KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

An overview of insights on the (un)sustainability of the international food system.

Food & Sustainability

How can we define sustainable food?

A single definition of sustainable food does not exist. In a general sense, sustainable food fits within the definition of sustainable development from the Brundtland commission.

Brundtland’s definition

According to the Brundtland commission, sustainable food is produced and consumed in a food system that is able to feed current generations without compromising the economic, social and ecological bases necessary to feed future generations. Additionally, it is clear that when we make our food production and consumption more sustainable, we get closer to a sustainable food system.

WCED (1987).

Food systems

A food system is the set of all activities linked to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, as well as the socio-economic and ecological outcomes of these activities. A sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food security and (healthy) 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.

FAO, report by the high level panel of experts (2014), p. 12.

Ecological preservability

The ecological preservability of our food supply depends on “the impact that the global food supply has on land, natural resources and raw materials and the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity.” This preservability is measured using indicators such as amount and type of land use, water use, resource use, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity.

WRR (2014), p. 120.

Food chains and food patterns

Within discussions of the food system, it helps to speak in terms of food chains and food patterns. A food chain (or production chain, when it excludes consumers) is a sequence of two or more organizations or individuals who are directly involved in the flow of food, services and financial resources from source to consumer. A diet (or food pattern) is the total amount of food products that a person consumes, within which the amount and ratio of different nutrients and the manner of consumption is crucial.

Voedingscentrum (2011) p. 5-7.

Mentzer, J.T. et al. (2001).