Defining Food Sustainability




If I ask you to define food sustainability, how would you?



A sustainable food system, as defined by the FAO, is “a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised.” (FAO, 2018). Consequently, food sustainability consists of three dimensions:

  • Environmental Sustainability - the effects of food production and consumption on the natural environment including greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and waste.

  • Social Sustainability - the broad-based effects of a food system such as human health, animal welfare, and cultural traditions.

  • Economic Sustainability - the safeguarding and sustaining of resources (human and material) to create long-term life cycles by optimal use, recovery, and recycling. This includes the profitability of the food system, the labour market, wages, fairtrade, as well as trade and food supply.

It is only by achieving all three, can a food system be defined as sustainable. If only economic and environmental sustainability is achieved there would be green growth, however, it would be exclusive of aspects such as human health and cultural traditions, therefore would not be able to be sustained, hence not a sustainable food system. This is reflected in the Venn diagram below (figure 1) provided by FAO, 2018.


Figure 1: Venn Diagram to show the interactions between social, economic, and environmental required for a Sustainable Food System (SFS) sourced from FAO, 2018.


Food sustainability is complex with systemic challenges throughout the food system from the producers, to the distributors, retailers, and finally the consumer. Defining and enacting a sustainable food system must recognise multiple and sometimes competing goals, potential trade-offs, and reflect on the role of food consumption, cooking, and production including and beyond sustenance.


The Planetary Health Meal Plan aims to localise food sustainability for students, staff, and residents in Edinburgh and Dundee.


The Planetary Health Meal Plan & Food Sustainability


Our Planetary Health Meal Plan to be launched in mid-September is adapting the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet initially for people in Dundee and Edinburgh (and in the future beyond!). We have collaborated to develop recipes with local chefs, nutritionists, and businesses to reflect the availability of products in our local areas, the affordability and ease of buying and cooking, and the personal preferences of our target groups.


The recipes provided are healthy, diverse, and seasonal with the aim to be easy, affordable, and accessible. This is so we can play a part in creating a sustainable food system as "by choosing this diet, we can drive demand for the right foods and send clear market signals all the way through the food value chain back to the farmers" (EAT, 2019).


It sounds simple, right? So, join us in being part of a sustainable food system.


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