Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Sustainable Food Consumption: An Overview of Contemporary Issues and Policies

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Sustainable Food Consumption: An Overview of Contemporary Issues and Policies

Article excerpt

Citation: Reisch L., Eberle U., & Lorek S. 2013. Sustainable food consumption: an overview of contemporary issues and policies. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 9(2):7-25. Published online Jul 19, 2013. http://sspp.proquest.com/archives/vol9iss2/1207-033.reisch.html

Sustainable Food Consumption: Where Do We Stand Today?

Food consumption is a major issue in the politics of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) because of its impact on the environment, individual and public health, social cohesion, and the economy. Several key concerns currently high on policy agendas worldwide clearly illustrate how far-reaching the problem is:

* Serious environmental problems related to food production and consumption include climate change, water pollution, water scarcity, soil degradation, eutrophication of water bodies, and loss of habitats and biodiversity. Food consumption is associated with the bulk of global water use and is responsible for the generation of approximately one-fifth of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs).

* Population growth and rising economic prosperity are expected to increase demand for energy, food, and water--the so-called energy-food-water nexus (Bazilian et al. 2011)--which will compromise the sustainable use of natural resources and could exacerbate social and geopolitical tensions.

* Approximately 800 million people globally suffer from hunger and underconsumption of food, and a lack of access to safe and sufficient drinking water remains a pressing issue (Coff et al. 2008; Millstone & Lang, 2008). At the same time, 1 to 1.5 billion people are overweight and 300 to 500 million of them obese, an increasing tendency in most regions due primarily to dietary shifts toward more sugar, animal protein, and trans fats.

* Diet- and lifestyle-related health problems such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are appearing in young age groups (CEC, 2007), significantly increasing health costs (BCO, 2007), while social cohesion is increasingly in danger because health is so closely related to socioeconomic status.

Given demographic changes and the growing global population, these problems are only expected to worsen in the future. Yet, although the relevance of the food dimension for sustainability policies is now widely accepted, efforts are largely lacking toward an integrated policy of sustainable development that covers all actors in the food sector (Reisch, 2006). Except for the challenges of food security and agricultural production, political action plans and programs barely touch upon interdependencies along the food chain and the complexities of modern global food systems. This lack of attention to more systemic issues--and hence the lack of political will for changes--may be one reason why food-consumption patterns show barely any shift toward sustainability.

At the same time, despite considerable progress in the development of sustainability targets and indicators worldwide, there is as yet no commonly agreed upon definition of sustainable food consumption. Perhaps the most encompassing attempt is that introduced by the UK Sustainable Development Commission (2005; 2009), defining "sustainable food and drink" as that which is safe, healthy, and nutritious for consumers in shops, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and so forth; can meet the needs of the less well off at a global scale; provides a viable livelihood for farmers, processors, and retailers whose employees enjoy a safe and hygienic working environment; respects biophysical and environmental limits in its production and processing while reducing energy consumption and improving the wider environment; respects the highest standards of animal health and welfare compatible with the production of affordable food for all sectors of society; and supports rural economies and the diversity of rural culture, in particular by emphasizing local products that minimize food miles. Other researchers have also pointed out that sustainable food styles must fit into people's everyday lifestyles (i. …

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