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
In The News
What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?

EIT Climate-KIC Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Dunlop addressed the...

What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?
In The News
Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change

Starting today, the seventh edition of the global green...

Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change
In The News
Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution

Ensuring that fresh water is available, in a sustainable...

Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution
In The News
Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation

The European Commission released the new EU Climate Adaptation...

Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change

EIT Climate-KIC welcomes the new EU strategy on adaptation...

EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change
In The News
Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities

A labyrinth of cobblestone streets, dimly lit and presided...

Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities
In The News
Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neig...

EIT Climate-KIC is working with the city of Leuven...

Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neighbourhood
In The News
Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience

Start Park, a project led by citizens from Florence,...

Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience
In The News
New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners

Following its Open Call, the New Accelerator programme has...

New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners
In The News
New videogame builds climate awareness among players

Change Game, a videogame financed by EIT Climate-KIC and...

New videogame builds climate awareness among players
In The News
Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations

Carlota Mateos and Juan Vila, co-founders of PlenEat have...

Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations
In The News
Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio

EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks, a carbon capture technology, is...

Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio
In The News
Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs

The peer-to-peer learning platform for governments, Apolitical, included EIT...

Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs
In The News
New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture

Supported by EIT Climate-KIC and developed by its partner...

New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

EIT Climate-KIC will be taking part in the Climate...

EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021
In The News
Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards ...

A total of 140 teams of citizen finalists applied...

Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards 2020
In The News
Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation

Joe Biden will be sworn in today as 46th...

Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition

It is no secret that to tackle climate change...

EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition
In The News
New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction

This week marks the launch of NoMuWood.com, an EIT...

New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction
In The News
European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action

On Wednesday 16 December, the European Commission is launching...

European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action
In The News
“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melissa Capcha. Five years on...

“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris
In The News
“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Gopal Kumar Mohoto. Five years...

“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”
In The News
“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz. Five years...

“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”
In The News
COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Kit England. Five years on...

COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”
In The News
COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melani Furlan. Five years on...

COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”
In The News
A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas

The SaferPlaces project, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has created...

A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas
In The News
Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region

The Glasgow City Region uses arts as a means...

Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region
In The News
Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition

EIT Climate-KIC, EIT RawMaterials, EIT Digital, EIT Food, EIT...

Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy

The World Circular Economy Forum brings together business leaders,...

EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy
In The News
Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery

Over 4,500 citizens from around the world will join...

Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery