The Institute for Sustainable Food Conference

Join the first Institute for Sustainable Food conference 'Food is our common language' on 16th April 2021.

Multi-generation family having a delicious dinner

Food is our common language

Food is what brings us together. Through food, we form our most profound and most complex relations with other humans and with our environments. Formed well, these relations support health and flourishing; formed badly, they create dysfunctions, inequalities, and degradation. 

In the UK, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the changes to food systems catalysed by Brexit have brought food into the spotlight in an unprecedented way. The ongoing challenges of environmental degradation, diet related morbidities, and food insecurity mean improving food systems from field to fork has never been more pressing.

This conference catalyses interdisciplinary conversations on the most urgent issues associated with food systems today under the umbrella of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield.

Our community of over 100 researchers is transforming how food is grown, produced and consumed. This conference showcases their work through short thematic provocations and interactive panel debates with leading voices in the interdisciplinary space of agri-food research. Through a series of exciting cross-disciplinary sessions and additional events, the conference encourages debate and networking to spark new research ideas and generate new connections. It strengthens links between existing research and demonstrates the holistic approach to agri-food system challenges which is the hallmark of the Institute for Sustainable Food.

Watch and listen again

Welcome from the Institute for Sustainable Food

Graphic which has typed on it ' the health of food, the environment and the global population is at the heart of everything we do.'

Food across research boundaries

At the Institute for Sustainable Food we are seeking new ways to understand the complexity of the food system. Our unique approach recognises that achieving a sustainable food future is both a socio-cultural and a technological problem. We place the health of our environment, food and global population at the core of our mission to make agri-food systems more sustainable. We are developing the innovations that will allow us to live within the limits imposed by the resources available to us and provide a sustainable food future for all.

Keynote speakers

black and white portrait of Henry Dimbleby

Henry Dimbleby

Henry Dimbleby was given the role of lead non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in March 2018. In June 2019 the Environment Secretary appointed Henry Dimbleby to lead the National Food
. Henry Dimbleby co-founded the Leon restaurant chain. He was a co-founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and co-authored The School Food Plan (2013), which set out actions to transform what children eat in schools and how they learn about food.

Portrait photo of Flora Hetherington. Flora is wearing a maroon coloured shirt and is stood against a bricked wall.

Flora Hetherington

Flora is a senior manager in UKRI’s Global Food Security Programme, a UK cross-government programme on food security research. She currently manages the Transforming UK Food Systems SPF Programme, which aims to fundamentally transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre. Addressing questions around what we should eat, produce and manufacture and what we should import, taking into account the complex interactions between health, environment and socioeconomic factors. Previous to this role Flora was an N8 AgriFood Knowledge Exchange Fellow at Durham University and she has a research background in plant developmental biology, focussing on how plants respond to nutrient deficiency in the soil.

Panel Session 1: 10:40am - 12:10pm

Outdoor image at day time of Asian woman feeding food to her grandson. The little child is opening his mouth wide to eat his lunch fed by his grandmother. Two people, Head and shoulder, horizontal composition and selective focus.


Healthy People in Healthy Environments

Our societies and environments are in a food crisis. In responding to urgent issues such as malnutrition, ecological degradation, or food poverty we may all too easily lose sight of the big picture. The various demands of a sustainable and healthy food system must be balanced to ensure research does not simply reinforce existing inequalities. Reflecting on the challenge of creating such research, in this session our speakers and panellists engage with the following provocation:

How can we embed justice in agri-food research?

Headshot of Michelle Patel. She is facing the camera and there is a green background with white trees on it.

Keynote speaker

Michelle Patel

Michelle Patel is the Head of Social Science and Strategic Insight at the Food Standards Agency. With nearly twenty years in Government and a background in communications she remains an endlessly curious scholar of public perception. With a deep interest in how citizens can influence policy making she is fortunate to lead a fine team of researchers and to have access to leading experts and a full range of social science tools to understand how and why people do what they do when it comes to food.

Elliott Woodhouse

Elliott's profile

Department of Philosophy

Panel Session 2: 1:00pm - 2:30pm

Cropped shot of young woman receiving a box of fresh organic food delivery at the front door.


Continuity and Discontinuity in the Pursuit of Sustainable Food

Change comes in many forms: the complex timeline of policy change, the insidious creep of climatic disturbance, or the sudden shock of a pandemic. As food systems and their contexts change, what can we learn from history in shaping better food futures, and what accepted wisdoms need debunking? What adaptations are required to ensure food sustainability and security? In this session our speakers and panellists engage with the following provocation:

What can we learn from change events to facilitate positive transformation?

Professor Tim Lang from City University of London speaking at a lectern with a green background

Keynote speaker

Professor Tim Lang

Tim Lang has been Professor of Food Policy at City University London's Centre for Food Policy since 2002. He founded the Centre in 1994. After a PhD in social psychology at Leeds University, he became a hill farmer in the 1970s in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire which shifted his attention to food policy, where it has been ever since. For years, he's engaged in academic and public research and debate about its direction, locally to globally. His abiding interest is how policy addresses the mixed challenge of being food for the environment, health, social justice, and citizens.

Dr Katie Adolphus

Research Fellow, University of Leeds

Dr Adolphus research profile

Panel Session 3: 2:50pm - 4:20pm

hydroponics pots vs soil


Emerging Food Landscapes

Session outline: what is the future of and tensions associated with the use of technology in the future of farming under a changing climate? What are the emerging tensions around different innovations? How may the changing technologies and practices impact on the future of farming landscapes and livelihoods? In this session our speakers and panellists engage with the following provocation:

What is the future of agricultural landscapes?

Portrait photo of Sue Pritchard

Keynote speaker

Sue Pritchard

Sue is the Chief Executive of Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and is focused on leading the organisation in its mission to bring people together to find radical and practical ways to transform our food system and improve our climate, nature, health and economy. Sue brings extensive experience working with leaders in businesses, governments and enterprises, blending the academic and the practical for sustainable systems change.

Portrait photo of George Coiley. He is wearing a striped blue and white shite against a background of trees and grass.

George Coiley

PhD Student, Department of Politics

Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures

Closing session: 4:40pm - 5:10pm

Conference closing session

Here we close the conference with a discussion and summary from Institute directors Professor Duncan Cameron and Professor Peter Jackson, chaired by Dr Anna Krzywoszynska.

The winners of the pump priming competition will also be announced!