Understanding urban consumption will be critical in transforming food systems

The links between the environmental and health impacts of our food are becoming ever more apparent. Intensive production and consumption have increased the availability of food, but it has also given rise to land degradation, climate change, water scarcity, and an epidemic of obesity.

Tackling these connections between ecological health and public health is crucial to transforming global food systems. But with much of the world transitioning to Western, meat-rich, processed diets, and so many trade-offs between health and environment, how can a shared understanding of sustainable, healthy, and environmentally beneficial food be reached?

Pulling together fragmented reporting and recommendations

As a starting point, it’s important to understand that decisions taken in one policy area such as health recommendations, may have implications for ecosystems and natural resources in another. Recommendations on Omega3 and fish stocks are a classic example of this. By pulling together and understanding the interactions between fragmented recommendations and reporting indexes spanning public health and food that we can start to define what a “sustainable healthy diet” really means.

But, moreover, we need to look beyond primary food production and agriculture as a way to solve these issues, and to see the impact of the whole value chain and its interactions. This involves sourcing, trading, packaging, production, distribution and consumption. In particular, tackling the consumption part—consumer behaviour—is key to enabling the necessary shift in food consumption patterns towards healthier and more sustainable diets.

Consumption trends in cities matter

Cities are paramount in understanding and stimulating improvement in consumption trends. Approximately 54 per cent of the world’s population was living in cities in 2016, and this number is expected to increase to 60 per cent by 2030. The increase of population in large, megacities cities is giving rise to a number of challenges and opportunities.

First of all, people living in cities tend to purchase food instead of growing their own, which makes them more vulnerable to food price changes. As in cities the cost of space goes up, the price of both household and retail space increases. As a result, people are storing less food, shopping more frequently with smaller baskets, and consuming more food outside the home. Higher food consumption in city households also means more concentrated food waste accumulation, with opportunities for technology to help increase the efficiency of sorting and recapturing food waste in ways that promote an efficient circular food system. 

Food reform for sustainability and health

These are the early stage findings coming out of our food consumption work on the Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) project, a project launched by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the EAT Foundation (EAT) in January, with 30 global, multi-national food companies. The aim is to understand what the value chain and urban food consumption—the interactions, trade-offs and synergies—really means for sustainable, healthy diets.

Major companies with global food value chains, including Kellogg Company, Unilever and Danone Group, are working to share expertise and information on science and markets, and develop partnerships with non-business stakeholders. Under a project supported by Climate-KIC, these companies agreed to open up information to help identify relevant scalable solutions to the various sustainability challenges, including climate change mitigation. What we can learn from this private sector engagement will be a huge leap forward.

There is no single definition of what a “sustainable, healthy diet” is. It is only by taking an umbrella approach, opening up silos and data, and really understanding consumption that we can identify the opportunities to transform the global food system for ecological public health.

Emeline Fellus is programme manager at FReSH, a  joint programme between EAT and WBCSD, to accelerate transformational change in global food systems, and achieve inclusive, healthy, diets produced responsibly within planetary boundaries. 

You can hear Emeline speak at the A New Urban Food Culture, 13.30, Monday 30 October. 

Urban food, understanding consumption trends in cities, innovation in diets and local food production, will be a focus at this year’s Climate Innovation Summit. Register for the Climate Innovation Summit today!

 
Location
Related Goal
Goal 5: Reform food systems
Articles you may be interested in
Opinion
Part three: Climate action #NotinNewYork
Andy Kerr Director, UK & Ireland, EIT Climate-KIC
Part three: Climate action #NotinNewYork
In Detail
New EIT Climate-KIC supported report finds digital technologies can vastly a...

As part of the UN Climate Action Summit, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Deloitte launched a report today, supported by EIT Climate-KIC,...

New EIT Climate-KIC supported report finds digital technologies can vastly accelerate the SDGs
Opinion
Part two: Climate action #NotinNewYork
Andy Kerr Director, UK & Ireland, EIT Climate-KIC
Part two: Climate action #NotinNewYork
Opinion
Climate action #NotinNewYork
Andy Kerr Director, UK & Ireland, EIT Climate-KIC
Climate action #NotinNewYork
In The News
Circular Cars Initiative launched at United Nations Climate Action Summit

On the occasion of the United Nations Climate Action...

Circular Cars Initiative launched at United Nations Climate Action Summit
In The News
We’re closing for business in solidarity with #ClimateStrike

EIT Climate-KIC will close this Friday 20 September, the...

We’re closing for business in solidarity with #ClimateStrike
In The News
Open Innovation Call targeting air quality and urban heat island effect launch...

The City of Copenhagen’s department Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions within...

Open Innovation Call targeting air quality and urban heat island effect launched
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC cleantech start-up ZOLAR attracts 10 Million Euro Investment

The Berlin-based start-up Zolar raises a 10 million EUR...

EIT Climate-KIC cleantech start-up ZOLAR attracts 10 Million Euro Investment
In The News
Breaking down barriers to climate-finance: the City Finance Lab launches secon...

Competition for the five most innovative financing solutions for...

Breaking down barriers to climate-finance: the City Finance Lab launches second call for proposals
Opinion
Innovating in complexity: Systemic investing
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
Innovating in complexity: Systemic investing
In The News
Climathon onboard ‘Sail to the COP’

On 2 October, 36 young climate change agents will...

Climathon onboard ‘Sail to the COP’
In The News
Research reveals surprising link between socio-economic indicators and sustain...

A new study by EIT Climate-KIC partner academic institutions...

Research reveals surprising link between socio-economic indicators and sustainability transition
Opinion
Transformation capital: A new investment logic for catalysing systems change
Dominic Hofstetter Transformation Capital, EIT Climate-KIC
Transformation capital: A new investment logic for catalysing systems change
Opinion
Innovating in complexity: From single-point solutions to directional systems innovation
Dominic Hofstetter TRANSFORMATION CAPITAL, EIT CLIMATE-KIC
Innovating in complexity: From single-point solutions to directional systems innovation
In The News
Four EIT Climate-KIC innovators nominated for annual EIT Awards

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has released...

Four EIT Climate-KIC innovators nominated for annual EIT Awards
In Detail
Report offers recommendations for development of agricultural impact tool

A new report supported by EIT Climate-KIC’s CSA Booster programme proposes technical, governance and business arrangements for the development of a new tool for...

Report offers recommendations for development of agricultural impact tool
In Detail
Food value chains strategy report offers recommendations based on systemic i...

A new report details the work of EIT Climate-KIC and its partner Metabolic, a consulting company using systems thinking to tackle major sustainability challenges,...

Food value chains strategy report offers recommendations based on systemic impact
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC supports digital roadmap for a circular economy

EIT Climate-KIC, along with several European stakeholders, is advocating...

EIT Climate-KIC supports digital roadmap for a circular economy
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC urges London to lead in turning climate emergency into action

Climate innovation agency EIT Climate-KIC welcomed today the first...

EIT Climate-KIC urges London to lead in turning climate emergency into action
Opinion
London Climate Action Week: Climate Innovation Insights
London Climate Action Week: Climate Innovation Insights
Opinion
How can we deliver a net-zero emissions UK?
Andy Kerr Director, UK & Ireland, EIT Climate-KIC
How can we deliver a net-zero emissions UK?
Opinion
Can we identify the tipping points for transformative climate action?
Susannah Fisher Strategic Research Lead, EIT Climate-KIC
Can we identify the tipping points for transformative climate action?
In The News
Study launched on decarbonising Europe’s heavy industries by 2050

Industry representatives, regional experts, academics and EU officials held...

Study launched on decarbonising Europe’s heavy industries by 2050
In our community
Interview with Yvon Slingenberg of DG Climate Action, European Commission
Interview with Yvon Slingenberg of DG Climate Action, European Commission
In Detail
Evaluating the benefits of improved cooking solutions: impact data in high r...

Gold Standard today released a research study by Vivid Economics that estimates the economic value of Gold Standard-certified project benefits related to climate, health,...

Evaluating the benefits of improved cooking solutions: impact data in high resolution
In The News
New EIT Climate-KIC supported report proposes basis for a future EU taxonomy i...

The European Commission has welcomed the publication of the...

New EIT Climate-KIC supported report proposes basis for a future EU taxonomy in legislation
In The News
WCEF 2019: The challenges and potentials of circular procurement in cities

Increasing population growth and urbanisation intensifies the pressure on...

WCEF 2019: The challenges and potentials of circular procurement in cities
In The News
First round of 15 winners of Reinventing Cities competition announced

C40 Cities and EIT Climate-KIC have announced 15 winners...

First round of 15 winners of Reinventing Cities competition announced
In The News
Lisbon’s City Finance Lab-backed green participatory budget awarded €5 mil...

Lisbon City Council’s first-ever ‘green’ participatory budget, an initiative...

Lisbon’s City Finance Lab-backed green participatory budget awarded €5 million for next cycle
In The News
WCEF 2019: ‘The circular economy in cities’

EIT Climate-KIC CEO Kirsten Dunlop emphasised the importance of...

WCEF 2019: ‘The circular economy in cities’