Science

About

EAT’s centerpiece is a network of world leading academic institutions spanning across the fields of food, health and sustainability sciences. By bridging these fields, EAT has for objective to spur solution-oriented interdisciplinary research whose outcomes enable policy-makers, food business leaders and consumers to make better decisions.

How to sustainably feed a world population of more than nine billion with sufficient and nutritious food? This question frames the core challenge that EAT’s research aims to address. In order to tackle the emerging public health crisis associated with the worldwide explosion of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), rising global environmental risks and climate change, while at the same time creating a more secure, equitable and nutritionally adequate food future for a world of more than nine billion, the global food system needs to be majorly and urgently re-engineered.

Despite major linkages and feedbacks between factors underlying public health and sustainability in the context of food systems, the issues of agriculture and fisheries, nutrition, public health, environment and human development are still largely addressed as separate agendas across science, policy and business. EAT has for objective to break these siloes by advancing holistic collaborative research across its interdisciplinary network of leading academic partner institutions.

 

EAT’s research agenda is divided into seven themes under three thematic blocks. On the one hand, research focuses on advancing basic science and quantitative tools to explore the interconnections – synergies, trade-offs and spillover effects – between health and sustainability drivers and outcomes in the context of food systems, in order to identify and propose effective means to promote diets that meet public health, sustainability as well as socio-economic goals.

On the other hand, EAT’s research aims to advance practical solutions for business leaders and policy-makers by examining the effectiveness of behavioural interventions to improve consumer food choices, assessing options for boosting the resilience and multifunctionality of production landscapes and seascapes, and evaluating the potential cost savings of a transition towards healthy and sustainable food systems. In this context, it is paramount to understand the challenges and opportunities brought about by the globalisation of food trade, urbanisation and spread of ICT.

Research also encompasses the application of transformation theory in a food system context, in order to identify where the leverage power and barriers to change lie within the food industry and the international food system governance space, as well as to determine the transformative potential of alternative agents such as chefs and the media.

As EAT’s research intends to be strongly practitioner-oriented in order for its outcomes to have maximal impact, seven cross-sectoral Theme Committees comprising representatives of EAT’s entire partner network meet biannually to co-design and oversee the various research projects, and warrant the practically relevance of the research.

Themes

DIETS

In order to feed 9 billion people whilst tackling dietary health and environmental problems related to food, it is urgent to identify food production practices and dietary compositions that converge both health and sustainability agendas. This entails a need for an evidence-based, integrated framework that enables systematic analyses of the complex relationships between the sustainability and health effects of the global food system. This thematic block seeks to develop a metrics framework for assessing the health and sustainability effects – both positive and negative – of food systems. This will allow to identify food categories and whole dietary compositions that benefit both human and planetary health, as well as to empirically analyse trade-offs between health and sustainability for specific foods and diets.

LEVERS FOR CHANGE

This thematic block seeks to understand how to leverage food system change. On the one hand, determining the healthcare and natural capital costs of inaction towards achieving more sustainable and health-promoting food systems is paramount to justify political action. On the other hand, assessing the effectiveness of various government and private sector interventions is a key means of promoting healthy and sustainable consumer food choices.

FOOD SYSTEMS IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

Human society has entered the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch characterised by mankind’s dominance on the planet and its global influence on natural ecosystems. Urbanisation, the globalisation of food systems, and the fast spread of ICT are all features of the Anthropocene. This thematic block explores the implications of these mega-trends on people’s relationship to nature and food, and examines the ensuing governance challenges. It investigates alternative food production practices that enhance the multifunctionality and resilience of landscapes and seascapes beyond solely maximising food provisioning services.

#1 METRICS FOR HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD

There are currently no clear definitions – metrics, guidelines, schemes or targets – of what constitutes a sustainable and healthy diet and, more broadly, food system. Better definitions are needed from the science community to help food businesses and policy-makers holistically address the health, environmental and socio-economic challenges associated with food systems.

This theme focuses on developing an integrated empirical framework of metrics that collectively frame what defines a healthy and sustainable diet, and that enables to conduct assessments of the health and sustainability impacts of specific diets. Framework development is coupled with the development of methodologies for the measurement and monitoring of impacts on the identified metrics across the food value-chain.

A fundamental long-term endeavour for EAT is to develop consumer and industry facing guidelines for healthy and sustainable food. The development of quantitative food metrics is central to underpin that effort. Metrics need to be relevant to different actors (consumers, industry and policy), span across the food value-chain, and be applicable at different levels (food product, diet, company or nation).

 

#2 SYNERGIES, TRADE OFFS AND SPILLOVER EFFECTS

With the increasing recognition for the need to shift to food consumption patterns that underpin human health and minimize environmental impacts, the interest and need are growing for defining what constitutes healthy and sustainable diets. Clearer and more holistic messages from the scientific community are needed to help food businesses and policy-makers shift towards better production and marketing practices and food policies.

This entails investigating the hypotheses that measures towards healthy diets have positive effects on sustainability and, vice-versa, that measures for improving the sustainability of food production have positive effects on human health through diet. A major research area is to understand the link between dietary diversity and the diversity and functionality of food provisioning ecosystems.

To explore these hypotheses, this theme seeks to identify synergies as well as trade-offs between key health and sustainability dimensions of diet, including nutritional adequacy, impacts on climate, environment and ecosystems, animal welfare, and chemical pollution. Such analyses allow to quantitatively evaluate the performance of specific diets against each of these dimensions, and to identify “minimum impact” dietary compositions that optimise the outcomes for each of the dimensions. From there, a set of core principles can be derived for what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet.

Identifying trade-offs between sustainability and health dimensions is essential to guide sound and integrated food policy-making. The existence of trade-offs requires understanding how to strike balances to optimize outcomes, for instance which level of use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in production is optimal for balancing the need to ensure high productivity on the one hand, and food safety and ecosystem health on the other hand.

In addition to studying diets, this theme is concerned with assessing food categories, e.g. animal sourced protein or vegetable oils, and identifying the optimal balance of animal protein sources or oils in order to satisfy the global demand while minimizing impacts on health and sustainability.

 

#3 THE ECONOMICS OF FOOD SYSTEMS

The global food system currently does not support sustainability nor does it promote public health. Unsustainable food production practices entail substantial costs in the form of loss of natural capital and environmental/climatic shocks and stresses due to loss of resilience. Similarly, unhealthy food supply leads to significant healthcare costs to treat obesity and non-communicable diseases as well as to combat chronic undernutrition. Food waste is also a costly cross-cutting issue that comes at great economic, social and environmental costs.

These costs are to a large extent preventable through shifting to healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption practices. This theme seeks to evaluate the current health and environmental costs of food systems, and the potential cost savings of a transition towards healthier and more sustainable food systems through different scenarios.

A foundational research focus is the development of a model framework for full costing of food, incorporating a holistic set of health and sustainability impacts to be translated into economic costs.

 

#4 CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR AND CHOICES

This research theme examines the ways in which various factors – including corporate advertizing, product labeling, food accessibility, pricing, social norms and influence, and education – individually and synergistically affect consumer food preferences and realized choices. It aims to determine how behavioural economics and choice architecture can be used more extensively and effectively as a tool to make consumers adopt better eating habits, and how to present and convey information on food packages and in different food environments in order to bridge value-action gaps among consumers.

Another focal research area is to identify efficient strategies to improve the food literacy of people, including how to frame messages, e.g. whether personal health arguments are a more effective driver of behaviour change than environmental guilt, and how to translate scientific information in an ‘edutaining’ fashion, such as through food score cards.

Research also focuses on determining the effectiveness of different forms and combinations of public and private sector interventions to improve food choices and diet – from policy mechanisms to labeling and nudging – and on which types of consumers these interventions have been successful, acknowledging the broad variety of consumer profiles in terms of purchasing power, access, education and ethics.


#5 STEWARDSHIP AND CULTURE

The human dominated epoch of the Anthropocene is characterized by a range of mega-trends, including urbanisation, the globalisation of food trade, and the fast spread of ICT systems. This theme explores the implications of these mega-trends on people’s relationship to food and nature. It seeks to understand shifts in the cultural and spiritual connections between people and the food they consume.

Food cultures and trends are becoming more global, influenced by various forms of media. The geographical and cultural dimensions that foods have traditionally embedded are gradually vanishing as the origins of food production are becoming increasingly distanced from where food is consumed. ‘Food deserts’ are a widespread problem in both developed and developing nations, whereby the lack of access to healthy sustainable food is a major barrier to improving diets. At the same time, farmers markets are undergoing a renaissance in Western countries, and urban food production is becoming increasingly looked to as a solution for making cities more food self-sufficient, reconnecting people to food, and community development.

The ways in which these trends affect people’s relationship to food and ensuing food choices is, to date, poorly understood. The effect of increasingly global market drivers on traditional small-scale farming systems has also been little investigated, yet understanding the effect of food globalisation on ecosystem resilience and local food cultures is fundamental for sustainable food and nutrition security in the future. This research theme seeks to understand these trends and examine their implications and potential for improving diets, food production practices and food security.


#6 MULTIFUNCTIONAL LANDSCAPES & SEASCAPES

The food and agriculture sector stands for a major share of global impacts on climate and ecosystems. While it supplies food and nutrition to the world, essential for survival and good health, many production systems are input-intensive in artificial fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones – all of which have negative feedbacks on human and environmental health.

With the growing pressure for feeding a world of more than nine billion by mid-century and with the rising demand for meat, large-scale intensive monocultures, industrial animal farming and fishing beyond maximum sustainable yield have become widespread models of production at the expense of more traditional, sustainable and diverse production practices. The economies of scale and efficiencies gained from such modes of production have driven their rapid success. However, the ensuing negative externalities on food security and sustainability are increasingly perceptible, such as the loss of pollinators, climate shocks, collapse of fish stocks and pest outbreaks.

Production systems that preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functionality are essential for their inherent resilience and ability to provide safe, nutritious and sufficient food in the long term. There is a growing recognition for the need to shift to more resilient production systems, whereby the aimed outcome is not solely short-term yield maximization but the delivery of a range of ecosystem services. Landscapes and seascapes also embed cultural and recreational values that are important for human wellbeing, sense of identity and the service-based economy.

This research theme seeks to investigate viable alternatives of primary food production that fulfil the combined needs for maximizing productivity and economic returns, sustainably intensifying agriculture, as well as boosting landscape multifunctionality. It seeks to establish the range of desirable characteristics and spatial properties of multifunctional landscapes/seascapes, and the extent to which each of these can be maximized, including the nutritional value and diversity of crops, carbon capture, biodiversity conservation, stability of income of smallholder farmers, retention of local knowledge, tourism, and more.

This theme also investigates landscape/seascape based approaches to food certification, and other means of encouraging food businesses to source foods that are adapted to local conditions and cultures such that, on a macro scale, the global food system promotes diversity rather than homogeneity.


#7 TRANSFORMATION IN FOOD SYSTEMS

This theme explores pathways for retracting the global food system within the safe operating space of planetary boundaries and how to leverage transformative change towards healthy and sustainable food systems. It seeks to map out networks of actors in sub-sets of food systems in order to identify key agents of change – individuals, organisations, governments or corporations – due to the leverage power or strategic positions they hold in the system.

The theme aims to identify socioeconomic, cultural, institutional and perceived barriers to system-level change, and to advance solutions for overcoming such barriers and streamlining efforts across a diverse range of food system actors, acknowledging the interdependency between policy, business and science in order to shift production practices and diets at scale.

Analyzing successful forefront business cases, the theme investigates how innovative business models have overcome common barriers to marketing healthy and sustainable food, such as issues of poor supply-chain transparency and traceability, and lack of a strong demand “pull”. Similarly, the theme analyzes the conditions of success of transformative food policies and social movements, and the extent to which they are scalable.

Projects & Activities

Theme 1 – Metrics for healthy and sustainable food

An expert workshop will be run on the 29th and 30th of May hosted by Stockholm Resilience Centre, jointly organised by EAT and Bioversity International with support from the Daniel & Nina Carasso Foundation. The workshop aims to develop a holistic quantitative framework for defining what constitutes a healthy sustainable diet and assessing the health and sustainability impacts of specific diets. The technical content will draw from past work carried out by Bioversity International, EAT, and CIMSANS. Outcomes will be presented in the form of a tentative research plan to EAT’s Theme Committee, which will meet on the 2nd of June during EAT Stockholm Food Forum in order to inform a long-term strategy for research deployment and interim deliverables.

 

Theme 6 – Multifunctional landscapes and seascapes

The Theme Committee will meet for the first time during EAT Stockholm Food Forum in order to agree on the research strategy, identify a small number of priority projects, and co-design a timeline for the research. Building on this meeting, a joint EAT-CGIAR research workshop is planned in late 2015 (date TBD).

 

Theme 4 – Consumer Behaviour and Choices

The Theme Committee will meet for the first time during EAT Stockholm Food Forum in order to agree on a research strategy, identify a small number of priority projects, and co-design a timeline for the research. Building on this meeting, a research workshop will be held in late 2015 (date TBD) on the occasion of Prof. Brian Wansink (Theme Champion) joining EAT’s scientific team for a six month sabbatical. The workshop will gather behavioural experts within EAT’s partner network.

 

Tackling the Pandemic of Non-Communicable Diseases: Evaluating Interventions to Influence Diet

A collaborative project spearheaded by Chatham House together with Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Norwegian Public Health Institute (Folkhelseinstitutt) and University of Oslo, this project reviews the experience to date of different interventions – from heavy governmental measures to business self-regulation and voluntary initiatives – to encourage healthy and sustainable diets, of identifying lessons learned, barriers to progress, and gaps in knowledge. As a first step, there has been a preliminary literature review (January-April) of which the main findings will be presented at EAT Stockholm Food Forum. This review has been complemented by a full-day expert workshop at Chatham House in London (mid-April) to test the conclusions of the research and identify considerations for policy-makers. By its end in spring 2016, the project will deliver a comprehensive Chatham House Briefing Paper that summarises the evidence and makes recommendations for strategies for demand-side interventions along the regulatory continuum.

 

Indicator recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals

The goals and targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be officially adopted by United Nations (UN) member states in September at the UN General Assembly in New York, with little room remaining for negotiation and modification. There is, however, still substantial leeway for proposing indicators for measuring and tracking progress towards achieving the SDGs, which will likely not be adopted until March 2016. Despite significant interdependencies, the issues of food, health and sustainability are poorly integrated under the current SDG framework. EAT, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the CGIAR Consortium have therefore developed a joint high-level statement proposing an integrated set of indicators for healthy diets from sustainable food systems to the UN Global Reporting mechanism for the SDGs. The statement highlights the need to consider healthy diets from sustainable food systems as an essential entrypoint for global sustainable development and human wellbeing.

 

Annual Thematic Report and database on the state of the global food system

EAT is developing the conceptual framework and approach for issuing an Annual Thematic Report that describes global progress towards achieving healthy diets from sustainable food systems, that has for central aim to raise the attention towards this agenda and enable countries to track progress towards achieving SDG targets that cut across food, health and sustainability. The report aims to describe the broader interconnections between food, nutrition, health, the environment and development in creative and intelligible ways, including geographical maps and infographics. In parallel, a global database will be developed to underpin facts and figures in the Annual Thematic Report as well as to serve as a major global repository of data on food, health and sustainability. Database development will initially consist of consolidating existing data that is currently fragmented, in order to identify key data gaps.

 

Synthesis work of EAT 2014 Competence Forums

The briefing papers and reports from the thematic Competence Forums at EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014 have been synthesised into a special issue of EAT Proceedings, available here.

 

White Paper on Transformative Pathways for a Healthy and Sustainable Planet

A White Paper has been developed by a dozen researchers at Stockholm Resilience Centre as supporting material to a science workshop which was held on the 28th of May 2014 at the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, back-to-back with EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2014. The White Paper highlights key dimensions of the food-sustainability-health nexus that require further research attention. The draft is currently being revisited, incorporating novel research findings since last year, and will subsequently be sent for publication.

Theme Leadership

EAT’s seven research themes are each led by one to two designated Theme Champions, under the support of a Theme Committee that encompasses a diverse group of representatives from EAT’s academic, civil society and commercial partner organisations, as well as a few experts from non-partner organisations. Theme Champions are either members of EAT’s Advisory Board or key senior research partners to EAT.

Under the chairmanship of Theme Champions, the Committees meet biannually to discuss strategic research issues, including reviewing suggestions on innovative project ideas, suggesting strategic research partnerships across the EAT network for specific projects, fundraising matters, publication and dissemination of findings. By directly involving practitioners from policy, civil society and food industry actors in the research design, a key function of Theme Committees is to ensure the practical usefulness of research in order to maximize its impacts.

The deployment of three of EAT’s seven research themes is prioritised over the coming year: (Theme 1) Metrics for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems; (Theme 4) Consumer Behaviour and Choices; and (Theme 6) Multifunctional Landscapes and Seascapes. The first meetings of the three Theme Committees will take place during EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2015, and aim to agree on the overarching research objectives over a three-year timeline, as well as a roadmap of research activities for the second half of 2015, with a clear definition of partners, roles and responsibilities.

THEME

1. Metrics for healthy and sustainable food

Theme Champions: Johan Rockström (Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre); Chris Murray (Director, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington)

Theme Committee: Walter Willett (Harvard School of Public Health); Mandana Arabi (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition); Richard Horton (Editor in Chief, The Lancet); John Ingram (University of Oxford); Fabrice DeClerck (Bioversity International); Bruce Cogill ((Bioversity International); Patrick Stover (Cornell University); Mathilde Douillet (Carasso Foundation), Karen Cooper (Nestlé); Duncan Williamson (WWF International); Ursula Hultkvist Bengtsson (Medicon Village); Wenche Grønbrekk (Cermaq); Jonathan Farnell (Deloitte); Martin Heller (University of Michigan); Christiana Wyly (Food Choice Taskforce)

 

2. Synergies, trade-offs and spill-over effects

Theme champions: Tim Lang (Professor of Food Policy, City University London); Olivier de Schutter (Chair, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems)

Theme Committee: Anthony Costello (UCL Global Health Institute); Julio Frenk (Dean, Harvard School of Public Health); Bernard Vallat (Director, Organisation of World Animal Health); Emile Frison (Independent Consultant); Tara Garnett (Food Climate Research Network / University of Oxford); Mai-Lis Hellénius (Karolinska Institute); Livar Frøyland (NIFES); Karin Abbor Svensson (Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation); The Norwegian Veterinary Association; (NOFIMA Food Research Institute)

 

3. The economics of food systems

Theme champions: TBD

Theme Committee: Sania Nishtar (Founder and President, Heartfile); José Maria Figueres Olsen (President, Carbon War Room); Ellis Rubinstein (President, New York Academy of Sciences); Felicia Knaul (Harvard Global Equity Initiative); Richie Hardwicke (TruCost); (Environmental Defence Fund); (Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO)), Danielle Nieremberg (Food Tank), William Paus (SEB); (Oak Foundation)

 

4: Consumer behaviour and choices

Theme champion: Brian Wansink (Director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab)

Theme Committee: Hege Gjessing (President, Norwegian Medical Association); Peggy Liu (Founder and CEO, JUCCCE); Therese Lindahl (Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics); Camilla Stoltenberg (President, Norwegian Institute of Public Health); Anders Nordström (Ambassador of Global Health, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs); Barry Popkin (Gillings School of Public Health, University of North Carolina); Pierre Chandon (INSEAD); Rob Bailey (Chatham House); Knut-Ivar Karevold (Director, GreeNudge); Kaj Török (Futerra Sustainability Communications); Toni Petersson (CEO, Oatly); (who?) Bama Group; Ole Robert Reitan (CEO, Rema 1000); Bengt Andersson (Tetra Pak); Cathrine Dehli (Nordic Choice Hotels); Corinne Sawers (McKinsey Global Institute); Åsne Taksrud (DNB); Frode Alfnes (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)

 

5. Stewardship, culture and emotions

Theme champion: Ann Thrupp (Executive Director, Berkeley Food Institute)

Theme Committee: Nila F. Moeloek (Minister of Health, Indonesia); Marcus Samuelsson (Founder and CEO, Marcus Samuelsson Group); Mattias Klum (Photographer and Film-maker, National Geographic); Sunita Narain (Director, Centre of Science and Environment, India), (The Culinary Institute of America); (EARTH University, Costa Rica); Erik Rasmussen (Monday Morning Global Institute/Sustainia); (Visit Norway / Innovation Norway)

 

6. Multifunctional landscapes and seascapes

Theme champions: Frank Rijsberman (CEO, CGIAR); Carl Folke (Science Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Theme Committee: Line Gordon (Deputy Science Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre); Tim Crews (Director, Land Institute); (Norwegian Institute of Marine Research); (Global Salmon Initiative); Carolina Sachs (Secretary-General, Axfoundation); Mark Holderness (Global Forum for Agricultural Research); Frank Eyhorn (IFOAM / Organic World Foundation)

 

7. Transforming food systems

Theme champion: Michiel Bakker (Director, Google Global Food Services)

Theme Committee: Per Olsson (Stockholm Resilience Centre); Lee Howell (Managing Director, World Economic Forum); Martin Bloem (Senior Nutrition Advisor, World Food Program); Jonas Gahr Støre (Party Leader, Norwegian Labour Party); Francis DiSalvo (Director, Cornell Atkinson Centre for a Sustainable Future); Usman Mushtaq (Director of Global Policy and Strategy, EAT); Karen Victoria Lykke Syse (University of Oslo); Climate Works); World Association of Chefs Society); (The Swedish Food Federation)

Contact

Brent Loken,
Science Liaison Officer, EAT

Email: brent@eatforum.org