New Cross May meeting: food and ethics

When: Thursday 2nd May, 7.30pm
Where: New Cross Learning (map)

How food is killing us: what should we eat to save ourselves and the planet?

The food system is a major driver of man-made negative impact on the environment 1, including up to 30% of greenhouse gas equivalent (GHG) emissions 2. It also uses up to 70%  fresh water 3,4 and is a key driver of soil degradation 5 and biodiversity loss 6,7  Population health is damaged by overconsumption, which propels the rise in non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke; leading causes of mortality in developed nations 8.  Workers terms and conditions in the food system, also perpetuate social injustice, including a high proportion of low paid jobs in the UK 9.  Compounding all these impacts of the food system is food waste; it’s estimated that a third of food is wasted 10.  

These societal or externalised ‘hidden’ costs are ones that customers don’t pay for, but they are paid for by everyone in the long run. This has led to calls for change, toward a food system that supports sustainable diets 11 and sustainable agriculture 12. The other side of the coin of minimising these negative knock-on effects, is that by improving policy and practice in one area say to reduce GHG emissions, improvement will be made in others such as population health.

If we take steps to alter our diets what changes can we make individually that will have positive impacts? Media coverage of the issue can be confusing and steered by vested interests.  How much of an effect might different kinds of dietary change make to our health, the environment and climate change and are such diets good to eat?

Dr Libby Oakden will give a talk on the impact of different diets on climate and health followed by discussion on what kinds of things we might do to alter the situation and what we’d be comfortable with changing.

Libby was has a life sciences background with a PhD in neuroscience.  She has been working in Universities helping researchers bring new innovations and treatments closer to patients’ by commercialising medical research.  This work helps develop new treatments for non-communicable diseases such and stroke, cancer and heart disease.

Because of the link between non-communicable disease and diets Libby then went on to complete a Food Policy masters to enable her to work to change the current food system so that it is kinder to our health and our environment. 


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2. Vermeulen, S. J., Campbell, B. M. & Ingram, J. S. I. Climate Change and Food Systems. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 37, 195–222 (2012).

3. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development (2015).

4. Hoekstra, A. Y. & Mekonnen, M. M. The water footprint of humanity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 109, 3232–3237 (2012).

5. Foley, J. a et al. Global consequences of land use. Science 309, 570–4 (2005).

6. Wiegers, E., Dorp, M. Van & Torgerson, S. Improving Nutrition through Agriculture. Library.Wur.Nl (2012).

7. Steinfeld, H. et al. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. FAO LEAD 1–390 (2006). doi:10.1007/s10666-008-9149-3

8. Bloom, D. E. et al. The Global Economic Burden of Noncommunicable Diseases. World Econ. Forum 1–46 (2011). doi:10.1192/bjp.184.5.393

9. Allen, P. Mining for justice in the food system: Perceptions, practices, and possibilities. Agric. Human Values 25, 157–161 (2008).

10. FAO. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. SAVE FOOD: An initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction (2011). doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0126

11. Lang, T. & Mason, P. Sustainable diet policy development: implications of multi-criteria and other approaches, 2008–2017. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 1–16 (2017). doi:10.1017/S0029665117004074

12. Webb, J. et al. Foresight. The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability. Gov. Off. Sci. London 149, 1–208 (2011).