Sustainable and just food systems vitally important during COVID-19

17th November 2020

Experts from Cardiff University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACE) say sustainable and just food systems are more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Academics from the Institute joined Aspect’s Annual Event 2020 to set out their vision for the future.

Here Research Fellows Hannah Pitt, Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, and Research Associate Poppy Nicol outline the issues at stake.

We were delighted to discuss just food system futures at Aspect’s Annual Event. It is a topic that has never been more relevant than it is today. 

COVID-19 is highlighting multiple vulnerabilities in food systems. Long-term stressors have eroded food systems resilience, making them vulnerable to short-term shocks like pandemics.  

The pandemic has highlighted multiple vulnerabilities, including the dominance of a small pool of retailers and producers, reliance on just-in-time supply chains and dependence on imported food and labour. 

As well as short-term shocks like COVID-19, the upswell of support for Black Lives Matter during the pandemic highlights the need to address injustices including racism when tackling power asymmetries within current food systems.  

But in moments of crisis, urgency might override other concerns, meaning decision-making entrenches injustice and fails to include marginalised voices. 

Whilst the impacts of COVID-19 are hopefully temporary, other crises such as extreme climatic events will likely increase in severity and frequency, bringing similar societal impacts. PLACE former director Terry Marsden has also done lots of work around food security and Coronavirus, read his article here: Coronavirus has exposed UK government’s failure to implement a long-term food plan 

It is therefore crucial to understand how the current global emergency is affecting food systems and learn from responses—both positive and negative—so reactions to future crises can promote just, sustainable outcomes. 

PLACE is seeking to develop an action plan to further the role of research as an intermediary between practice and policy. This complements Aspect’s goal of redressing the research commercialisation balance in favour of the social sciences by connecting universities, businesses, academics, and industry leaders to turn ideas into commercial solutions and solve pressing social challenges.  

The Sustainable Places Research Institute is making new connections in sustainability research. Part of our work includes finding pragmatic, policy-led place-based approaches for individual cities, regions and nations. Over the last eight months, a number of researchers at the Institute have been documenting the impacts of the pandemic on the food system, working with various people across the Welsh food system responding to the crisis. Hannah Pitt is currently working on increasing the resilience of plant-centred food production skills. To find out more please check out Knowing to Grow. Keeping within topic of food sustainability, Angelina Sanderson Bellamy leads TGRAINS Transforming and Growing Relationships within regional food systems for Improved Nutrition and Sustainability; click on the link to find out more. 

PLACE is one of 12 social science research groups that make up Cardiff University’s Social Science Research Park (SPARK). SPARK will move to a new home on Cardiff Innovation Campus in 2022. To find out more please get in touch at 

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