Food Systems (One Earth Journal by Cell Press)

Access to food is a universal need and a fundamental right, yet current patterns of production and consumption are failing to address issues of food security while simultaneously deteriorating planetary health. In recognition of the urgent need to transform the way we consume, produce, and think about food, this collection of opinion pieces, authoritative reviews, original research articles, and artwork outlines the complexity of the challenge as well as potential solutions towards sustainable food systems for all. You can use the search feature to filter for Open Access Articles.

One Earth is Cell Press’ flagship sustainability journal. One Earth provides a home for high-quality research and perspectives that significantly advance our ability to better understand and address today’s sustainability challenges. We publish monthly thematic issues that aspire to break down barriers between the natural, social and applied sciences and the humanities, stimulate the cross-pollination of ideas, and encourage transformative research. They particularly encourage submissions with cross-disciplinary interest. Studies can be conducted at all spatial, temporal, and socio-political scales, but all submissions must offer a significant conceptual advance.

Solving the Great Food Puzzle: Right Innovation, Right Impact, Right Place. (2023)

WWF (2023). Solving the Great Food Puzzle: Right Innovation, Right Impact, Right Place. Loring, P., Loken, B., Meyer, M., Polack, S., Paolini, A., et al. WWF, Gland, Switzerland

Our food systems are at the centre of some of the biggest challenges of our time, which means they must also be at the centre of our quest for solutions.

As we work to solve the Great Food Puzzle, innovations are key to unlocking the potential of food systems as solutions to the nature and climate crises.

On its own, innovation won’t be enough to achieve healthy diets from sustainable food systems for all; still, innovations can accelerate national-level food system transformation by helping to close three critical gaps that can hinder action in countries. These gaps are: (i) the ambition gap; (ii) the transformation gap; and (iii) the implementation gap.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can deliver the food systems transformations needed in all countries around the world. The Right Innovation, Right Impact, Right Place framework will help anyone designing or supporting innovations in food systems to build an innovation toolkit to maximize impact and achieve national-level health and environmental goals.

Ultimately and most importantly, who is at the table and who is empowered to take the lead matters. What makes this paper novel is the set of concepts and questions we have assembled and how we bring these to life with examples of a wide range of innovations from around the world, some novel and highly technological, others familiar but applied in creative new ways.

As we all work to solve the Great Food Puzzle, we hope the Right Innovation, Right Impact, Right Place framework presented in this study will help ensure that each action taken will have the most impact in the shortest time possible.

means choosing innovations that amplify the impacts of transformation levers and ideally can be applied to affect one or more levers to accelerate change.

means anticipating the kind of change and impact any proposed innovation might have in a particular place.

means paying close attention to the social and ecological context in which the innovation is to be implemented.

Optimizing sustainable, affordable, and healthy diets and estimating the impact of plant-based substitutes to milk and meat: A case study in Spain (2023 Sep)

Muñoz-Martínez, J., Abejón Elías R., Batlle-Bayer, L., Cussó-Parcerisas, I., Carrillo-Álvarez, E. (2023) Optimizing sustainable, affordable and healthy diets and estimating the impact of plant-based substitutes to milk and meat: A case study in Spain. Journal of Cleaner Production. Volume 424. (paid access)

Relevant to: 

Dietitians and public health nutritionists, Health care professionals, Policy makers


How is an environmentally sustainable, affordable, culturally acceptable, and nutritious diet determined in Spain? What is the sustainability of current Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG)? How much can we rely on plant-based milk and plant-based meat from a sustainability perspective ?

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

  • It is paramount to evaluate the sustainability of diets from a holistic and context-based perspective. Our analysis revealed that although the Spanish FBDG have lower Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGe) than current diets, they are more blue-water demanding and also more expensive due to the high content in plant-based foods.
  • We were able to determine a nutritious diet with the lowest environmental impact and lowest cost, but results revealed the need to apply actions at systems level to enable more environmentally respectful production practices, and make healthy foods more affordable.
  • Processed plant-based meat alternatives are not required to achieve a sustainable and healthy diet.


  • The global food system is failing to appropriately nourish the population and has been identified as a driving force for environmental degradation. Changing current diets to healthier and more sustainable ones is key to decrease the incidence of non-communicable diseases and force changes at the production stage that will release environmental pressure. The determination of such diets is a challenge since it should be context specific, culturally acceptable, affordable, nutritionally adequate, and environmentally friendly.
  • Through multiobjective optimization we aimed to determine a sustainable and healthy diet (SHD) in Spain with the minimum cost and environmental impact (assessed through GHGe, land use and blue-water use) that deviate the least from current consumption. Additionally, this research also compares the optimised diet with the Spanish food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG), and explores the potential benefits of reducing animal meat and milk while replacing them with plant-based alternatives. Compared to current consumption, a SHD in Spain can be more nutritious and reduce cost, GHGe, land and blue-water use by 32%, 46%, 27%, and 41%, respectively.
  • The Spanish intake displayed the worst nutritional assessment and the highest values for GHGe and land use. The Spanish FBDG showed the highest cost and blue-water usage. Further analysis revealed that plant-based meat alternatives are not necessary to achieve a nutritionally adequate diet at the minimum cost and environmental impact. Shifting to fortified plant-based milk alternatives may add additional environmental benefits.
  • This work emphasizes the potentiality of using optimization to determine a SHD and identifies important gaps to be fulfilled in future research.

Details of results: 

  • Compared to the Spanish intake, a nutritionally adequate sustainable and healthy diet can be 1.61 € cheaper, reduce GHGe by 2.33 kgCO2eq, land use by 1.5 m2, and blue water use by 156 L. 
  • The Spanish FBDG basket was the most expensive and blue water demanding, mainly explained by the high content of fruits and vegetables. 
  • The Spanish intake showed the lowest nutritional index and the highest GHG and land footprint due to the high content of animal protein.

Of additional interest: 

Conflict of interest/ Funding:  


Corresponding author: 

Júlia Muñoz Martínez,

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s Future of Food

In 2012, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation launched the Future of Food initiative. In October 2018 they released the Sustainable, Resilient, and Healthy Food and Water Systems dietetic internship concentration in collaboration with Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors and the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. The Future of Food page has a number of resources relavent to Dietitians and Nutritionists – Studies, Toolkits, Recorded Webinars, and Infographics.

Measurement of diets that are healthy, environmentally sustainable, affordable, and equitable: A scoping review of metrics, findings, and research gaps (2023 Apr)

Citation: Webb P, Livingston Staffier K, Lee H, Howell B, Battaglia K, Bell BM, Matteson J, McKeown NM, Cash SB, Zhang FF, Decker Sparks JL and Blackstone NT (2023) Measurement of diets that are healthy, environmentally sustainable, affordable, and equitable: A scoping review of metrics, findings, and research gaps. Front. Nutr. 10:1125955. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1125955

Introduction: Research on the impacts of dietary patterns on human and planetary health is a rapidly growing field. A wide range of metrics, datasets, and analytical techniques has been used to explore the role of dietary choices/constraints in driving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, environmental degradation, health and disease outcomes, and the affordability of food baskets. Many argue that each domain is important, but few have tackled all simultaneously in analyzing diet-outcome relationships.

Methods: This paper reviews studies published between January 2015 and December 2021 (inclusive) that examined dietary patterns in relation to at least two of the following four thematic pillars: (i) planetary health, including, climate change, environmental quality, and natural resource impacts, (ii) human health and disease, (iii) economic outcomes, including diet cost/affordability, and (iv) social outcomes, e.g., wages, working conditions, and culturally relevant diets. We systematically screened 2,425 publications by title and abstract and included data from 42 eligible publications in this review.

Results: Most dietary patterns used were statistically estimated or simulated rather than observed. A rising number of studies consider the cost/affordability of dietary scenarios in relation to optimized environmental and health outcomes. However, only six publications incorporate social sustainability outcomes, which represents an under-explored dimension of food system concerns.

Discussion: This review suggests a need for (i) transparency and clarity in datasets used and analytical methods; (ii) explicit integration of indicators and metrics linking social and economic issues to the commonly assessed diet-climate-planetary ecology relationships; (iii) inclusion of data and researchers from low- and middle-income countries; (iv) inclusion of processed food products to reflect the reality of consumer choices globally; and (v) attention to the implications of findings for policymakers. Better understanding is urgently needed on dietary impacts on all relevant human and planetary domains simultaneously.

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:

*Correspondence: Patrick Webb,


cover of the book
Wilson, Annette M., Reuver, Marieke, Santos, Marta, & Marques, António. (2021). SEAFOODTOMORROW Key Achievements Booklet – Nutritious, safe and sustainable seafood for the future. Zenodo.

SEAFOOD TOMORROW was a €7m European Union Horizon 2020-funded project that ran from 2017-2021 that aimed to develop innovative sustainable solutions for improving the safety and dietary properties of seafood in Europe.

Addressing the challenge to meet the growing market need for safe and sustainable seafood, the project generated new knowledge to develop commercial solutions for improving the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of the European seafood production and processing industry.

This interactive booklet summarises the key achievements of the SEAFOOD TOMORROW project: Nutritious, safe and sustainable seafood for consumers of tomorrow.

This booklet is for all seafood stakeholders, including industry representatives, policy- and decision-makers, and seafood consumers.

They present the Eco-Innovative Solutions and Key Exploitable Results generated by the SEAFOOD TOMORROW team, including their potential or realised impact, a summary of dissemination and exploitation activities carried out, and the next steps needed to ensure maximum uptake and legacy of the SEAFOOD TOMORROW outcomes.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (Website)

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is the world’s leading certification scheme for farmed seafood – known as aquaculture – and the ASC label only appears on food from farms that have been independently assessed and certified as being environmentally and socially responsible. Aquaculture produces over half of the seafood eaten around the world and will be vital in providing healthy, affordable protein to the world’s rapidly growing population in the future. But like all food production, it has impacts and must be done responsibly.

ASC develops and manages the strictest standards in the industry. These standards include hundreds of requirements covering the potential impacts of aquaculture – including water quality, responsible sourcing of feed, disease prevention, animal welfare, the fair treatment and pay of workers, and maintaining positive relationships with neighbouring communities.

The ASC Metrics Methodology project to creates transparency and consistency into the ‘metric’ standard-setting. The ‘Baseline’ Methodology published in November 2020 was issued for a 62-day public consultation period. It is applicable to all species-specific metrics and aims to provide minimum requirements for setting and/or revising metrics within any of the ASC standards.

Click here to find a farm, supplier, or product around the globe. You’ll also be able to access ASC country / regional websites from this link as well.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) was launched in 2010 and we have been collecting data since the first farms achieved certification against our standards in 2012. You can visit their dashboard to see what countries are covered and how many frames and products are included. This provide an important picture of ASC’s growth, the reach of environmentally and socially responsible seafood choices, and inform market opportunities. Aggregated data are often used by stakeholders in their own research and understanding on responsible farming practices.

Click here to explore the database via the ASC dashboard.

Updated 2023 April

Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations (2023)

Crona, B.I., Wassénius, E., Jonell, M. et al. Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations. Nature 616, 104–112 (2023).


  • Blue foods, sourced in aquatic environments, are important for the economies, livelihoods, nutritional security and cultures of people in many nations. They are often nutrient rich, generate lower emissions and impacts on land and water than many terrestrial meats, and contribute to the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of many rural communities.
  • The Blue Food Assessment recently evaluated nutritional, environmental, economic and justice dimensions of blue foods globally. Here we integrate these findings and translate them into four policy objectives to help realize the contributions that blue foods can make to national food systems around the world: ensuring supplies of critical nutrients, providing healthy alternatives to terrestrial meat, reducing dietary environmental footprints and safeguarding blue food contributions to nutrition, just economies and livelihoods under a changing climate.
  • To account for how context-specific environmental, socio-economic and cultural aspects affect this contribution, we assess the relevance of each policy objective for individual countries, and examine associated co-benefits and trade-offs at national and international scales.
    • We find that in many African and South American nations, facilitating consumption of culturally relevant blue food, especially among nutritionally vulnerable population segments, could address vitamin B12 and omega-3 deficiencies.
    • Meanwhile, in many global North nations, cardiovascular disease rates and large greenhouse gas footprints from ruminant meat intake could be lowered through moderate consumption of seafood with low environmental impact.
  • The analytical framework we provide also identifies countries with high future risk, for whom climate adaptation of blue food systems will be particularly important. Overall the framework helps decision makers to assess the blue food policy objectives most relevant to their geographies, and to compare and contrast the benefits and trade-offs associated with pursuing these objectives.
figure 2

Fig. 2: Overlap in relevance between different policy objectives.

  • The numbers in parentheses in the top row represent the total number of countries for which each policy is relevant.
  • Each cell shows the number of countries (in parentheses) for which both column- and row-heading policies are relevant, as a proportion of countries for which the column-heading policy is relevant.
  • Relevance in this figure indicates countries categorized as ‘highly relevant’ or ‘relevant’ for a given policy.

Fig. 3: Example of hypothetical trade-offs associated with policies pursuing economic and/or nutritional benefits of blue food.

figure 3
  • The figure illustrates one set of trade-offs in policy outcomes that may result across the dimensions of environment, equity, economy and nutrition, depending on the degree of prioritization of either increasing domestic blue food supplies for nutritional outcome, or maximizing monetary value through exports of blue foods.
  • The degree of emphasis placed on either policy goal is represented by the blue bars.
  • Likely outcomes for each dimension are represented by coloured boxes and the strength of outcome is represented by plus and minus symbols; with positive outcomes depicted in green, and negative in pink.
  • Sustainable commodification aligned with local preferences and demand represents an example of how a balance could be struck to optimize positive environmental, inclusive, economic and nutritional outcomes.
  • Unknown impacts, or where policy objectives are judged to not have a strong impact, are depicted in grey. E. Wikander/Azote.

The importance of food systems and the environment for nutrition (2020)

Fanzo J, Bellows AL, Spiker ML, Thorne-Lyman AL, Bloem MW. The importance of food systems and the environment for nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020;113(1):7-16.

Open access link to article:

Relevant to: 

Dietitians-Nutritionists involved in research to advance sustainability in global food systems and nutrition.


The authors identify research and information gaps needed to transition nutrition and food systems toward sustainability and put out a call from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) for innovative food systems research. They also provide an overview of the rationale for the transition.

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

  • Climate change and environmental degradation affect human health by impacting clean air, drinkable water, food safety and exposure to pathogens, and the ability to produce and gather plant and animal-based foods. These impacts have a disproportionate effect on poor and marginalized populations, further increasing equity gaps in nutrition and health outcomes.
  • Environmental changes are both drivers of changes in food systems, and also impact food and agricultural outcomes; this results in a feedback loop. For example, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production impact climate temperatures, which in turn impact food production.
  • The authors maintain that nutrition professionals have a broad expertise and are well positioned to collaborate with other disciplines in order to further sustainable food system practices (e.g., reducing food loss and waste, advancing sustainable agricultural practices, and forwarding sustainability in food services and food environments).
  • They identify numerous gaps in knowledge – including the need for a greater understanding of the relationship between agriculture, food value chains, climate, environment, diet, nutrition, and human health, as well as how a transition can be made (e.g., what are effective public health and policy interventions to advance sustainable food systems?).


  • Global and local food system transformation is necessary in order to ensure the delivery of healthy, safe, and nutritious foods in both sustainable and equitable ways. Food systems are complex entities that affect diets, human health, and a range of other outcomes including economic growth, natural resource and environmental resiliency, and sociocultural factors.
  • However, food systems contribute to and are vulnerable to ongoing climate and environmental changes that threaten their sustainability. Although there has been increased focus on this topic in recent years, many gaps in our knowledge persist on the relation between environmental factors, food systems, and nutritional outcomes.
  • In this article, we summarize this emerging field and describe what innovative nutrition research is needed in order to bring about food policy changes in the era of climate disruption and environmental degradation.

Details of results: 

The authors present the case that climate change and environmental degradation will have severe impacts on human health. They cite research suggesting that low latitude areas of the globe will have reduced crop yields as a result of climate change, whereas higher latitude areas may have increased yields in the short term. Increasing CO2 in the environment may also impact the nutrient content of foods. Lower yields, instability, decreased micronutrient content and increased costs disproportionately threaten poor households.

Further, these differences across the globe may result in a greater reliance on global rather than local food supplies, which the authors suggest will further threaten equity, food sovereignty and sustainability of food systems. Increased temperatures will also cause an escalation of crop pests and pathogens, and toxic producing algal blooms in marine systems.

The authors argue that many knowledge gaps in our understanding exist and propose a conceptual framework to further examine human health, food systems and the environment. It consists of:

  • environmental inputs (e.g., soil quality, temperature, ocean acidification);
  • food system (i.e., food supply; food environment; consumer behavior);
  • proximal outcomes (i.e., food safety exposures; diet; food loss and waste);
  • distal outcomes (nutrition and health; environment (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions)).

The framework illustrates how distal outcomes in turn influence environmental inputs in a feedback loop. Knowledge gaps are outlined in more detail under components of their conceptual framework.

i. Environmental inputs and food system processes
As well as noting gaps such as research lacking on middle of the food supply chain (versus production and consumer dietary intake), the authors stress the need to understand more about designing food environments to advance health and sustainability. For example, including ecological footprint of foods, the amount and type of packaging used, eco- and health labeling on food packages, food sourcing origins and food safety information. They also stress that more research on policies and interventions that effectively incentivize healthy and sustainable diets is required – from both the position of consumer and of food supply chain stakeholders.

ii. Proximal outcomes of the food system

  • Diet: The authors identify the lack of data both in what people consume, and also in methods to test the effectiveness of interventions to advance healthy and sustainable diets.
  • Food safety in the food system: A paucity of data is noted in relation to human health effects and exposure to chemical and biological agents, including pesticide use and plastic packaging. They also highlight the importance of understanding consumer perceptions of pesticide, chemical, and antimicrobial exposure and how this may impact decisions on food purchasing.
  • Food loss and waste: The authors identify the need for more accurate data on food loss and waste as well as cost effective policies and interventions to reduce it (see: of further interest, FAO Food Waste Index).

iii. Distal outcomes of food systems:

  • Nutrition and health outcomes: The authors cite The Global Syndemic Commission (see: of further interest) where the “syndemic”—”the consequences of undernutrition, overweight/obesity, and climate change”—are presented as interconnected (p. 12). They also note that uncertainties remain about the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Environmental outcomes: The impacts of food systems on environmental outcomes differ by region and method of food production. Further, research to date centers more so on high income countries, greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock and staple grain products.

While the authors maintain that nutrition professionals are well positioned to address healthy and sustainable food systems, they also suggest that more data is required.

Further, they stress that different geographical, political, and societal contexts will greatly impact how the issues are addressed by stakeholders within various countries including professionals and governments.

Finally, this article is a call by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) for cross-disciplinary, innovative food systems research that will inform action at various geographical levels across the globe.

Of additional interest: 

The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report (2019)

FAO Food Waste Index (2021):

Editor’s comment:  


Conflict of interest/ Funding:  

The authors reported no funding received for this study.

Corresponding author:

How to Effectively Encourage Sustainable Food Choices: A Mini-Review of Available Evidence (2022 Nov)

This is open-access peer review mini-review from Frontiers (Psychology) by Wokje Abrahamse, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. He describes the review as the following:

“Food choices are difficult to change. People’s individual motivations (such as taste, cost, and food preferences) can be at odds with the negative environmental outcomes of their food choices (such as deforestation, water pollution, and climate change). How then can people be encouraged to adopt more sustainable food choices?

This rapid review uses a dual-processing framework of decision-making to structure an investigation of the effectiveness of interventions to encourage sustainable food choices (e.g., local and organic food consumption, reducing meat and dairy intake, reducing food waste) via voluntary behavior change. The review includes interventions that rely on fast, automatic decision-making processes (e.g., nudging) and interventions that rely on more deliberate decision-making (e.g., information provision). These interventions have varying degrees of success in terms of encouraging sustainable food choices.

This mini-review outlines some of the ways in which our understanding of sustainable food choices could be enhanced. This includes a call for the inclusion of possible moderators and mediators (past behavior, attitudes, beliefs, values) as part of effect measurements, because these elucidate the mechanisms by which behavior change occurs. In light of the climate change challenge, studies that include long-term effect measurements are essential as these can provide insight on how to foster sustained and durable changes.”

This article was shared with us through our ICDA SFS Toolkit Community of Practice forum titled: Behaviour Change Techniques In Sustainability. Join us on the forum to learn & GROW together!