Sustainable Food Systems

Sustainable food systems are those which deliver food security and nutrition for all without compromising the economic, social, and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations. They are intricately interwoven with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 global targets established to address various worldwide challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation. The second SDG explicitly aims to "end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture." However, the link between sustainable food systems and the SDGs extends far beyond this single goal. For instance, SDG 6 focuses on ensuring access to water and sanitation for all, and this directly correlates with irrigation and sustainable water management practices in agriculture.

The 12th SDG emphasizes responsible consumption and production patterns, urging a more balanced and mindful approach to how we produce and consume food, thereby minimizing waste and promoting resource efficiency. Additionally, SDG 13 and 15 focus on climate action and life on land, respectively, both of which are deeply entwined with agriculture’s role in deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

But beyond the environment, there's also a clear social dimension to sustainable food systems. SDG 1, which aims to eradicate poverty, is closely related to the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers worldwide. By promoting sustainable farming practices, we can ensure that farmers have consistent, fair, and sustainable incomes, lifting them and their families out of poverty. SDG 5, which aspires for gender equality, recognizes the crucial role of women in agriculture and food production. Ensuring that women have equal access to resources, training, and decision-making in the agricultural sector is vital for creating a more equitable and sustainable food system. Furthermore, SDG 3, which aims for good health and well-being, ties into the nutritional aspects of a sustainable food system.

A shift towards more sustainable diets and reduced consumption of resource-intensive foods can help combat malnutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases. Sustainable food systems are not just about how food is produced, but also how it is consumed, processed, transported, and even wasted. Every step in the food chain impacts both the environment and society, and thus relates to multiple SDGs. Addressing the challenges in our food systems requires holistic, integrated approaches that take into account economic, social, and environmental dimensions. As we strive to meet the SDGs by 2030, the promotion and establishment of sustainable food systems should be at the heart of our efforts, reminding us that the way we produce and consume food affects nearly every aspect of our lives and our planet.


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 115, 1 April 2022

The results in this paper have implications for consumers and policy makers, as well as other food system actors. Consumers following individual strategies can make important contributions towards more sustainable food systems. To facilitate this shift, changes in food environments are needed and a coordinated action plan with coherent policies that targets a thorough redesign of the food system, including several of the proposed strategies, is needed to achieve large systemic effects. This could encompass suitable education measures, incentives, as well as rules for production, processing, retail, gastronomy, transport, and consumption.
Furthering SDGs 2 and 12, this report argues that feeding a population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.

Sustainable Food Supply Chains: Planning, Design, and Control through Interdisciplinary Methodologies, 2019, Pages 249-260

This book chapter addresses goals 2 and 12 by analysing food systems sustainability through the lens of the interrelated implications and impacts of FLW on production and consumption.

Sustainable Food Systems from Agriculture to Industry, Improving Production and Processing, 2018, Pages 3-46

This book chapter addresses goals 2 and 12 by explaining the current state of food production, the challenges it poses to food security, and options for ensuring global food supply going forward.
John Dale left and Derek Burgoyne
Finishing 3,000 dairy-bred beef cattle on waste food while producing green energy and fertiliser as by-products is the sustainable model for one Cambridgeshire farmer and his business partner. This approach helps meet the criteria for SDG 7 of access for all to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy and SDG 12 which promotes responsible consumption and production.