Introduction to the Food System: Unit 1 Preview

As we near the first workshops of the academic year this week (1st and 2nd November), we recommend our students prepare by taking Unit 1 on the IFSTAL Portal. Our online units are designed to introduce key concepts, be easily navigated, not too laborious or time-consuming (each one takes approximately 60-90 minutes to complete), and help track progress. Whilst they are valuable as stand-alone resources, especially for distance learners, we also use the units to take a “flipped classroom” approach, whereby students work independently on building knowledge which is then developed further in practice at the face-to-face workshops with peers and IFSTAL staff.

The units are comprised of narrated Power Point presentations, videos, short texts, case studies, information on further resources, and a simple quiz at the end to check understanding and evidence engagement in the IFSTAL programme. The contents of the subsections of each unit are clearly listed on the left hand side menu (which includes shortcuts), and a progress bar helps students to see how close they are to completing the unit.

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In Unit 1: Introduction to the Food System, we provide a basic overview of food systems, the key concepts and terms. This includes asking why we should take a systemic interest in food, who is involved, and how it all fits together. It is split in to three sections: 1) What is the food system? 2) What are the big issues? 3) Examples of food systems challenges. Topics covered include: food security and health, the environment, animal and human health. Towards the end are three examples of food systems challenges around animal-sourced foods, antimicrobial (antibiotic) resistance and food packaging. The quiz is short and made up of simple multiple-choice questions.

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Upon completion, students should:

  • Understand what is meant by “food system” and be able to describe the elements in food system conceptual models, including actors and activities, drivers, outcomes, feedbacks and interactions.
  • Appreciate the value and role of various and disparate food system sectors, disciplines and their approaches.
  • Articulate the key challenges and opportunities facing food systems and their interconnected nature (for example sustainability, nutrition, animal and human health, food security, governance, business and socio-cultural outcomes).

For those able to attend the workshops, we will be learning about and practicing ‘rich pictures’ – an inclusive participatory method used in systems thinking to map complex problems and identify points for potential interventions.


Log in to the Portal to find out more about the online units and the upcoming workshops at your local institution. If you have any questions contact your local Education Coordinator or post in our online forum.

Blog by Lauren Blake, IFSTAL Education Coordinator, LCIRAH.

Link to Unit 1: Introduction to the Food System (log-in required).

See the outline schedule of all IFSTAL events.

Workshop 1 details:

Wednesday 1st November 2017 

Warwick University – Oculus OC1.01 @ 4.15pm – 6pm.

Thursday 2nd November 2017

Oxford University – Gottmann A, School of Geography and the Environment @ 5 – 7 pm.

Reading University – 1L04, APD @ 6pm -7:30pm.

London – City University, Drysdale Building BLG07 @ 5 – 7pm. Register for London Workshop here.




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  1. […] through IFSTAL help you to better understand the food system through food systems thinking. In Unit 1 we looked at what the food system is, as well as some of the challenges that arise as a result of […]