The vital importance of sustainable food systems

The Food & Drink industry is Scotland’s top international export sector, and therefore has a massive opportunity to make a real, lasting difference with sustainability. At FoodHeroScot, we don’t want to go backwards, especially when it comes to Scotland’s Food & Drink industry.

Whether that’s back into lockdown or back into an unsustainable way of living, we’re committed to making a change. We are on a mission to put sustainability at the core of Scotland’s F&D recovery plan, encouraging the implementation of more sustainable food systems is one of the ways we hope to achieve this.

A multi-faceted challenge.

Providing nutritious, affordable, and safe food for all peoples across the globe in a sustainable manner is one of the greatest challenges of our times. Food practitioners at each stage of the farm to table process have been faced with needing to be able to respond to shifting attitudes towards food and farming, food safety and security concerns, changing diets and demographics, whilst also balancing global economic and environmental pressures. It’s a multi-faceted challenge that is no mean feat to address.

Current challenges being discussed in the headlines include malnutrition and obesity, the food waste-hunger paradox, and food’s devastating environmental impact. Global food consumption and production accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (Our World in Data, 2019), making our food choice the most effective way to address climate change.

Food may be the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability, but transforming our food systems is not an easy task.

What is a food system and what makes it sustainable?

A food system includes all aspects of producing and delivering food to humans, from production or wild harvest, to processing, marketing, distribution, consumption, recycling and disposal. As described by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2014), “a sustainable food system 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”.

Our food system is highly complex; it works across different scales, from the local to the global, it involves a wide range of interconnected actors, and has environmental, social, economic, and political drivers and implications (Dr Effie Papargyropoulou, Leeds University). Since the system itself is complex, this means implementing any form of change is likewise very complex to do.

But not impossible.

Farm to Fork

What does a sustainable food system look like – Farm to Fork?

So, what would a food system that is sustainable, if not regenerative, look like? ​​The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. It maps a new, sustainable and inclusive growth strategy to boost the economy, improve people’s health and quality of life, care for nature, and leave no one behind.
But is 2050 really quick enough?

After the IPCC report was published, which stated the increased danger of rising temperatures and the subsequent massive environmental and societal damage before 2030, we don’t think so. We can however show the immediacy now, learn from the scientists recommendations within the Green Deal and understand how a sustainable food system could look like – one that we can push to transition towards in the next 10 years.

The Green Deal addresses comprehensively the challenges of sustainable food systems and recognises the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet. The strategy is also central to the Commission’s agenda to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


All citizens and operators across value chains, in the EU and elsewhere, should benefit from a just transition. Especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. A shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health, and social benefits, offer economic gains and ensure that the recovery from the crisis puts us onto a sustainable path, ensures a sustainable livelihood for primary producers who still lag behind in terms of income, and is essential for the success of the recovery and the transition.

The main four components that the Green Deal Farm to Fork Strategy outlines are sustainable food production, sustainable food processing & distribution, Sustainable food consumption, and Food loss & waste prevention. It takes a circular approach to our food system, looking at it from a holistic perspective.

Here at #FoodHeroScot, we are focusing on 3 primary overarching areas:

  • Biodiversity & Climate Change
  • Food Waste & Loss
  • Food Insecurity & Wellbeing

Sustainable food systems for Scotland

At FoodHeroScot, we envisage a radically different global food system that works with nature and provides everybody with access to safe and nutritious food. Our aim is to assist in educating the Scottish population on these systems and shine a light on those who have already implemented enduring solutions that are helping bring about transformative change. Creating food systems that are socially-just, climate-smart, and go beyond sustainability will radically change our planet for the better.

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