity of stakeholders in FSSCM and the collaboration/coordination challenges this brings have been explored throughout the food supply chain phases. These include the sustainable purchasing relationships of food retailers ( Chkanikova, 2016 ); increasing legitimacy in the food industry ( Czinkota et al. , 2014 ); strategies for reducing food waste within the circular economy framework ( Dora, 2019 ); and tools for increasing collaboration and coordination throughout the food supply chain ( Vodenicharova, 2020 ). Collaboration has gained the attention of researchers exploring the competitive advantages derived from a sustainable approach by leveraging environmental information along the supply chain ( Solér et al. , 2010 ), the alignment of sourcing with marketing and branding strategies ( Croom et al. , 2007 ), and dynamic capabilities ( Beske et al. , 2014 ).

“Collaboration and coordination management”, “supplier management” and “sustainable development” are the most common issues, covered by over half of the total publications. These include collaboration with partners along the supply chain ( Pakdeechoho and Sukhotu, 2018 ), the criteria for selecting suppliers ( Wilhelm et al. , 2016 ), the alignment of supplier-producer procedures ( Vodenicharova, 2020 ), the overall efficiency of the supply chain ( Danny and Priscila, 2004 ), and collaborations adopting mandatory and voluntary standards when assessing environmental, social and economic performances ( Glover et al. , 2014 ; Touboulic and Walker, 2015 ; Govindan, 2018 ). Other recent emerging challenges include more general sustainability-related aspects, such as innovation and the circular economy. On the other hand, the inclusion of quality management in the field of FSCM seems to be scarce in academic literature ( Ting et al. , 2014 ; Siddh et al. , 2018 ; Feng et al. , 2020 ), even though, there are several authors who tried to build a more centred approach in reviewing quality issues inside the analysis of sustainable supply chain. For example, Manzini et al. (2014) highlighted the existing connection between food quality and environmental sustainability of supply chain strategies and tactics, while Winter and Knemeyer (2013) explored how sustainability can be included in supply chain quality and, Ilbery and Maye (2005) presented a list of important sustainable food standards linked with environmental quality, socially inclusiveness and other relevant items.

Besides, the findings suggest that an integration of intra- and inter-firm processes can be crucial for the effective sustainable performance of organizations, as if FSSCM is based on sustainability it can have a positive effect on all stages of the supply chain ( Erol et al. , 2011 ; Kahi et al. , 2017 ). Unlike traditional performance measurements, sustainable performance involves comprehensively considering social, economic, and environmental factors ( Sharma et al. , 2017 ; Siddh et al. , 2018 ). Pullman et al. (2009) focussed on how to improve the quality performance of the food supply chain, which in turn improves cost performance. Raut et al. (2019) analysed operational/technology-based and human resource-based performance indicators of the sustainable value chain that help those in the food sector minimize their effect on the environment while boosting their economic performance. Thus, when proposing new “green” performance measurements, food industry researchers should include the bases of sustainability in their analyses of FSSCM.

The development of these new FSSCM trends suggests that this field of research will continue to grow as many scholars and academics explore the specific features and perspectives applicable to developed countries. The literature review shows that few studies consider less developed countries, with just 1% having African authors. Developing economies, such as those in Asia, have however had more attention in recent years. Some studies show that a lack of infrastructure or inefficient logistics could result in more food waste and inefficient processes ( Naik and Suresh, 2018 ; Kumar et al. , 2020 ). This is a major issue in FSSCM, as it is expected that 90% of the global population will live in developing countries by 2050 ( PRB, 2020 ). Sustainability is therefore vital in the food global supply chains of these countries, which are characterized by strong interdependencies along the north-south axis.

Most scholars investigating the sustainability of the food supply chain directly collect their data using tools such as surveys, experiments, interviews, and focus groups. The case study is the most common method for these explorations, as indicated in previous research ( Ashby et al. , 2012 ; Massaroni et al. , 2015 ). This emphasis on case studies indicates the novel and fast-changing nature of the field, and that more in-depth investigations are required to identify its boundaries and foundations. However, modelling-based studies are increasing in number (e.g. Chen et al. , 2018 ) as they address the need for a more integrated understanding of sustainable supply chains ( Brandenburg et al. , 2014 ). In addition, the lack of specific theoretical frameworks in two-thirds of the studies indicates that the research field is still emerging, and thus extensive opportunities for research that bridges the gap between theory and practice are presented.

5. Implications and research directions

This systematic literature review offers several implications for practitioners, and insights for further research in the field of FSSCM.

Food supply chains make a significant contribution to the global economy and sustainable development, as they involve suppliers and other stakeholders from various industries working together so food can reach the final consumer ( Joshi et al. , 2020 ; Kamble et al. , 2020 ; Thomé et al. , 2020 ). Kamble et al. (2020) suggest that better economic performance and social wellbeing can be achieved by food suppliers, retailers and others only if critical post-harvest losses can be avoided by applying new methods linked with supply chain visibility and sustainable resources. Thus, the focus should be on the upstream of the supply chain, particularly in many under-developed and developing nations where agriculture is still the essential basis of the economy ( Taghikhah et al. , 2020 ). Some studies were identified as being conducted in developing geographic areas, but more should be encouraged due to the greater potential FSSCM can bring.

The specific directions identified include those of Kumar Sharma et al. (2019) , who stated that the circular economy and sustainability are complex and must be managed by decision makers and practitioners in both developed and developing nations. They proposed a model that can inform the implementation of circular economy-driven sustainability FSC activities in emerging and under-developed economies, particularly in India.

Asian et al. (2019) examined how the increasing costs of logistics, lower yields, and strategic barriers have a negative impact on the level of competitiveness of farmers in developing countries. The authors proposed an algorithm to help key decision makers address the challenges of the FSC and sustainable development. Further studies can also develop theories and practical tools based on specific features, as these geographic areas can support the food industry through new sustainable strategies and tactics.

Such strategies and tactics are high on the agendas of many types of companies, but the business models of start-ups differ from those of other organizations and thus affect their creation and implementation. Larger companies may be able to better sustain the impact of the evolving trends of FSSCM, but they may also be less flexible than start-ups in finding opportunities and innovating ( Suchek et al. , 2021 ).

As suggested in previous sections, researchers must also focus on assessing the reliability and trustworthiness of FSSCM theories, as we found that many papers focussed on theory building. However, these theories generally address specific facets and thus the results cannot be easily generalized. Our study enriches the research by reviewing the most common theoretical approaches (e.g. the stakeholder approach, triple bottom line, the life cycle approach), and others that are less used (i.e. RBV and KBV, institutional theory, resource dependency theory, decision theory-based framework, etc.). This requires further exploration as a need to build a more solid conceptual framework for FSSCM research has also emerged.

In terms of FSSCM measurement and control, our analysis reveals an increase in the development of standardized constructs, which can be used to monitor and control how companies involved in the FSC achieve a successful level of sustainable development ( Folkerts and Koehorst, 1998 ; Yakovleva et al. , 2012 ; Sharma et al. , 2017 ). This is required as most aspects of FSSCM are associated with government regulation, incentive policies, stakeholders' approval of pioneering “green” products/services and the associated cultural and social consequences, and entrepreneurs' inclinations to follow ground-breaking sustainable principles. These trends are often related to the market, and involve accessibility, the costs of raw materials, and new technology, which require specific knowledge and thus may incur huge costs that many companies cannot afford.

In terms of the EOA, we suggest that future empirical research should focus on intra-functional and intra-firm exploration at corporate and network levels, or on dyads that reveal the relationships between pairs of organizations (i.e. farms, manufacturers, distributors, etc.). Similarly, Siddh et al. (2017) also emphasized that empirical research should focus on exploring intra-firm and intra-functional relations, as integration between companies should be encouraged before sustainability at different levels of the FSC is achieved. Finally, the role of end consumers in the FSSCM is still largely unexplored but important, as they can prompt organizations, dyads and networks to adopt more efficient and effective methods of introducing sustainable innovations and identifying new niche opportunities in this area.

6. Conclusion

In this paper we provide a literature review of papers focussed on the various facets of the FSSCM. We identify relevant papers published over the past 23 years (1997 to early 2021), with the aim of informing academics and practitioners about the research landscape, gaps, and current and future trends in the FSSCM. The literature review considers 176 influential peer-reviewed articles using accurate selection procedures and content investigation.

The majority of the selected papers were published in the last eight years (2014–2021), probably due to the increased awareness of environmental problems and of the need to reduce hunger globally (Zero Hunger is Goal Two of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda), the increased food risks, an awareness of the benefits of decreasing food wastage, health management and of the well-being of people in all geographical areas (Goal Three: Good Health and Well-being).

FSSCM research is undoubtedly increasing, but few studies succeed in combining the various sustainability constructs with the main elements of the FSCM, particularly in the context of developing/under-developed countries. Thus, there are opportunities to increase our understanding of the integrative factors, particularly in less-developed regions of the world.

Our research has various limitations, like most studies. First, we used the specific keywords “supply”, “food”, and “sustainabl*” to select the articles from the Scopus database. While this identified nearly 2000 articles, using different keywords may have a different outcome. Additionally, only one database was used, so researchers can explore others such as Web of Science and compare their findings to ours, and although many analyses were identified, other methods of bibliometric analysis and systematic literature review may offer different insights into the specific context. Thus, we suggest that researchers apply different bibliometric methods when addressing this research domain.

essay on food sustainability

Steps of the systematic literature review

essay on food sustainability

Main sustainability issues in the field of FSSCM

essay on food sustainability

Trends in FSSCM research

Leading journals in FSSCM research

Applied tools/research methods in the field of FSSCM

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Although the views and ideas expressed in this article are those of Maria Palazzo and Agostino Vollero; “sections 1; 3; 3.1; 3.2; 3.6; 3.8; 4” are attributed to Maria Palazzo; while “sections 2; 3.3; 3.4; 3.5; 3.7; 3.9; 5; 6” are attributed to Agostino Vollero.

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Food Security, Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture Essay

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“SDG2-Zero Hunger: Food Security, Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture” is a book by Ambe Emmanuel Cheo and Kugedera Andrew Tapiwa, published in 2021. I found this source in the free online library “Z-Library,” where more than 18 million books are published. The source belongs to a series of 17 short books examining one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was published by Emerald Group Publishing and sponsored by the Center for Environmental Education and Research, University of Malta. Therefore, the problem of hunger and food insecurity is presented from the international environmentalist perspective. The authors critically analyze SDG-2 of Zero Hunger from a multi-disciplinary and multi-regional standpoint.

In the book under evaluation, the authors describe how SDG2 links food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture. It is discussed how this goal can be assessed through specific targets and indicators evaluating whether the goal of ending hunger was met. The Center for Environmental Education and Research from the University of Malta is a publisher that deserves trust, as it provides high-quality educational services for hundreds of students. No less importantly, its educational board specializes in studying environment and community cooperation.

The credibility of a source is proven with a lot of statistical information, which was collected through studies conducted globally. For example, in Table 4 on page 46, the authors analyze the macroeconomic factors that impact SDG-2 goals in Nigeria, Ghana, and the Gambia. The macroeconomic factors of total area, population, GDP per capita, and agri-food sector factors of employment share, GDP share, export share earnings, predominant farm sizes, and prevalent farming characteristics were considered. Interestingly, most farms in the analyzed countries have a size of less than 2 or 1.6 ha, which are decently small enterprises. The farming characteristics are mostly determined as predominantly small-holder, traditional, and rain-fed.

The presented approach would be useful to determine similar problems in the US agricultural sector and launch a campaign that will re-evaluate its capacities and weak sides. The sizes and types of farming in the US smaller farms could be evaluated to determine the potential of these entities. Further, it will provide a basis for making comparisons and suggestions on how bigger agricultural companies affect the farming business in the US. It is widely known that there are plenty of practices of unfair competition that make small farming businesses in the US impossible. Therefore, the practices introduced or planned to be in Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia can help understand the small-farming elements and benefits to further promote the governmental support for small farming in the US.

The source is highly useful as it contains many statistics that can be further used in the research. For example, it says that according to SDG-2 all forms of hunger should be eliminated by 2030. The authors say that achieving SDG-2 will lead to the reduction of civil conflicts, migration, and security concerns. They present the UN statistics saying there are about 815 million hungry people around the world, and by 2050 the governments should expect 2 billion cases of malnutrition (Cheo & Tapiwa, 2021). Importantly, the scholars provide statistics that the SDG-2 goal shows good progress with a decline from 19% to 11% in global undernourishment, which contributed to the decline in stunting from 40% to 23%. The scholars declare that “ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture are fundamental to the developmental agenda of most countries in the world” (Cheo &Tapiwa, 2021, p. 7). In this way, the scholars admit that the global perspective applies to any country since it was developed as a universal one.

The authors emphasize that about 40% of the world’s population is employed in the agricultural sector, which is a stunning number. Therefore, this sector is very important for the global economy, being the largest source of income and employment for rural households. Cheo and Tapiwa (2021) note there are up to 500 million small farms worldwide, most of them rain-fed agriculture, “providing up to 80% of the food consumed in large part of the developing world” (p. 8). This means that small farms play a more significant role in reducing hunger than is widely acknowledged.

Since food insecurity is a major issue for millions of Americans, vulnerable groups should receive government support to have sufficient daily food supplies, which consider their specific dietary needs.

When evaluating the credibility and usefulness of the source presented above, I asked myself questions regarding who the publisher of this source is, and how reliable these people are. I analyzed the information inside the book, asking how reliable this information is and how it corresponds to the research question of my report. For example, statistical information and insights into the contribution of small farms are appropriate for answering the research question.

This evaluation practice will help me move further through the research process, as it allows me to assess the source in greater detail. More importantly, this evaluation brought some insights, such as the applicability of the global perspective to the US and the need to support small farms in the US. Finding out that 40% of the global population work in the agricultural sector, which, besides being their input in the world’s development, is their main source of income, was another valuable insight.

Cheo, Ambe Emmanuel, & Tapiwa, Kugedera Andrew. (2021). SDG2-Zero Hunger: Food security, improved nutrition, and sustainable agriculture. Emerald Group Publishing.

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essay on food sustainability

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essay on food sustainability

A systematic review of emerging trends in crop cultivation using soilless techniques for sustainable agriculture and food security in post-pandemic

  • Monsuru Adekunle Salisu 1 ,  ,  , 
  • Yusuf Opeyemi Oyebamiji 2 , 
  • Omowunmi Kayode Ahmed 3 , 
  • Noraziyah A Shamsudin 2 , 
  • Yusoff Siti Fairuz 1 , 
  • Oladosu Yusuff 4 , 
  • Mohd Rafii Yusop 4 , 
  • Zulkefly Sulaiman 5 , 
  • Fatai Arolu 6
  • 1. Department of Agriculture, Faculty of Technical and Vocational, Sultan Idris Education University, 35900 Tanjong Malim, Perak Darul Ridzuan, Malaysia
  • 2. Department of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Faculty of Science and Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia
  • 3. Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
  • 4. Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Food Security, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Malaysia
  • 5. Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Malaysia
  • 6. School of Applied Sciences, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, United Kingdom
  • Received: 01 February 2024 Revised: 17 April 2024 Accepted: 06 May 2024 Published: 31 May 2024
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By 2050, the global population is anticipated to reach 10 billion, marking a significant 34% increase and raising concerns regarding food availability. Challenges such as the recent pandemic, which led to workforce and input shortages in agriculture, have made it difficult for many countries to maintain adequate food self-sufficiency (SSL). It is crucial to explore various farming methods to ensure that food remains available and affordable, especially in urban areas where over 55% of the population resides. Traditional agriculture faces issues like poor soil and excessive fertilizer use, which harm the environment. These factors threaten sustainable agriculture and food security, particularly in urban environments. Adopting sustainable soilless technology can enhance urban agriculture by providing a controlled environment for producing healthy food and addressing these challenges post-pandemic. This review, utilizing the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) framework, a widely recognized and rigorous method for conducting systematic reviews, focused on urban agriculture, specifically soilless technologies, as emerging trends in crop cultivation. It examined conventional and cutting-edge urban production systems aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture and food security. The review examined soilless farming techniques such as aeroponics, hydroponics, and aquaponics, highlighting their environmental impact, resource efficiency, and water usage. It carefully considered the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies compared to conventional soil-based farming. Furthermore, the review showcased the successful cultivation of various fresh vegetables and fruits using soilless technologies, each with advantages supporting urban agriculture and overall food security. The findings suggest that these innovative strategies hold promise in fostering sustainable urban agriculture and ensuring food security during a pandemic. These results lay the groundwork for establishing a framework to assess the sustainability of urban agricultural strategies and their practical application in real-world scenarios.

  • crop cultivation ,
  • sustainable agriculture ,
  • food security ,
  • post-pandemic

Citation: Monsuru Adekunle Salisu, Yusuf Opeyemi Oyebamiji, Omowunmi Kayode Ahmed, Noraziyah A Shamsudin, Yusoff Siti Fairuz, Oladosu Yusuff, Mohd Rafii Yusop, Zulkefly Sulaiman, Fatai Arolu. A systematic review of emerging trends in crop cultivation using soilless techniques for sustainable agriculture and food security in post-pandemic[J]. AIMS Agriculture and Food, 2024, 9(2): 666-692. doi: 10.3934/agrfood.2024036

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  • Yusuf Opeyemi Oyebamiji
  • Omowunmi Kayode Ahmed
  • Noraziyah A Shamsudin
  • Yusoff Siti Fairuz
  • Oladosu Yusuff
  • Mohd Rafii Yusop
  • Zulkefly Sulaiman
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Bezos Earth Fund Grant Creates Sustainable Protein Research Hub at NC State

A food scientist hydrates a protein for use in a food formulation.

For Immediate Release

The Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein launched today at North Carolina State University. The Bezos Earth Fund awarded NC State $30 million over five years to lead a center of excellence to create a biomanufacturing hub for dietary proteins that are environmentally friendly, healthy, tasty and affordable. The Earth Fund has committed $100 million to establish a network of open-access research and development centers focused on sustainable protein alternatives, expanding consumer choices.

The center will engage partners from academia and industry to research, create, and commercialize new technologies, provide training for the emerging industry workforce, and gauge consumers’ protein preferences.

“As a land-grant university in a state with significant animal agriculture, NC State is uniquely positioned to help shape the future of sustainable food production,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We’re thankful for the support from the Bezos Earth Fund that will help drive economic and workforce development in this critical area of sustainable protein production in order to feed a growing world population in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. The state legislature’s funding of the Food Innovation Lab in Kannapolis and new facilities in the College of Engineering have made NC State incredibly competitive for this grant.”

Protein is essential to human health, whether it comes from animal or plant sources. Without the amino acids in protein, our cells, tissues and organs can’t function. And as the global population expands, the health of both humans and the planet will increasingly depend on widespread availability of proteins that taste good and are produced in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature.

“Food production is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s critical we find ways to feed a growing population without degrading the planet,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Earth Fund. “Sustainable protein has tremendous potential but more research is needed to reduce the price and boost the flavor and texture to ensure nutritious, affordable products are available. It’s about choice.”

The grant funding will support research on three types of sustainable proteins: plant-based products; precision fermentation to produce proteins and nutrients that can be used in food formulations; and cultivated meat grown from animal cells.

“Feeding a growing world requires producing tasty proteins that won’t further degrade nature,” said Andy Jarvis, the Earth Fund’s Director of Future of Food. “These centers will advance open-source, sustainable protein R&D to benefit consumer choice while protecting our planet.”

“This effort is all about expanding the sustainable protein knowledge base and ecosystem,” said Rohan Shirwaiker, James T. Ryan Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at NC State, principal investigator on the grant, and co-director of the center. “The center’s capabilities and partnerships will add a new dimension to expand NC State’s biotechnology and advanced manufacturing expertise.”

The center will also provide more reasons for biomanufacturing firms to locate in North Carolina, generating jobs and economic growth. The grant funding will help prepare the workforce for jobs in advanced food technology through various university and community college partnerships, while industry partnerships will support food production and processing, including small companies and start-ups.

“This is a significant opportunity for North Carolina to not only be a state with a thriving animal-sourced foods sector, but also one where it is a powerhouse in complementary proteins, building new industry and driving economic growth for the state,” said Bill Aimutis, co-principal investigator on the grant and co-director of the new center who has extensive experience working with sustainable protein producers and start-up companies. “With the center we are looking to develop solutions that will provide greater diversity of choices for consumers that are both tasty and sustainable.”

NC State will work with academic partners N.C. A&T State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Duke University, and Forsyth Tech Community College on the research, workforce development, and community engagement efforts. More than 20 industry partners will also be part of the center, which will facilitate technology transfer and student internships and mentorships.

This announcement builds on the Bezos Earth Fund’s $1 billion grant commitment to help transform food and agricultural systems to support healthy lives without degrading the planet, which also includes efforts to reduce emissions from livestock.

More information on the center and its work is available.

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  1. Food Sustainability essay

    essay on food sustainability

  2. Untitled document

    essay on food sustainability

  3. Posters & Infographics-Sustainable Food

    essay on food sustainability

  4. Essay on Organic Food

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  5. Science and Grow Food Sustainability

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  6. Food Sustainability Assessment

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  1. Essay Writing About Food For Health

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  1. Food sustainability: problems, perspectives and solutions

    Since food sustainability problems are rooted in imbalances and inequities, a focus on increasing production on its own is unlikely to improve food security. Hunger today is not a consequence of insufficient supply but of in sufficient access; poor people cannot afford to eat adequately (Reference Sen 88). While some increase in production may ...

  2. Food Sustainability

    Food sustainability means producing food in a way that protects the environment, makes efficient use of natural resources, ensures that farmers can support themselves, and enhances the quality of life in communities that produce food, including the animals as well as the people. This idea is the driving force behind a movement to address the ...

  3. Six Brilliant Student Essays on the Power of Food to Spark Social

    Grace Williams, a student at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, enjoys playing tennis, baking, and spending time with her family. Grace also enjoys her time as a writing editor for her school's yearbook, the Pioneer. In the future, Grace hopes to continue her travels abroad, as well as live near extended family along the sunny ...

  4. Environmental Impacts of Food Production

    Half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture. Food is responsible for one-quarter of the world's emissions. Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century. What we eat matters much more than how far it has traveled. Meat and dairy foods tend to have a higher carbon footprint.

  5. Future of Food: Exploring Challenges to Global Food Systems

    Back in 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus, in his essay on the principle of population, ... To sum it up, the future of global food systems is strongly interlinked to the planning, management and development of sustainable, equitable and healthy food systems delivering food and nutrition security for all. A bundle of interventions and stimulus ...

  6. Sustainable food systems and nutrition in the 21st century: a report

    Food systems affect everyone, in that they involve ∼1.5 billion producers (with one-third being smallholder farmers managing <2 hectares of land) that feed almost 8 billion people ().Although the number of producers is significant, there is increasingly a smaller number of actors and organizations that control the inputs to produce food (e.g., seeds, chemicals, animal breeds) and the trading ...

  7. Review of the sustainability of food systems and transition ...

    The idea of sustainable food systems is at the heart of global efforts to manage and regulate human food supply. 1 The sustainable development goals focus on a number of critical global issues ...

  8. 5 ways to transform our food systems and save the planet

    This helps safeguard farmers' livelihoods so they can grow the food we need now and in the future. 2. Build stronger local and circular food systems. Building stronger local and circular food systems helps to keep valuable natural resources, minerals and nutrients in the loop.

  9. 12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources

    Throughout the essay, Tran has created headings and subheadings to help organize her argument and clarify it for readers. end annotated text. ... The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now. end public domain text. annotated text Sources.

  10. Food systems: seven priorities to end hunger and protect the planet

    The 2021 Food Systems Summit is a great opportunity to end hunger by 2030 and set in train a sustainable food system. Previous summits have delivered change: creating the FAO (after 1943 ...

  11. Sustainable Food Systems: What, Why, & How?

    Sustainable farming systems aim to do away with this class barrier between processed and healthy foods, partly by educating people and encouraging them to take part in local food cultivation. We learn best by doing, after all. 3. EXAMPLES OF SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS. Image by Olivier Mary via Unsplash.

  12. Essay On Food Sustainability

    Essay On Food Sustainability. 1174 Words5 Pages. Food Sustainability. As humans we all have to eat. It is one of the most essential, important things on earth to do and this plays an important role in every economy. The food that we consume has its origin in nature.

  13. Transforming food systems for sustainable healthy diets: a global

    In our newly released Global Food Policy Report on " Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Nutrition ," we emphasize the need for sustainable healthy diets and provide evidence-based recommendations on ways to make the foods that form these diets more desirable, affordable, accessible, and available. This holistic approach recognizes the ...

  14. The future of food: Can you eat to save the climate?

    With the food system responsible for a third of overall global CO2 emissions, attention on climate beneficial foods has been slowly but steadily increasing. According to IFIC's 2020 Food and Health Survey, 6 in 10 consumers in the US say it is important that the food products they purchase or consume are produced in an environmentally ...

  15. Healthy and Sustainable Diets and Food Systems: the Key to ...

    The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are considered a unifying global goal setting agenda that every country is meant to achieve. One of those goals, SDG2, promises to ensure food security and nutrition within sustainable food systems. However, achieving that goal is riddled with uncertainty because of the way in which the world currently produces and consumes foods. The global trends of ...

  16. Food Sustainability in the Context of Human Behavior

    Abstract. The long-term goal of food sustainability is to produce enough food to maintain the human population. The intrinsic factors to guarantee a sustainable food system are a fertile land, water, fertilizers, a stable climate, and energy. However, as the world population grows, the volume of food needed in the future will not depend just on ...

  17. Essay on Food Sustainability

    Essay on Food Sustainability. Good Essays. 1216 Words. 5 Pages. 6 Works Cited. Open Document. In food service it is important to realize and address hot button issues within the industry to begin to understand what the target market wants, increase revenue and decrease cost centers. In researching the increasingly pressing issue of food ...

  18. Sustainability

    Food waste and loss represent a worldwide problem and one of the most critical economic, ecological, and ethical challenges of recent years [1,2,3].According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data [], about one third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, with implications in terms of food security, pollution, sustainable development, and resource ...

  19. Sustainable Agriculture

    Sustainable agriculture has dominated the sociological understanding of the rural world largely. Following the enthusiasm around the concept as a means of eradication of poverty and turning the economy to a "resource-efficient, low carbon Green Economy" 1. Global population, and consequently consumption has increased.

  20. A systematic literature review of food sustainable supply chain

    The majority of the selected papers were published in the last eight years (2014-2021), probably due to the increased awareness of environmental problems and of the need to reduce hunger globally (Zero Hunger is Goal Two of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda), the increased food risks, an awareness of the benefits of ...

  21. Food Security, Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture Essay

    Importantly, the scholars provide statistics that the SDG-2 goal shows good progress with a decline from 19% to 11% in global undernourishment, which contributed to the decline in stunting from 40% to 23%. The scholars declare that "ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture are ...

  22. How our food choices impact global sustainability

    There are five primary links between our food choices and the sustainability of our planet. Increased emissions. Higher demands on the food system creates a chain of events that continuously ...

  23. Essay On Sustainable Food

    Essay On Sustainable Food. 710 Words3 Pages. We live in a fast paced world, where we want everything now and promptly, without any regard to how it would affect us in the future. As consumers, we do not plan ahead for how our future generations will suffer as a result of our simplest choices. Our ecosystem and climate change are suffering as a ...

  24. Essay On Food Sustainability

    Essay On Food Sustainability. Humans are not aware of the importance of food sustainability and how eating healthy are both correlated. Sustainability is defined as the ability to maintain a balance in the environment such as; animals, plants, food, and farm workers. Food sustainability impacts the food we consume and produce.

  25. Sustainability and the Food Industry: A Bibliometric Analysis

    The food industry has significantly expanded and become globalized due to the growth of the economies of many countries and an increasing world population. The industry is consequently facing major sustainability challenges. Food, which is critical to the existence of humanity and is affected by the world's ecosystems and human intervention, is a fundamental issue within academic research ...

  26. 'Lines of flight' in city food networks: A relational approach to food

    Recognising that city food networks are complex partnerships entailing a multiplicity of competing priorities, emergent research is engaging with their on-the-ground dynamics, analysing the interactions among different actors, as well as the power relations among them (Lever and Sonnino, 2022; Manganelli et al., 2020; Ng, 2020).We build on this scholarship by deepening our understanding of ...

  27. AIMS Agriculture and Food

    By 2050, the global population is anticipated to reach 10 billion, marking a significant 34% increase and raising concerns regarding food availability. Challenges such as the recent pandemic, which led to workforce and input shortages in agriculture, have made it difficult for many countries to maintain adequate food self-sufficiency (SSL). It is crucial to explore various farming methods to ...

  28. Building Resilient Food Systems Through Regenerative ...

    Leaders in the food and agriculture sector share how their organizations pursue more sustainable and regenerative food and agricultural systems.

  29. Food waste and the EU target: effects on the agrifood systems

    Semantic Scholar extracted view of "Food waste and the EU target: effects on the agrifood systems' sustainability" by G. Calabro et al. ... Search 218,800,865 papers from all fields of science. Search. Sign In Create Free Account. DOI: 10.1080/15378020.2024.2359656;

  30. Bezos Earth Fund Grant Creates Sustainable Protein Research Hub at NC

    The Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein launched today at North Carolina State University. The Bezos Earth Fund awarded NC State $30 million over five years to lead a center of excellence to create a biomanufacturing hub for dietary proteins that are environmentally friendly, healthy, tasty and affordable. The Earth Fund has committed $100 million to establish a network of open-access ...