• University of Exeter

Future Food: Sustainable Food Systems for the 21st Century

Find out what sustainability means for food and explore the challenges of our journey towards a more sustainable food future.

11,845 enrolled on this course

Rows of white bowls each containing different food to create a colourful pattern. Foods include raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cinnamon, red onion sliced and sliced peppers.
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Learn to define key terms related to sustainable food

What are sustainable food systems? And why are they so important for the future? With this course, you can explore these questions and more.

You’ll learn about how our understanding of diet, health, and food production is changing, why food security and sustainable agriculture is essential, and how we can make positive future steps.

Learn how culture, sustainability, and technology is changing the future of food production

Food production has transformed our planet. Currently, 40% of the land’s surface is used for agriculture, meaning soils and freshwater are under threat, and fisheries are overexploited.

With this sustainable food systems course, you’ll discover why this means that millions of smallholders are facing economic uncertainty, and how just four transnational companies control the global grain supply.

Explore the challenges of climate change and the proposed solutions

Ultimately, by 2050, we must feed 9 billion people in the face of a changing climate. You’ll find out how agroecology sustainable food systems can help through economic, social, and environmental incentives. On this course, you’ll learn about some of the obstacles facing the future of food production, as well as some potential solutions.

Find out how changing and sustainable food systems can impact you and the planet

You’ll also learn about the global food system as a whole, as you explore everything from individual food choice to the impact of agriculture on climate change.

The future of food will be shaped by a change in our attitudes towards consumption and production. With this course, you can find out how sustainable agriculture and food systems can play a part in creating this future.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Hi, I’m Dr. Dan Bebber from the Department of Biosciences, University of Exeter. And I am Natalia Lawrence, Associate Professor in psychology. And we’re the academic leads for this future food MOOC. Currently, agriculture uses about half the world’s land surface to produce food, and that’s a huge impact on global biodiversity and ecosystem services. By the year 2050, we’re going to have to feed an extra 3 billion people, and we’ll have to do that sustainably without wrecking the planet and in a changing climate. In this four-week course, my colleagues and I will guide you through some of the huge challenges we face feeding the growing population healthily and unsustainably.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds You’ll learn not only some of the great challenges we face, but the solutions being developed to address them. We are joined by Exeter University experts in psychology, nutrition, anthropology, geography, agriculture, biology, economics, and policy. This course really takes a multidisciplinary perspective on the subject of future food. This is an exciting opportunity to find out how we can make a difference from the food choices we make as individuals to the impacts of agriculture on the environment. You’ll have the chance to analyse the issues and debate possible solutions with fellow students. Here’s a flavour of some of the big questions we’ll be asking. Should we support organic farming? Can meat be produced sustainably? Should governments subsidise farming?

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds And should we produce genetically modified foods? Experts agree that the food system requires a revolution to avoid disaster in the near future. But fortunately, change is happening. So come and join us to find out more and be part of the change.


  • Week 1

    Diets and Health

    • Welcome!

      This week we investigate how what you eat affects your health and the environment around you

    • Food cultures

      Discover what people eat around the world - and how this is changing, for better or worse.

    • You are what you eat

      In this section you will learn about the impact of diets on health and how we can effectively promote healthier and more sustainable diets.

    • Summary and reflect

      Test your knowledge and look back on the week's learning

  • Week 2

    Impacts of Food Production

    • A changed planet

      Learn about how crop and livestock production has irrevocably changed the Earth’s ecosystems

    • Is fishing sustainable?

      Over-fishing, and our dwindling fish populations, have received considerable media attention in recent years. Should we be eating less ocean fish, or turning to fisheries instead?

    • What about livestock?

      Farming animals has been a controversial issue for decades, yet we are eating more meat than ever before. Where do animals fit into our food system of the future?

    • Summary and reflect

      Test your knowledge and reflect

  • Week 3

    Threats to Food Security

    • A warming planet

      The devastating impacts of climate change on the planet are increasingly evident. How can agriculture cope with climate change?

    • Conserving soils

      In this section you will learn about the pivotal role of soil in food production, and what is needed to restore and maintain healthy soils for agriculture

    • Novel technologies

      Learn about the green revolution, which transformed crop Yields but also agriculture’s impacts, and the technologies that promise to feed the world.

    • Summary and reflect

      Test your knowledge and reflect on your learning

  • Week 4

    The Politics and Economics of Food

    • Farmers - powerless or empowered?

      Learn about how farmers make choices on how to manage their farms

    • Trade wars and food prices

      This section explores the dynamics of food prices and global markets, which are critical for reforming the food system

    • Protecting ecosystem services

      Learn about ecosystem services, the diverse benefits that humans gain from natural environments, and how we can protect them to support a sustainable food system.

    • Course round-up

      In this final section we will explore what sustainable Intensification means and how we get there. Find out the next steps in your ‘future food’ learning journey

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

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

  • Investigate global patterns and trends of food consumption and production
  • Discuss what sustainability means with reference to food
  • Explain where and how to find reliable information about food
  • Debate the main issues related to food
  • Discuss how individuals choose their food and what effects this has
  • Explore how technological advances are changing the food system

Who is the course for?

The course is designed for anyone interested in food sustainability. Whether you’re thinking about a career related to the future of food or sustainable agriculture, or simply want to find out more about these fascinating areas, this is the course for you.

Who will you learn with?

I am an Associate Professor in Psychology who studies human eating behaviour and develops novel interventions to help people eat more healthily and sustainably.

Dr Dan Bebber is an ecologist with an interest in the impacts of climate change on diseases of agricultural crops. His current research focuses on diseases of tropical crops like bananas and coffee.

Dr Bethan Stagg is Digital Education Officer at The Field Studies Council. Toolbox of Multi-species Swards for sustainable livestock production. Allotment grower. @BethanStagg on Twitter.

Who developed the course?

University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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