Zero Hunger

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Sustainable Food Consumption: Beyond Promoting Sustainable Diets and Reducing Food Wastage

  • Hamid El BilaliEmail author
Living reference work entry


Sustainable consumption: “The use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimising the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life-cycle, so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations” (Norwegian Ministry of the Environment 1994).

Sustainable food consumption: “For food consumption to be sustainable it has to be safe and healthy in amount and quality; and it has to be realized through means that are economically, socially, culturally and environmentally sustainable – minimizing waste and pollution and not jeopardizing the needs of others” (Reisch 2010).


Agricultural production has always been a major concern for governments as they seek to achieve food security for their populations. Improvements in agriculture production, food processing technology, and transportation helped to make food more available, accessible, and affordable. However, these changes have had implications also in terms of food consumption patterns and diets. Generally speaking, intensification of agricultural production combined with globalization made food less healthy, diverse, and sustainable and generated negative externalities for the environment and human health alike. While the food-related debate is still dominated by food security concerns, more attention has been recently drawn by issues such as sustainable diets and sustainable food consumption, especially in developed countries.

Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) was recognized as essential for sustainable development at the United Nations’ Earth Summit in Rio, 1992. The concept of SCP was later recognized in 2002 in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). In 2012, the need to shift toward sustainable patterns of consumption and production was endorsed by the adoption of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (Box 1) at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20). More recently, SCP was also addressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The utmost aim of SDG 2 “Zero hunger” is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition” (United Nations 2015, p. 15). The reference here is to all forms of malnutrition, i.e., undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight/obesity. Also SDG 12 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” refers explicitly to “implement the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns” (United Nations 2015, p. 22). The 10YFP (see, One Planet network) represents a global framework for action to accelerate the shift toward SCP, and it includes the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme; other five multi-stakeholder programs are public procurement, buildings and construction, tourism, consumer information, and lifestyles and education. Food consumption patterns are crucial in determining not only the impacts of diets and eating habits but also in shaping agriculture production paradigms and models.

Box 1 The 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP)

The objectives of the 10YFP are (UNEP 2013):
  • To accelerate the shift toward SCP, by supporting regional and national policies and initiatives

  • To contribute to resource efficiency and decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation and resource use while creating decent jobs and economic opportunities and contributing to poverty eradication and shared prosperity

  • To mainstream SCP into sustainable development policies, programs, and strategies, as appropriate, including into poverty reduction strategies

  • To support capacity building and to facilitate access to financial and technical assistance for developing countries, by supporting the implementation of SCP activities at the regional, subregional, and national levels

  • To enable all stakeholders to share information and knowledge on SCP tools, initiatives, and best practices, raising awareness and enhancing cooperation and development of new partnerships – including public-private partnerships

From Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) to Sustainable Food Consumption

Sustainable consumption and production and sustainable consumption were first defined in 1994 at the Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption (Table 1). According to the European Topic Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (2018), key principles of SCP are improving quality of life without increasing environmental degradation, decoupling the link between economic growth and environmental degradation, applying life cycle thinking in all stages of production and consumption process, and guarding against the rebound effect (i.e., efficiency gains cancelled out by resulting increases in consumption). SCP concept is nowadays associated with a host of approaches and practices such as using less resource- and energy-intensive products, consuming differently, moving from material products to immaterial services, recycling (cf. circular economy), sharing use of goods and products (cf. shared economy), and using products with long life spans. The International Resource Panel (2018) argues that SCP can be one of the most cost-efficient and effective ways to achieve economic development, reduce environmental impacts, and advance human well-being.
Table 1

Definitions of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and sustainable consumption



Sustainable consumption and production

Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) is a holistic approach to minimizing negative environmental impacts from the production and consumption systems in society. SCP aims to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of products, services, and investments so that the needs of society are met without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs

Sustainable consumption

The use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials, and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations

Source: Norwegian Ministry of the Environment (1994)

Various forces shape consumption and related production patterns. These include structural economic and sociodemographic changes, sectoral trends, land use patterns, infrastructure, capital flows, and technological change. Consumption patterns further interact with globalization and international trade flows. Social factors, including values and learned habits, also play an important role (OECD 1999). The definition of sustainable consumption remains open to different interpretations; this is appropriate because the assessment of what is sustainable is site- and problem-specific and depends on social and political decisions (OECD 2002).

Sustainability of food systems is crucial to achieve SCP. In fact, food consumption has one of the highest environmental impacts of all consumption areas. Sustainable food consumption is linked, among others, to improving resource use efficiency while reducing resource degradation, pollution, and waste. Food consumption patterns are shaped by multiple biological, social/societal, technological, regulatory, cultural/religious, and economic factors. These factors determine also the sustainability of food choices and diets. The FAO-UNEP Sustainable Food Systems Programme puts that

Sustainable consumption and production in food and agriculture is a consumer-driven, holistic concept that refers to the integrated implementation of sustainable patterns of food consumption and production, respecting the carrying capacities of natural ecosystems. It requires consideration of all the aspects and phases in the life of a product, from production to consumption, and includes such issues as sustainable lifestyles, sustainable diets, food losses and food waste management and recycling, voluntary sustainability standards, and environmentally friendly behaviours and methods […] (FAO 2012a, p. 2)

The British Sustainable Development Commission (2005) points out that food consumption should meet different environmental, economic, social, and health criteria to be considered sustainable: is safe, healthy, and nutritious for consumers; can meet the needs of the less well-off people; provides a viable livelihood for farmers, processors, and retailers, whose employees enjoy good working environment; is affordable for all sectors of society; respects environmental and biophysical limits in its production and processing while reducing energy consumption and improving the environment; respects the highest standards of animal welfare; and supports local rural economies and the diversity of rural culture.
Different concepts have been developed in the last decades around food sustainability and sustainable food, and these include sustainable diets and sustainable food systems (Table 2). The ERA-Net SUSFOOD (SUStainable FOOD production and consumption) project defines sustainability in the food area as “A food system that supports food security, makes optimal use of natural and human resources, and respects biodiversity and ecosystems for present and future generations, and which is culturally acceptable and accessible, environmentally sound, economically fair and viable, and provides the consumer with nutritionally adequate, safe, healthy and affordable food” (Kristensen et al. 2014, p. 8).
Table 2

Definitions of some concepts related to food sustainability




Sustainable diets

Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, and nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy while optimizing natural and human resources

Burlingame and Dernini 2012

Sustainable food system

A sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food security and 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

HLPE 2014, p. 31

A sustainable food system exists when production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated and related practices regenerate rather than degrade natural resources, are socially just and accessible, and support the development of local communities and economies

American Dietetic Association 2007, p. 16

According to FAO (2017), a number of global trends are influencing the overall sustainability of agro-food systems and food security. These trends and drivers shape how the current food system faces many challenges as well as the degree of success in addressing food insecurity and malnutrition (Table 3).
Table 3

Sustainability of agriculture and food – main trends and challenges



Poverty, inequality, and food insecurity

Global economic growth, investment, trade, and food prices

Population growth, urbanization, and aging

Competition for natural resources

Climate change

Agricultural productivity and innovation

Conflicts, crises, and natural disasters

Nutrition transition

Structural change and employment


Changing food systems

Food losses and waste

Development finance

Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition

Making food systems more efficient, inclusive, and resilient

Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand

Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base

Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards

Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality

Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration

Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters, and conflicts

Preventing transboundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats

Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

Source: FAO (2017)

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted in a discussion paper (Moomaw et al. 2012) the critical role of food consumption patterns in achieving sustainable food systems. There are three core components necessary to deliver a sustainable food system for everyone: enough food of balanced nutritional quality must be produced and available for consumption at the household level; a sufficient and balanced range of commodities must be regionally and locally accessible for consumers; and a diverse range of nutritious products must be affordable for consumers at all income levels. Moomaw et al. (2012) pointed out that trends in consumption patterns that are affected by many factors – such as growing population, increasing urbanization, rising incomes and purchasing power – shape food systems and have far-reaching implications in terms of global food security.

Pathways and Strategies for Transition Toward Sustainable Food Consumption

How to change the current unsustainable food system is a fundamental question for sustainability and agri-food scholars. According to Freibauer et al. (2011), there are three pathways to effect transitions toward sustainable food production and consumption: consumer-driven pathway, technology-driven pathway, and organizational innovation-driven pathway. Transition toward sustainable food consumption implies addressing the first nutrition transition (more calories, meat, sugar, vegetable oil) while promoting the second nutrition transition (less meat and more vegetal-based foods).

In order to answer the question of how will food systems sustainably feed 8.5 billion people in 2030, the World Economic Forum (Schwab 2017) developed a scenario analysis (Box 2). The analysis clearly shows that social and ecological priorities (e.g., decreasing inequality, assuring intergenerational equity) should be at the center of redesigned food systems.

Box 2 Future of Global Food Systems

The scenario analysis considers different predictable forces of change (i.e., global population growth, climate change, macroeconomic trends such as increasing inequality, triple burden of malnutrition, natural resources depletion, geopolitical dynamics, innovation, and technologies) as well as numerous critical uncertainties (e.g., demand shift, market connectivity, social and economic changes, technology advances, environmental and political trends). The analysis yielded four scenarios for the future of food systems:
  • Survival of the richest (sluggish global economy and a stark division between the “haves” and “have-nots” in a world of disconnected markets and resource-intensive consumption)

  • Unchecked consumption (high GDP growth with high environmental cost in a world with resource-intensive consumption and strong market connectivity)

  • Open-source sustainability (linking resource-efficient consumption and highly connected markets increase international cooperation on innovation)

  • Local is the new global (resource-rich countries focus on local foods in a world of resource-efficient consumption and fragmented local markets, whereas hunger hotspots develop in import-dependent regions)

These scenarios have numerous implications in terms of future transformation of food systems: consumption will break or make global sustainability; a fundamental redesign of food production systems is required to put sustainable and nutritious food on every plate; climate change will pose a significant threat on food systems; and food system dynamics are likely to exacerbate intra- and inter-nation inequality.

Lang and Barling (2012) identified two overarching perspectives on food security: a primarily agricultural-focused perspective centered on raising production to solve undernutrition and hunger problems and a food systems approach, which accepts the need to address a complex array of problems that are not just related to production. The production-oriented paradigm has been widely questioned by the emerging food system paradigm. According to Garnett (2014), broadly three perspectives are emerging on how to achieve sustainable food security and food system sustainability: efficiency oriented, demand restraint, and food system transformation. FAO ( 2012b) pointed out that ending hunger requires fostering sustainable intensification of food production, encouraging sustainable food consumption, and reducing food loss and waste. This can be achieved only through a deep transition and transformation in the current global food system.

By 2030, food demand is projected to rise by at least 20% globally, with the largest increases in sub-Saharan Africa (+55%) and South Asia (+25%) (World Bank 2017). According to Gladek et al. (2016), addressing food insecurity challenges implies reducing overall food demand (e.g., through reducing food waste); progressively shifting to lower impact, less resource-intensive food sources; ensuring that scarce resources (land, water) are allocated to food production as a priority over nonfood uses; improving economic access to food; and improving farmer productivity in the developing world. Foley et al. (2011) discussed the potential strengths and weaknesses of four strategies proposed to meet the twin challenges of global food security and sustainability, namely, stopping agriculture expansion particularly into tropical forests, closing yield gaps especially of staple crops, increasing agricultural resource (e.g., water, nutrients, and chemical inputs) efficiency (cf. sustainable agricultural intensification), and increasing food delivery by shifting diets (cf. closing diet gap) and reducing food wastage.

Rising food demand and continuing population growth coupled with negative impacts of climate change on agriculture add to the challenge of sustaining and accelerating progress in reducing food deficit across all regions (World Bank 2016). The World Resources Institute (2017) proposed a menu of solutions to create a sustainable food future and sustainably close the food gap by 2050. These solutions fall into three categories: reducing growth in food consumption, increasing food production on existing agricultural land, and reducing the environmental impact of food production. Reduction of food consumption growth can be achieved by eliminating obesity, reducing losses and waste, and shifting toward sustainable diets with less animal products.

Promotion of Sustainable Diets

To address food and nutrition security challenges, food systems have to undergo radical transformation for improving equity and resource efficiency and transitioning toward sustainable diets (IPES-Food 2015). The concept of sustainable diets (Box 3) can play a key role as a way of maintaining nutritional well-being and health while ensuring the sustainability for future food security (Berry et al. 2015).

Increased welfare is a major driver of changes in food consumption patterns. Changes in the food environment (i.e., physical, economic, political, and sociocultural context in which consumers make their decisions about acquiring, preparing, and consuming food) affect how people access, prepare, and consume food (HLPE 2017). Populations in many world countries are experiencing a ‘nutrition transition’ characterized by a shift away from traditional diets (rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables), toward diets that are high in animal proteins, refined cereals, fats, sugar, and salt. Ongoing dietary habit changes involve intricate cultural and social traditions and values. In fact, dietary patterns with pronounced regional and cultural differences are shifting – due, among others, to rising incomes, urbanization, and urban aspirations – toward consumption patterns characterized by higher consumption of animal products and processed foods, with consequently, high resources (energy, water, and land) demand (FAO 2006; Stehfest et al. 2009; Pelletier and Tyedmers 2010). These shifts in dietary patterns have considerable health and environmental impacts (WWW-UK 2013). Furthermore, animal-based diets are associated with the rise of the incidence of obesity and other diet-related diseases (Popkin and Gordon-Larsen 2004).

Box 3 Sustainable Diets

Sustainable diet concept started to be explored in the early 1980s, to recommend diets healthier for consumers as well as for the environment (Gussow and Clancy 1986). The interest in sustainable diets has been recently raised by many UN agencies (e.g., FAO, UNEP). In 2010, FAO and Bioversity International organized an international scientific symposium on “Biodiversity and sustainable diets.” As one of the major outcomes of the symposium, a consensus position was reached on a definition of sustainable diets (Burlingame and Dernini 2012). This definition encompasses aspects related to biodiversity protection, nutrition, and health, food availability and affordability, optimization of natural and human resources, and cultural relevance. Sustainable diets are considered as an important element for a shift toward sustainable food consumption patterns (Sustainable Development Commission 2009; Tukker et al. 2009; UNEP 2017). Nevertheless, it is clear nowadays that success of sustainable diets won’t depend only on whether they deliver environmental outcomes but also on whether they address a broad range of societal challenges (e.g., fair trade, animal welfare, sustainable agriculture, social acceptance, and everyday adoptability) (WWW 2013).

To achieve a fairer distribution of food-related environmental impact, White (2000) suggests to transition from high-calorie diets to low-calorie ones and/or to move from high-resource-intensive meat-based diets to plant-based ones. This is what the Union of Concerned Scientists (2012) refers to as plant the plate approach. According to WWF (2016), “[…] a dietary shift in high-income countries – through consuming less animal protein – and reducing waste along the food chain could contribute significantly to producing enough food within the boundaries of one planet” (p. 14). In fact, shifting to more sustainable dietary patterns would sustain future production as it would slow down climate change, the depletion of resources (e.g., energy, water, land) and biodiversity, and contribute to fair distribution of wealth. It would also yield benefits in terms of reducing the incidence of noncommunicable diseases (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016).

Also the World Resources Institute (2016) called for shifting diets of populations that consume high amounts of calories, protein, and animal-based foods for a sustainable food future. Shifting diets (cf. foods types, combination, and quantity) can be achieved through different interconnected strategies: reducing overconsumption of calories (cf. decreasing obesity and overweight), reducing overconsumption of proteins from animal-based foods (cf. traditional Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diet), and reducing consumption of red meat specifically (e.g., shift from red meat to poultry, legumes, etc.). In fact, several scholars consider overeating and overconsumption (i.e. the difference between the amount of food a person consumes and what a person would really need) as a form of food wastage. In this way, they include overweight and obesity within the debate on sustainable diets and food wastage (Smil 2004; Alexander et al. 2017). However, achieving sustainable dietary habits implies also integrating social, cultural, and personal values around eating meat into future dietary recommendations. Macdiarmid et al. (2016) showed that there is a lack of awareness of the link between meat consumption and climate change (perception that personal meat consumption plays a minimal role in climate change) and resistance to reducing personal meat consumption. This resistance to change can be explained by the fact that eating meat is associated with pleasure and different personal, social, and cultural values.

Achieving sustainable diets for all raises important policy and ethical difficulties such as those related to the universality of a sustainable diet and impacts of policy measures (Lang and Barling 2012). However, as there is no single ideal diet for everyone, the exact makeup of a sustainable (cf. healthy, diversified and balanced) diet will probably vary not only depending on individual needs but also food preferences, dietary customs, geo-climatic and cultural context, as well as locally available foods (Allen et al. 2006). Therefore, also in this case, there might be different pathways of transition to regionally and culturally adjusted sustainable diets, e.g., Mediterranean diet (Box 4) and New Nordic Diet. Although many models, metrics, and indicators have been developed for assessing diet sustainability, a coherent framework is still missing, as well as a move from informal to formal processes of policy creation (Lang 2014).

Box 4 The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is considered as an example of sustainable diets (Dernini et al. 2013, 2017; HLPE 2017). It was recognized by UNESCO in November 2010 as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The Mediterranean diet (MD) was first presented by Ancel Keys in the 1960s (Keys et al. 2017). It includes lots of olives and olive oil, fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy, fish, nuts, and legumes but relatively little red meat (Bach-Faig et al. 2011). A meta-analysis of 50 studies, including half a million subjects, has confirmed that eating a Mediterranean diet has a wide variety of health benefits for lifestyle diseases especially cardiovascular diseases and diabetes (Kastorini et al. 2011). Another meta-analysis on the Mediterranean diet and health status (Sofi et al. 2008) shows that adherence to a Mediterranean diet can significantly decrease the risk of overall mortality, mortality from cardiovascular diseases, incidence of or mortality from cancer, and incidence of chronic neurogenerative diseases (i.e., Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s). In the Med Diet 4.0 multidimensional framework, Dernini et al. (2017) present, in a parallel way, four sustainability benefits of the Mediterranean diet, i.e., low environmental impacts and richness in biodiversity, high sociocultural food values, positive local economic returns, and major health and nutrition benefits. They also called for a revitalization of the Mediterranean diet by improving its current perception (especially among the young) not only as a healthy diet but also as a sustainable lifestyle model. Galli et al. (2017) showed that current food consumption patterns are a substantial driver of the ecological deficit in the Mediterranean region and recommended shifting to a calorie-adequate diet and changing dietary patterns (e.g., reduction of meat consumption as per the Mediterranean diet) to reduce the region’s ecological footprint.

Reduction of Food Wastage

Food wastage (i.e., food losses and waste – FLW) is undermining the sustainability of the current food consumption patterns. About a third of the global food production is lost or wasted (FAO 2011; HLPE 2014) with severe impacts on the world’s economy and environment. Reducing food wastage would ease the pressure on agroecological systems to meet the growing food demand, thus, improving food systems sustainability and ensuring food security. Wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition but also precious resources such as water, land, and energy. Indeed, food loss and wastage amount to major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor, and capital, contribute to climate change, and have a direct impact on climate change (Kummu et al. 2012; FAO 2013; HLPE 2014). According to FAO (2012), minimizing waste can also reduce water demand. Reducing waste across the whole food system would also improve input use efficiency by increasing the amount of available food for a given level of inputs (Ingram 2011).

FLW are also undermining the very foundations of food security. In fact, food wastage affects all the four components of sustainable food security, i.e., availability, access, utilization, and stability. Therefore, the reduction of the amount of food lost or wasted is now presented as essential to improve food security (FAO 2012b; HLPE 2014). The amount of food produced on farmers’ fields is much more than is necessary to feed humanity. Nevertheless, losses of food between the farmer’s field and the dinner table are huge. FLW occur along the whole supply chain (harvesting, transport, storage, packaging, processing, wholesale, and retail trade) and where food is consumed (FAO 2011). Losses in the first part of the food chain are more important in developing countries, while food wastage at the retail and consumer levels is more relevant in industrialized countries (FAO 2011).

It is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach (FAO 2011; HLPE 2014). When converted into calories, global FLW amount to approximately 24% of all food produced (Kummu et al. 2012; Lipinski et al. 2013). According to Smil (2004), global farmers are able to produce food that is equivalent to 4,600 kcal/capita/day, but average usable dietary energy is just 2,000 kcal/capita/day. However, 600 kcal/capita/day are lost because of inefficiencies in the harvesting, transportation, storage, and processing stages. Food retail causes additional waste (equal to 800 kcal/capita/day). Kummu et al. (2012) pointed out that only vegetable products loss and waste correspond to 614 kcal/cap/day, i.e., 24% in terms of energy produced for human consumption. FAO et al. (2017) reported that all the world’s 815 million hungry people could be lifted out of energy/protein malnourishment on less than a quarter of food wasted in the USA and Europe. Clay (2011) highlighted that if humanity could eliminate current waste levels, it would halve the amount of extra food needed by 2050, thus allowing rethinking the argument for agricultural production intensification.

FLW reduction constitutes a significant lever to achieve food security and improve food chain efficiency (FAO 2011). Innovation along the food chain is crucial in the reduction of both FLW amount and extent (Di Terlizzi et al. 2016). The European Commission (2010) identified a wide range of food waste prevention solutions: logistical improvements, informational tools, training programs, regulatory measures, food redistribution programs, and awareness campaigns. Solutions to reduce FLW include good practices (e.g., good hygienic practices – GHPs), food chain actors’ coordination, investments, behavioral change, surplus food and by-product valorization, and policy coordination. Consumer food waste reduction implies implementation of technical and behavior-driven solutions in food services solutions, hospitality sector, and households (HLPE 2014). Potential solutions to FLW reduction are also quite different across countries. Improving food supply chain efficiency seems to be the key for developing countries, while developed countries should conduct consumer education campaigns and facilitate increased surplus food donation (cf. food banks) (European Commission 2010).

Policy Interventions for Promoting Sustainable Food Consumption

Governments have an important role to play in promoting sustainable consumption. They can do so using a combination of economic, regulatory, and social instruments (OECD 2002): economic instruments, e.g., fees, taxes, and subsidies; regulatory instruments, e.g., regulations, directives, and bans; and social instruments, e.g., public information and awareness campaigns, education, participatory decision-making processes, support to voluntary citizen initiatives, partnerships with other actors (private sector, NGOs, etc.). Likewise, Garnett et al. (2015) categorized interventions to shift eating patterns into fiscal measures (e.g., taxes, subsidies), regulatory and trade interventions (e.g., public procurement), voluntary and industry approaches (e.g., certification, nutrition labeling), interventions focusing on the context and norms of consumption (e.g., school-based interventions such as cooking and gardening projects), information, and education raising approaches. It seems that a good approach to promote sustainable food consumption patterns is to put emphasis on the health benefits, which are more easily noticed by the public. Recently, the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems (Willett et al. 2019) outlined five specific and implementable strategies to achieving a “Great Food Transformation”: (1) seeking national and international commitment to shift toward healthy diets, (2) re-orienting agricultural priorities from producing high food quantities to producing healthy food, (3) intensifying in a sustainable way food production to increase high-quality output, (4) promoting strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans, and (5) at least halving food losses and waste, in line with the SDGs (p. 3).

Reisch et al. (2013) discuss various policy interventions, including market-based initiatives (e.g., fat tax, junk food tax), direct regulations (e.g., bans), information-based instruments (e.g., awareness raising campaigns), and self-commitment instruments (e.g., public food procurement). These policy instruments have different objectives such as improving public health, addressing environmental issues (e.g., reduction of GHG emissions), or reducing food wastage. The authors highlight that a good understanding of the functioning of the whole food system as well as all dependencies and interactions between its components (production, processing, distribution, consumption) is crucial for the production of effective policies to foster sustainable food consumption. That implies considering the full range of drivers and factors that relate to agriculture production, food supply, food availability, food access, information and marketing, lifestyle, health, etc. Therefore, the authors call for integrative, cross-sectoral, and population-wide policies that address all drivers of unsustainable food production and consumption.

Moomaw et al. (2012) identified many opportunities for policy actions by the public sectors to promote sustainable food consumption. These include reducing subsidies that encourage unsustainable food consumption patterns, using public food procurement as a catalyst for change in agro-food systems, adopting “sustainable diets” as a policy lens, conducing targeted public awareness campaigns (cf. food waste), and implementing advertising and marketing regulatory measures. However, it is also vital to improve intergovernmental policy coordination for sustainable food systems.

Public policies are also crucial in food wastage reduction. Different models of food recovery hierarchy provide a pyramid framework for prioritizing interventions that reduce waste of food, based on the potential for environmental benefits and resource use efficiency (HLPE 2014). For instance, the “food recovery hierarchy” of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prioritizes prevention/source reduction, followed by recovery of surplus food for humans, recovery for animals, industrial uses, and composting or anaerobic digestion, with incineration or landfilling as the least preferred option (EPA 2016). These food recovery options are included in many governmental plans to address food wastage (Gorski et al. 2017).

Different public policies (agricultural subsidies, tax incentives, marketing regulations, awareness campaigns, public procurement) can be enacted to discourage food wastage and promote sustainable food consumption. Proactive smart policies are needed to redesign the whole food system and to foster transition toward sustainability. Approaches to smart policy-making include adopting a “whole of government” approach to design agriculture, food, nutrition, and environmental policies, assessing and integrating the true costs of food (integrating health and environmental costs), and creating an enabling environment for protecting and nurturing sustainable technologies and niche innovations (Schwab 2017).


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly shows that transition toward environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable food consumption patterns is fundamental for achieving sustainable development. Therefore, it is crucial to foster transition toward sustainable, inclusive, nutritious, healthy, and resilient food systems that achieve sustainable food security for present and future generations. A transition to sustainability is necessary for a new management of food systems. Promoting sustainable diets and reducing food wastage are two concrete steps in this direction. Besides being nutritionally adequate, sustainable food consumption patterns can bring about other benefits in terms of public health, environmental integrity, economic prosperity, and social equity and justice. Nevertheless, it is crucial to address problems in the consumption side of the food chain while considering linkages between production and consumption. In fact, changes in both production and consumption are necessary to ensure more sustainable food systems and contribute to food and nutrition security. For that, the adoption of a food system approach – that considers and operationalizes consumption-production linkages – is vital. Sustainable food consumption and production patterns can be promoted by incorporating sustainability principles in all food security dimensions (availability, access, utilization, and stability).



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Development Research (CDR)University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU)ViennaAustria

Section editors and affiliations

  • Mohammad Sadegh Allahyari
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Agricultural ManagementRasht Branch, Islamic Azad University, RashtRashtIran