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Sustainable food consumption: an overview of contemporary issues and policies

Author(s): Lucia Reisch | Ulrike Eberle | Sylvia Lorek

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 9;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 7;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: food selection | food processing | food consumption | environmental impact | public policy | public health

Contemporary food production and consumption cannot be regarded as sustainable and raises problems with its wide scope involving diverse actors. Moreover, in the face of demographic change and a growing global population, sustainability problems arising from food systems will likely become more serious in the future. For example, agricultural production must deal with the impacts of climate change, increasingly challenging land-use conflicts, and rising health and social costs on both individual and societal levels. The unsustainability of current arrangements arises from the industrialization and globalization of agriculture and food processing, the shift of consumption patterns toward more dietary animal protein, the emergence of modern food styles that entail heavily processed products, the growing gap on a global scale between rich and poor, and the paradoxical lack of food security amid an abundance of food. These factors are attributable to national and international policies and regulations, as well as to prevalent business practices and, in particular, consumers’ values and habits. The most effective ways for affluent societies to reduce the environmental impact of their diets are to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products (especially beef), to favor organic fruits and vegetables, and to avoid goods that have been transported by air on both individual and institutional levels (e.g., public procurement, public catering). In examining the unsustainability of the current food system this article reviews the pertinent literature to derive a working definition of sustainable food consumption, outlines the major issues and impacts of current food-consumption practices, and discusses various policy interventions, including information-based instruments, market-based initiatives, direct regulations, and “nudges.” It concludes with a call for integrative, cross-sectoral, and population-wide policies that address the full range of drivers of unsustainable food production and consumption.

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