On the 19th June 2017 at the University of Warwick, the IFSTAL team held its first ever food systems workshop specifically for undergraduate students. Undergraduates from a wide range of disciplines were represented including Maths, Chemistry, Psychology, and the new Global Sustainability degree which combines subjects such as Theatre Studies and Law, thus highlighting the multi-disciplinary nature of our food system! The aim of the day was to provide students with the opportunity to think more critically about the food system and their place in it. In a day comprised of a series of talks and interactive activities, we were very pleased that the students remained engaged throughout the sessions. We were also very impressed with their extremely insightful comments and questions – even critically evaluating our speakers!
The day was started off with an introductory talk by Dr John Ingram, IFSTAL Programme Leader, who explained to the students why we need to understand the food system and be system thinkers. These themes were further explored by Warwick’s Education Coordinator, Dr Kelly Reed, who asked the students, in groups, to explore the food systems around a particular food item using the soft systems ‘rich picture’ methodology. The rich picture method helps to depict the food system in a non-linear way, which allowed the students to explore the relationships, connections, influences and effects of different actors and drivers around the food item of question.
After a vegetarian and vegan lunch, there were two guest talks given by Dr Thijs van Rens from the Department of Economics, University of Warwick and Stephan Morris the Technical Director from the produce firm Blue Skies.
Thijs discussed how we can examine the food system using case studies from work on obesity in the US, where lack of access to healthy food is one of the main drivers of the obesity epidemic. He highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of these studies which include medical science, nutrition, sociology and economics and the forces underlying the emergence of food deserts – a geographic areas in low-income neighbourhoods where there is insufficient access to healthy food.
Stephan Morris followed with an interesting discussion on how Blue Skies are making a positive impact in the food system. The company was founded by Anthony Pile and began by exporting premium quality freshly cut fruit to supermarkets in Europe. From the beginning the company’s approach differed to its competitors because it believes in ‘adding value at source’. This means the majority of Blue Skies products are cut and packed in the country of origin, rather than shipped overseas and processed elsewhere. This philosophy not only enables Blue Skies to deliver a better quality product, but also helps to generate social and economic development within the country where the fruit is grown.
Overall the day was a great success, we would like to thank the speakers and students for their active participation, and we look forward to holding similar events in the future.
Anonymous student feedback:
“The content and diversity was excellent.”
“I appreciated the wide range of speakers, especially not confining our perspective to academics.”
“It has made me more interested in pursuing a career in food, so I will be looking into ways to tailor my degree to this.”
“Really great to finally be able to access IFSTAL as an undergraduate.”
“Really enjoyed it, thanks! :)”
Blog written by Dr Kelly Reed, IFSTAL Education Coordinator, University of Warwick