Early career researcher abstracts

Protein transitions to save the world: what can we learn from history?

Tamsin Blaxter
University of Oxford
Much of the conversation about achieving a sustainable global food system revolves around protein and protein transitions. We need to halt the trend towards consuming ever more environmentally costly animal protein—and, in the Global North, reverse it by replacing meat, dairy and eggs with plant proteins. This argument has inspired an influx of venture capital and publicly funded research into new, high-tech protein foods (plant-based alternative meats, cultivated and fermented foods / single-cell proteins, mycoproteins, etc.). In wider culture, protein is the ‘charismatic nutrient’ (Kimura 2013) of the moment, dominating food advertising, and conversations about diet and health.
However, none of this is historically unique. Between 1955 and 1974, huge quantities of aid money and private investment were poured into the development of novel protein foods, both to avert a predicted food crisis driven by overpopulation and to address fears of contemporary protein malnutrition. Between 1890 and 1918, overestimation of the human dietary requirement for protein drove food advertising and skewed public policy. In retrospect, both periods featured misallocation of resources and a myopic focus in conversations about food. With this poster, I will explore parallels with today and ask how we can learn from protein’s past."

Borderless eating: an invitation to think about places of origin differently

Lydia Medland
University of Bristol
It is commonplace to think about food as coming from a country, but does it? A country, or state is a socially and politically constructed entity that conceptually limits territorial space. Foods however, originate in specific places with particular ecologies and populations that work to nurture, harvest and package them ready for their distribution towards hubs and networks which provide the shops, markets and warehouses from which consumers source their goods.
What if we were more specific? A country of origin is one way of simplifying location but identifying where foods are from more specifically could help communities in those places become more visible and their demands more heard. Naming the specific places where intensive production of staple goods occur, just as the locations of fine wines are named, could improve consumer awareness and responsiveness to problematic impacts of food production occurring such places, be they near or far. One example of this, tomatoes, will be explored. This intervention is given as an insight to a book that is currently in preparation; Freshly Picked: enclaves in the global food system. The manuscript draws on ethnographic fieldwork with tomato pickers in Morocco and insights from the World Ecology perspective.

Food waste and the domestic fridge

Emma Atkins
University of Bristol
Food waste can be described as a global ‘scandal’ (Stuart, 2009). The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations estimates that a third of food grown for human consumption is thrown away, equalling 1.3 billion tonnes a year (FAO, 2011). In so-called developed countries, most of this waste comes from households, yet policy interventions rarely venture outside educational campaigns which have negligible effects. Little attention has been given to seemingly mundane technology that may be greatly influencing household food waste: the fridge. This project takes an object-centric approach and examines whether the design of the fridge – its size, shape, features and place in our homes and society – might be driving food out of our hands and into the bin. Using methods to look into the past (why do we have the fridges we have today?), the present (how are people using fridges in their everyday lives?) and the future (what might the future of the fridge look like, and who decides?) we can open the “white box” to uncover to what extent the fridge is complicit in food waste creation and rethink its design for a sustainable future.

The Better Food System Index: evidence from a multidimensional index assessing dietary, environmental and affordability aspects of the food system at the state level in the US

Sabina Crowe
Northeastern University London
International initiatives for systematic data collection on key components of food systems, primarily led by agencies and civic organizations (e.g. the Union of Concerned Scientists), have yielded valuable insights into the factors that drive changes in food systems. However, more research is needed in order to get a clearer and up to date picture of the challenges and opportunities that exist in local, state-level food systems in the US. Given the geographic expanse of the country and the stark differences between its various regions, one can expect substantial inter-regional differences in terms of sustainability. This paper computes two sustainability indexes at the state level: a sustainability score for US household food purchases - i.e. a “Better Food Purchase Index” - as well as an overall multidimensional food system sustainability index - i.e. a “Better Food System Index”. The former is constructed using NIELSENIQ US household scanner panel data for 2020, while the latter is based on multiple indicators spanning several dimensions - such as nutritional (including the “Better Food Purchase Index”), health-related, environmental, social, economic - for which data is publicly available. US states are then ranked based on their scores and policy recommendations are made.

Leveraging the Power of Small-Scale Household Surveys in Agricultural Research for Development

Léo Gorman
University of Bristol
Small-scale farms are crucial for food systems and rural livelihoods in lower- and middle-income countries. These farms already experience disproportionately high rates of poverty and food insecurity and their issues will likely be exacerbated by climate change and population growth. International development organisations use household surveys to understand the current challenges smallholders face and how to address them. The majority of these surveys are conducted unilaterally and these data are usually not made available to the global community. Incomparability and closed research practices make it difficult to build up a body of evidence on “which interventions work where, and for which farmers?”.
In this lightning talk I will present a modular set of tools which could tip the equilibrium of researcher behaviour towards more favourable practices. The tools facilitate survey design, data processing, data linkage, and are designed in a way which allows for further development by the research community. The tool has been used to process data from over 35,000 surveys with smallholder farmers in over 31 countries. We present the tool specification, describe the impact of these data, and discuss our vision for the future of household surveys in Agricultural Research for Development.

Struggling Students: A Qualitative Study into the Impact of Food Inflation on Bristol Student Food Security

Alex Montgomery
University of West England (UWE)
This research project explores how higher education students in Bristol are responding to current food price inflation. With 40-year highs of 17% reached in December 2022, this research delves into the coping strategies employed by students to feed themselves. In-depth interviews found that students experience financial and personal (physical and mental health) impacts as a result of food inflation. This has prompted the adoption of coping mechanisms ranging from working longer hours to theft in order to stay fed. It also established that students want access to healthy, affordable, and tasty food that is produced in a way that supports our fragile ecosystems rather than damaging them. More work needs to be focused on how we can bring about this new food system paradigm to feed everyone sustainably.

Co-designing low impact, local solutions to strongly sustainable food systems

Ursula Davis
University of Bristol
Our project recognises the critical need to transition to sustainable food production systems to reduce the impact of human activities on the environment whilst contributing to livelihoods (Galli et al., 2018). Currently, food production accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of global habitable land and 70% of global freshwater withdrawals (Ritchie & Roser, 2020). Thus, there is a real need to move away from over-consumption to value-need based production (Nesterova and Robra, 2022).
In light of this, we focus on co-designing solutions to enable transitions to sustainable food systems. Considering an apple supply chain, we adopt co-design principles and engage with stakeholders including growers, processors, and manufacturers to map the supply chain. Together, we identify opportunities and needs to realise low impact sustainable food systems. So far, our work has reaffirmed the need to connect local supply chain actors to redistribute value across the supply chain. Additionally, we recognise the need to reconsider what is “waste”, both as a physical resource and a concept. Our work will inform the development of a knowledge hub to serve as a networking platform and foster inclusive knowledge sharing, with the aim of empowering supply chain actors to embed true sustainability.

Evaluating the Resilience of Agro-Pastoral Livelihoods to Environmental Change in East Africa

Daniel Milner
University of Bristol
Agro-pastoralists typically live in semi-arid areas and rely on raising livestock and farming crops in varying proportion. The climate and their location within landscapes has a strong influence on the choice and success of their livelihoods. The long-term drought in East Africa – which is a symptom of climate change – has caused recent hardship. I present a method for livelihood identification as part of ongoing work monitoring the resilience of agro-pastoralists in two locations within East Africa, which will eventually comprise cross-sectional and high-frequency survey data, remote sensing, and spatial and temporal analysis.
Identifying livelihoods requires indicators that capture processes such as the level of intensification, prioritisation between arable, horticulture and pastoral, level of specialisation or diversification, composition of livestock herds and more. Employing the clustering algorithm HDBSCAN, a dendrogram of different smallholder livelihood strategies can be identified. Mapping the geographical location of each strategy within the landscape allows key environmental drivers to be recognised. Understanding future changes in the key environmental drivers provides insight into the level of resilience of each of the identified livelihood strategies.

Fertiliser price hikes – a crucial opportunity to adopt climate-smart techniques, or the last straw for coffee farmers?

Kate Jones
Cranfield University
Governments and food companies are pushing for regenerative food systems. However, farmers will drive this transition. 25 million smallholder farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee, but they often lack access to technologies and techniques to enhance production.
Reliance on expensive inputs such as fertiliser risks not only degrading soil and raising carbon emissions, but also negatively impacting coffee yields, productivity and livelihoods. Conversely, adopting regenerative techniques could increase climate change resilience and food insecurity while reducing input costs. However, there are trade-offs, including the potential yield loss associated with eliminating artificial inputs. Smallholder farmers’ voices need to be considered in this issue to ensure a just transition.
Insights will be shared from research undertaken sought 20 coffee farmers’ views on climate change, and the trade-offs associated with adoption of regenerative techniques at three coffee co-operatives in Kenya. Crucially, farmers agreed that regenerative agricultural practices are more of an opportunity than a risk, and are prepared to see yields go down if they can reduce their input costs. This shows one of the key trade-offs in the transition to regenerative agricultural practices – the potential for yield penalty – can be addressed if farmers can access knowledge, capacity and support.

Value For Her? Gender and Africa’s Changing Food Systems

Anna Gardner
University of Cambridge
Agriculture is back on the development agenda. Since the 2007 World Development Report and 2008-9 food price crisis, governments and other donors have responded to the need to meet growing demands for food by increasing investment in agriculture. Leading this push, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) offers a vision for resilient food systems in response to global catastrophes.
Inclusivity is a key focus area of AGRA’s five-year strategy, especially in terms of providing funding for women-led SMEs. It is not yet clear, however, what the implications of these ‘radical’ transformations to food systems will be for the women who are targeted by these programmes.
This project aims to understand different stakeholder perspectives on the gendered dynamics of Africa’s changing food systems. Using qualitative methods, it investigates the VALUE4HER Initiative: a programme which aims to strengthen women’s agribusiness enterprises.
Early findings suggest that sustainable food systems demand multi-scalar attention, from intra-household gendered labour dynamics, to community-level support and training, to global visions for the identity of the female ‘agripreneur.’ As a result, this research has implications for recognising local challenges and solutions in the context of global food system agendas.

Climate-diet discourse of healthy diets on social media

Adrianna Jezierska
University of Bristol
The environmental issues of food production and consumption have intensified the food discourse across the globe. The shift of society towards sustainable food futures requires a collective approach to challenge meat and dairy-based diets in the everyday practice of eating.
Situated within contemporary veganism, organisations theory and collective views, this PhD project examines involvement in the climate-diet discourse on social media. Social media platforms have become critical venues for a wide spectrum of influence and engagement, from politics to activism. A few studies have documented a climate-diet discourse. However, they focus on a specific vegan-related campaign or anchor a publication of scientific reports, providing little information as to what extent and how this discourse can effectively contribute to the climate change agenda.
This PhD project will address the question above twofold. First, we will consider computational research methods, such as social media and visual network analysis; second, we will use qualitative research methods, including interviews. This project will unveil the intimate connection between food discussions on social media and the everyday practice of food consumption. Such enquiry can potentially inform the field of management by contributing to the research on collaborative views and social media agents who facilitate social change.

Modelling the effect of climate on antimicrobial resistance prevalence and its application to UK dairy systems

Lucy Vass
University of Bristol
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and climate change are key threats to global public health. Local temperature has been found to be correlated with increased prevalence of AMR infections in humans, and this has also been found in farm environmental samples. This study developed a non-linear Bayesian model to investigate the effect of local climate the prevalence of AMR E. coli in the environment of 54 UK dairy farms. Air temperature and relative humidity recorded at the closest local weather station was used to estimate local climate conditions. Results showed that an increase in local temperature was associated with an increase in resistance to all 4 antimicrobials tested. Additionally, humidity, freezing conditions, and the interaction between temperature and humidity were found to be associated with some types of AMR. These findings have implications for the design of AMR-reducing interventions and AMR surveillance systems as well as adding to the growing body of evidence that there is potential for climate change to accelerate the threat of AMR. 

Rapid geographical source attribution of Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis genomes using hierarchical machine learning

Sion Bayliss
University of Bristol
Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis is one of the most frequent causes of Salmonellosis globally and is commonly transmitted from animals to humans by the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs. Rapid geographical source attribution of suspect food vehicles facilitates outbreak management. In this study, 2,313 S. Enteritidis genomes collected by the UKHSA between 2014-2019 were used to train a hierarchical machine learning classifier to predict geographical origin of isolates for 38 countries. Highest classification accuracy was achieved at the continental level followed by the sub-regional and country levels (macro F1: 0.954, 0.718, 0.661 respectively). Longitudinal analysis and validation with publicly accessible international samples indicated that predictions were robust to prospective external datasets. This hierarchical machine learning framework provides granular geographical source prediction directly from sequencing reads in <4 minutes per sample, facilitating rapid outbreak resolution and real-time genomic epidemiology.

Deliberative stakeholder workshops - Climate, Food and Agriculutre

Daniel Thorman
Cardiff University
As part of a series of ‘Roundtables’, focussing on each area of the CAST centre’s aims and objectives, this work focusses on Food and Agriculture, and the role it has to play in mitigating climate change and reducing carbon emissions. Through inviting different stakeholders, across policy and practice, and asking them to deliberate information about the main policy objectives in the sector, this research gains insight into the workings of how policy might be put into action. Discussion is geared towards solutions across policy and practice, and allows participants to look reflexively and realistically towards commensurate action, based on their embedded experience in the sector. The analytical lens used will be to look at levels of system change, and explore the role that individuals, businesses, and institutions have to play as actors within a system, illustrating pathways and agency for change. Findings relate to calls for overcoming siloed policy agendas, the difficulty communicating a need to eat better meat, and less of it, and the promising role of community supported agriculture and small scale horticulture. 

Nutritional risks from vector-borne crop viruses in a changing climate

Nina Ockendon-Powell
University of Bristol
Vector-borne plant viruses reduce available food supplies for vulnerable communities reliant on subsistence farming by reducing the yields of staple and nutritious crops. Changing weather patterns and climates are increasing the severity and distribution of crop pathogens and the insect pests that can spread them. Particular types of crop viruses can reduce yield of multiple nutritious crops and particular insect pests can spread a wide range of damaging viruses. Understanding the risks for developing hot spots of high impact on nutritional crops due to projected weather and climate scenarios requires an interdisciplinary approach that considers climate, insect population dynamics, plant virus epidemiology, agricultural patterns alongside cultural factors such as traditional diets. 
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