Public lecture 2021: Communicating the climate change impacts of food

In May 2021 we welcomed Sarah Bridle and Dan Crossley to our annual public lecture to discuss the challenges of communicating the climate change impacts of food.

Chaired by the IFSTAL Programme Leader, Dr John Ingram of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, the recording is just over an hour.

The event generated a large audience and a lot of feedback. After the lecture, we reflected on the thought-provoking discussion as a team and considered the points of view raised in the chat box. Here’s our take on the event.

What did the IFSTAL team think about the event?

“I really liked the format of two speakers from different backgrounds addressing the same topic, and with the assistance from the chair, conducting a very interesting dialogue.  I thought that they all did well to stay ‘on topic’ as with a subject like this one it is very easy to expand into other areas as the parallel conversation in the chat showed.”


‘The discussion with the two speakers made me realise that, while it is very important, it is also very difficult to communicate information on the environmental impact of foods to the citizens and consumers in an effective and meaningful way in order to enable them to take informed decisions when purchasing their foods’


“I was particularly taken by how well balanced the discussion was, given that one speaker came from a very physical sciences background, and the other from a societal and strongly-stakeholder conscious perspective.”

Creating a food citizen world: a toolkit from the Food Ethics Council

Burning (anonymised) comments and questions from the audience

  • Most of the concerns about combatting climate change through the food lens that tend to stand out, specifically things like packaging and information-related-to-food seems to suggest that food-in-packets-with-words is the main way people eat food. This is a very ‘developed country’ way of thinking of things.
  • How does our communication about climate change, food systems, and their interventions relate to the future and how reactive are we being instead of proactive? If we look at our programmes, policies, and solutions, how do they account for a long-term view? And why is it that this is another thing that is considered a binary view? Why is it short-term vs. long-term and global food systems vs. local
  • There is a lack of substance on the consumer communication end, and I wonder if some of this is simply an oversight, because historically the distribution and retail sites have been responsible for consumer communication and education, e.g. in recipes, in nutrition and in product benefits. The research is clear that now consumers want to know the hard facts about sustainability, and it is not clear where this is coming from
  • We need a localised, useful pamphlet sent to every farmer NOW covering water harvesting / bore holes / mixed herbal ley seeds / benefits of cover crops, strip tillage, direct drilling regen ag[riculture] and support with mob grazing… University students can get contacts and map of who is growing and producing what in every county, then support necessary change to reduce supply chains.
  • ‘Less sustainable’ is loaded and not true. The measurements are inaccurate, do not reflect SLGHG [short lived greenhouse gas emissions] modelling and ignore the broader concept of NET zero. Efficiently-produced meat using local forage is not less sustainable and produces vital outputs as part of a circular economy. Its about looking at the system in a holistic way

While at IFSTAL we have been running virtual sessions for several years now, and more frequently during the pandemic, this was our first online public event.

We were overwhelmed by the interest and interaction, and as a result are planning more accessible events next year. Watch this space!

About the speakers

Prof Sarah Bridle

Sarah is a Professor in the Physics Department at the University of Manchester working on food and climate change, and cosmology. She is also the author of Food and Climate Change without the Hot Air, a book aimed at the lay person about how different foods contribute to climate change, and what we can do about it.

Dan Crossley

Dan is Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council. He has worked on food sustainability issues for over 15 years, leading work on a range of issues, from our relationship with meat to tackling household food insecurity to power dynamics in the food system