Food and the Future Environment

Increasing Interest in Food Systems and Sustainability


Increasing Interest in Food Systems and Sustainability

Individuals, Communities, and Organizations Taking Action on Sustainability: Information Resources on Real-World Efforts

The interest in the sustainability of environment-food systems, as we've just defined them -- see the "three-legged stool" on the previous page -- has skyrocketed in recent years. A brief sampling of these issues involves the following:

  • Health and Nutrition concerns over the nutritional quality and nutrient content of food and food-producing environmental systems
  • Food security among approximately 1.1 billion persons around the world with low income and other limitations that do not allow them to access sufficient food.
  • The need to design food and agricultural systems that can respond successfully to climate change.

We aim that this course will allow you as a learner to this rapidly expanding suite of interests while it offers background and the capacity to understand better and more fully these issues. You will pursue this aim through the readings and evaluations in this course, and also in completing a capstone project on the food system of a particular region.

One way to begin learning about this expanding interest is to consider the activities of individuals, communities, and governments as well as organizations ranging from nonprofits to international and global groups. In the case of individuals and communities, much interest is being generated by local food initiatives, such as farmers’ markets, and other local groups of producers and consumers seeking to improve environment-food systems. A variety of government agencies in the United States and other countries have also become increasingly involved in environment-food issues.

The United States Department of Agriculture, for example, now offers a focus on environment-food issues such as responses to climate change and dietary guidelines in its range of research and science activities. The USDA website also includes the compilation of data through its different research services that you will use in this course.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is based in Rome, Italy, is one of a number of international organizations focused on environment-food issues. It addresses nearly all the topics raised in the course, as well as many others. The statistical branch of the FAO, known as FAOSTATS, is an important source of information on the international dimension of issues involving food and the environment.

Numerous non-profit organizations are involved in environment-food issues in the United States and in other countries. One of these organizations in the U.S., which is called Food Tank, periodically provides the lists of other organizations that it considers leaders in environment-food issues. In 2014, for example, Food Tank named the "101 Organizations to Watch in 2014”. This interesting list, complete with brief descriptions, includes a number of both well-known and lesser-known groups active in environment-food issues. Other organizations have greatly expanded their environment-food focus. National Geographic, for example, now has a major focus on environment-food issues. Its website includes an important section on food and water within the organization’s initiative on EarthPulse: A Visual Guide to Global Trends. This section includes a number of excellent global maps of environmental and food conditions, challenges, and potential solutions.

These resources may be a help to you as you consider not just the learning resources we present in this text, but the real efforts to promote environmental, social, and economic sustainability in food systems, which you will address in the final section of the course and in your capstone project.