Online course in Nature & Environment

Engaging with Controversies in the Food System

Become more confident in making informed decisions about the food you eat by exploring different food controversies.

  • Duration 3 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $69 Find out more

Learn how to assess the reliability of different sources of food information

Consumers have never been confronted with so much food choice. Making a decision on what food to eat is affected by many factors, including media reports, diet research findings, and social media.

On this course, you’ll access leading research and expert insights to make sense of some of the most common food controversies - alternative proteins, palm oil, and probiotics.

You’ll understand the viewpoints of stakeholders and reflect on your own food preferences. By improving your knowledge of these food debates, you’ll build the confidence to make more informed decisions about food.

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What topics will you cover?

Each week focuses on one controversy, explains what it is and how it is understood by differently situated stakeholders in the food sector. Learners are encouraged (as consumers) to take a critical stance on the different perspectives held by different stakeholders and adjust their practice accordingly.

Week 1: Introduction and Alternative Proteins

• What do we mean by the term ‘controversies’?

• Assessing the reliability of different sources of information.

• Overview of alternative proteins (especially insects as protein for human consumption).

• The pros and cons of alternative proteins and why they’re needed.

Week 2: Palm oil in food and related products

• Discover the wide variety of products palm oil is found in.

• Understand the issues at stake, from the perspectives of nutrition, the environment and worker welfare.

• Find out how industry is adapting its practices.

Week 3: The use of probiotics

• The history of probiotics and their benefits to human health.

• Learn about the processes involved in probiotic development, from discovery to product certification.

• Gain confidence in analyzing advertisements and health claims.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Demonstrate knowledge of three topical food controversies that affect human health, welfare and the environment
  • Reflect on your own food preferences and make better informed decisions about which products to buy for yourself and your family
  • Justify your choices and engage others, contributing to improvements in industry practice and an overall better understanding of the food system amongst consumers
  • Interpret news reports, apply critical thinking and be proficient at analysing media coverage of food controversies
  • Reflect on the perspectives of different stakeholders and recognise the myriad challenges and trade-offs such a complex system creates

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone curious about what their food contains, and what this means for their health and the environment. Professionals in the food and environment sectors will find this course useful for providing an up to date analysis of topical debates. Teachers may also find this course a useful resource for their students studying food science subjects.

Who will you learn with?

Andrew Ainslie

Andrew Ainslie

I am an Associate Professor in International Rural Development. I trained as a social anthropologist. My research centres around understanding systemic change in agrarian environments.

Joanna Kaniewska

Joanna Kaniewska

I am a Senior Manager at the European Food Information Council. Creating science-based content on nutrition and health whilst leading communication activities for EU research projects.

Luca Cocolin

Luca Cocolin

I’m a professor in food microbiology at the University of Torino, Department of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences. My research focuses on food safety and microbial ecology of fermented foods.

Who developed the course?

EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, with the aim to create a sustainable and future-proof food sector.

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

This activity has received funding from EIT Food, the innovation community on Food of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the EU, under the Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.


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Available until 31 October 2019. T&Cs apply.