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  • Professor Tim Benton, University of Leeds

  • Aniol Esteban, Head of Environmental Economics, New Economics Foundation

Date: 26th March 2015


What is sustainable food? Although it’s difficult to define, as a minimum it should include intergenerational equality, respect for livelihoods and the preservation of ecosystem services.

Our food system faces huge challenges, not least that it’s part of an economic system that isn’t fit for purpose. If that’s the case, what would a system fit for purpose look like? Who should be responsible for changing the economic system and triggering food system transformation? Arguably, it’s the government’s role, but policy has been disjointed and lacking in incentives for food producers and processors to change their operating models.

There’s an assumption that industrial farming and huge supermarkets are here to stay. Even so, a growing movement is promoting alternative food systems, driven by citizens hungry for a new narrative around food and a change in power structures. This could be a real driver for change – preparing those in power to take action when it comes to the crunch.

How do we deal with two of the most burning food issues: that many in the west eat more calories (often ‘empty’ ones) than we need; and that we waste egregious amount of food throughout the food system? Both relate to the fundamental problem that – as one audience member put it – “demand can’t be infinite on a finite planet.”

By moderating our food demands we take pressure off land to produce more food, and allow for less intensive farming practices. Tackling waste optimises the amount of food we already produce.

Another question raised was how can we eat sustainably? There’s no easy answer, but there are some key elements, like buying fresh, seasonal ingredients from sustainable sources; changing to lower impact diets; wasting less food and cooking from scratch.

One way that government policy could be shifted is by people becoming individual Champions for Food Security. By attending events like FoodTalks, engaging politicians, discussing the issues with family and friends, and by reading up on the issues, we can support the cause and inspire others.

This summary draws heavily on a blog written by Dan Crossley, Food Ethics Council executive director, who chaired this Food Talks. The full blog is available here.


Professor Tim Benton | University of Leeds

Tim is currently a Professor of Population Ecology at the University of Leeds and specialises in food systems, sustainability, climate change and ecology. He is also a Global Agenda Steward for the World Economic Forum and a contributing author to the IPCC’s Special Report on Land, Food and Climate.

Aniol Esteban | Head of Environmental Economics from the New Economics Foundation

Anoil was formerly Director of Environmental Economics for the New Economics Foundation. Now based in Mallorca, Anoil heads the Marilles Foundation, a non-profit working towards marine conservation.