Recent Publications

Lower-carbon diets aren’t just good for the planet, they’re also healthier

Authors: SFSI  faculty affiliate Marty Heller (SEAS) and Diego Rose (Tulane)
Published January 29, 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Full article here

Researchers examined the diets of 16,000 Americans and ranked them by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per 1,000 calories consumed. They also rated the nutritional value of the diets using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index The study discovered that people following diets that had a low carbon footprint ate an overall healthier diet. However, these diets did contain some low-emission foods that aren’t healthy, such as sugars and refined grains, the press release states. Additionally, the climate-friendly diets also contained lower amounts of important nutrients, such as iron, calcium and vitamin D.

Diets that had the most impact on the planet accounted for five times the emissions of those in the lowest-impact group. The diets consisted of more beef, veal, pork, game, dairy and solid fats per 1,000 calories than the diets with low carbon footprint. Martin Heller, co-author and researcher with the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Systems Center at the School for Environment and Sustainability, tells U.S. News that adopting a diet with a low carbon footprint is “beneficial for health and the environment” and that it doesn’t take drastic measures to make a difference. Heller says that one of the biggest changes people can make is to replace beef with plant-based alternatives, such as beans, peas and lentils, as well as meat alternatives, even choosing chicken over beef “is a significant benefit.”


Development pathways toward “zero hunger”

Authors: SFSI Faculty Affiliates Jennifer Blesh,  Lesli Hoey, Andrew Jones, Harriet Friedmann, Ivette Perfecto
Published February 2019 in World Development   Full article here

Globally, industrial agriculture threatens critical ecosystem processes on which crop production depends, while 815 million people are undernourished and many more suffer from malnutrition. The second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2), Zero Hunger, seeks to simultaneously address global environmental sustainability and food security challenges. We conducted an integrated literature review organized around three disciplinary perspectives central to realizing SDG 2: ecology and agricultural sciences, nutrition and public health, and political economy and policy science. Within each discipline we first draw on a wide range of literature to summarize the state of knowledge on effective pathways to achieve food security while ensuring the sustainability of food systems. We then conduct a comprehensive review of articles in each of these disciplines that discuss SDG 2, using the pathways we outline initially to frame our analysis. In particular, we ask whether the framing of SDG 2 is appropriate given current understandings of transitions to sustainable food systems. By applying a food systems lens, our review identifies several limitations in the way SDG 2 is applied by researchers including a productionist perspective, limited attention to ecological processes on farms, a definition of food security that lacks a food systems perspective, and a lack of attention to historical and structural factors that shape opportunities for equity and food security in different contexts. Finally, we consider possibilities for expanding the research agenda and associated implications for development practice. We argue that the pathway to achieving Zero Hunger should center on place-based, adaptive, participatory solutions that simultaneously attend to local institutional capacities, agroecosystem diversification and ecological management, and the quality of local diets. Two conceptual frameworks – social-ecological systems and sustainable diets – offer systems-based lenses for integrated analysis of agriculture and food security, which could inform the development of effective policies.


Rolling Out the SNAP Work Requirements in Michigan: The Washtenaw County Experience

Authors: SFSI Faculty Affiliate Lesli Hoey and Markell Miller
Published August 2018 by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Washtenaw County organization Food Gatherers

A new report released by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Washtenaw County organization Food Gatherers demonstrates the local impact of work requirements for those receiving food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

When work requirements were reinstated, researchers found that:

  • 1 in 6 organizations providing hunger relief saw an increase in clients who recently lost SNAP benefits. Among organizations that saw an increase in clients due to the loss of SNAP, more than 50% saw a noticeable increase in individuals asking to volunteer – one way people can meet SNAP work requirements – and more than 25% noted that food ran out more quickly.

  • Organizations that offered wrap around services (such as offering food assistance alongside housing and healthcare referrals or services) saw a marked increase in clients. This is likely tied to more people in Washtenaw County facing food insecurity. Compared to individuals who are food secure, people in this study who were experiencing food insecurity faced 9 times as many tradeoffs – such as deciding to buy food or pay transportation costs or utility bills.

  • Double Up Food Bucks redemptions in Washtenaw farmers markets dropped. Double Up was developed by Fair Food Network to match the value of SNAP spent on fresh fruit and vegetables in over 250 participating farmers markets and grocery stores across Michigan and now in 26 other states.

In January 2017, the State of Michigan was required to roll out work requirements in the four counties with low unemployment – including Washtenaw County – and made plans to phase in the policy statewide by October 2018. The report measures the burden of SNAP cuts between January 2017 and April 2018 on poverty alleviation institutions in Washtenaw County, such as community groups that provide food and housing assistance, government offices tasked with implementing the policy change, and private-public partnerships with farmer’s markets that leverage SNAP dollars.


Feeding Prometheus: An Interdisciplinary Approach for Solving the Global Food Crisis

Authors: SFSI affiliates: John Vandermeer, Aniket Aga, Jake Allgeier, Catherine Badgley, Regina Baucom, Jennifer Blesh, Lilly F. Shapiro, Andrew D. Jones, Lesli Hoey, Meha Jain, Ivette Perfecto and Mark L. Wilson
Published July 2018 in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems

The current global food system is inadequate to meet the needs of the current world population without compromising future well-being. For example, current intensified production systems lead to undernutrition in some regions coupled with epidemics of obesity in others while compromising their underlying ecological foundations, such as creating areas of ocean hypoxia. Such common observations challenge the research community to ask new types of basic questions and apply novel analytical frameworks for analyzing them. Elaboration of an integrated applied research agenda is imperative to addressing these global food system challenges. We propose that core competencies of a new analytical framework lie at the intersection of four domains: (1) the ecology of agroecosystems; (2) equity in global and local food systems; (3) cultural dimensions of food and agriculture; and (4) human health. This intersection constitutes a new analytical framework for transitions toward global food system sustainability.


Implementing Collective Impact for Food Systems Change: Reflections and Adaptations from Michigan

Authors: SFSI faculty affiliate Lesli Hoey, SFSI Program Manager Lilly Fink Shapiro and Kathryn Colasanti and Rich Pirog at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Published March 2017 in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development

As Collective Impact (CI) gains popularity across food systems change efforts, few scholars and practitioners have evaluated whether this collaborative social-change framework is well suited to food systems work. We begin to answer this question based on our own experience applying a CI model to support statewide goals established in the Michigan Good Food Charter. Our reflections are based on the project’s evaluation findings, internal staff discussions about their CI-based efforts, discussions with other food systems practitioners using CI, and a review of emerging literature where scholars and practitioners evaluate or reflect on facilitating a CI initiative. The Michigan experience largely corroborates what is emerging in the broader criticisms of CI: that limited guidance exists about how to implement various elements of the model, that CI is relatively silent on policy advocacy, and that, unless intentionally integrated, it has the potential to exacerbate, rather than address, inequities. However, our experience and that of other food systems practitioners also suggest that it is possible to transcend these limitations. We argue that groups expecting to make significant improve­ments to food systems can turn to CI as one of many social-change models that can guide their work, but only if lead organizations have the capacity to build trust and relationships between stakeholders and if they can thoughtfully integrate strategies for ensuring policy- and equity-based change.


Food sovereignty education across the Americas: multiple origins, converging movements (March 2017)

Authors: SFSI faculty affiliate Lesli Hoey and attendees of the 2015 UM Food Sovereignty Conference:David Meek, Katharine Bradley, Bruce Ferguson, Helda Morales, Peter Rosset, Rebecca Tarlau
Published March 2017 in the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values

Social movements are using education to generate critical consciousness regarding the social and environmental unsustainability of the current food system, and advocate for agroecological production. In this article, we explore results from a cross-case analysis of six social movements that are using education as a strategy to advance food sovereignty. We conducted participatory research with diverse rural and urban social movements in the United States, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, and Mexico, which are each educating for food sovereignty. We synthesize insights from critical food systems education and the political ecology of education in analyzing these cases. We compare the thematic similarities and difference between these movements’ education initiatives in terms of their emergence, initial goals, expansion and institutionalization, relationship to the state, theoretical inspirations, pedagogical approach, educational topics, approach to student research, and outcomes. Among these thematic areas, we find that student-centered research on competing forms of production is an integral way to advance critical consciousness about the food system and the political potential of agroecological alternatives. However, what counts, as success in these programs, is highly case-dependent. For engaged scholars committed to advancing education for food sovereignty, it is essential to reflect upon the lessons learned and challenges faced by these movements.


Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition

Principal author: SFSI affiliated faculty Andrew Jones


On April 16, 2015, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a report calling on the United States to use the power of the agriculture and food sector to reduce the reality and risks of malnutrition globally.  The report was presented for the first time at The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2015 in Washington, DC.

Malnutrition – from undernourishment to obesity – is a global challenge affecting every country on earth and placing more than one quarter of the world’s population at serious health risk.  Given that nutrition is driven largely by the food people eat, making nutrition a priority in developing the global food system could give billions more people access to the healthy foods they need to thrive, drive economic growth in poor countries, and increase the incomes of 2.5 billion small-scale farmers, many of whom themselves are malnourished.


Student Interest in Campus Community Gardens: Sowing the Seeds for Direct Engagement with Sustainability
(Jan 2016)

By SFSI affiliated faculty Raymond de Young in the World Sustainability Series

At a time when environmental problems are growing and biophysical limits-to-growth are apparent, encouraging sustainable behavior is a critical societal objective. Within the college campus sustainability movement this is expressed as the need to broaden student involvement in environmental stewardship initiatives. This chapter proposes that campus community gardens are particularly well-suited to the task of increasing student engagement across the entire campus population, not just among those with a prior interest in sustainability or gardening. To explore this proposition, a survey of undergraduate attitudes about motivations for and interest in gardening at a large, non-land-grant, research university was conducted. Results show that student interest is strongly related to how the campus gardening experience is structured. In particular, interest in gardening is related to clearly defined personal and community benefits. What is most fascinating is that the level of interest is not related to prior gardening experience or to strong pro-environmental attitudes, suggesting that campus gardens and farms may be made to appeal to a wide range of students.


Food-related environmental beliefs and behaviours among university undergraduates: A mixed-methods study (2015)

By SFSI Affiliated faculty Victoria Campbell-Arvai in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

The purpose of this paper was to document the food-related environmental beliefs and behaviours of undergraduate university students. More specifically, this research was focussed on determining if environmental sustainability is a consideration in students’ food choices, identifying the specific choices and behaviours adopted to reduce their food-related environmental footprint, and documenting the role of gender and pro-environmental values in these food-related environmental beliefs and behaviours.


The remarkable repeated evolution of herbicide resistance (Jan 2016)

By SFSI affiliated faculty Regina Baucom in the American Journal of Botany


Assessing the potential and limitations of leveraging food sovereignty to improve human health (Nov 2015)

By SFSI affiliated Andrew D Jones, Lilly Fink Shapiro, Mark L. Wilson, published in Frontiers in Public Health.

Food sovereignty has been defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” Human health is an implied component of this definition through the principle of healthy food. In fact, improved human health is commonly cited as a benefit of transforming food production away from the dominant practices of industrial agriculture. Yet, does the use of “ecologically sound and sustainable methods” of food production necessarily translate into better human health outcomes? Does greater choice in defining an agricultural or food system create gains in health and well-being? We elucidate the conceptual linkages between food sovereignty and human health, critically examine the empirical evidence supporting or refuting these linkages, and identify research gaps and key priorities for the food sovereignty-human health research agenda. Five domains of food sovereignty are discussed including: (1) use of agroecological management practices for food production, (2) the localization of food production and consumption, (3) promotion of social justice and equity, (4) valuation of traditional knowledge, and (5) the transformation of economic and political institutions and structures to support self-determination. We find that although there are many plausible linkages between food sovereignty and human health, the empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis that increasing food sovereignty yields improvements to human health is weak. We propose that a concerted effort to generate new empirical evidence on the health implications of these domains of food sovereignty is urgently needed, and suggest areas of research that may be crucial for addressing the gaps in the evidence base.


Fullscreen capture 1262015 45803 PMCoffee Agroecology (January 2015)

A New Approach to Understanding Agricultural Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainable Development

By SFSI affiliated faculty
Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer

Based on principles of the conservation and optimization of biodiversity and of equity and sustainability, this book focuses on the ecology of the coffee agroecosystem as a model for a sustainable agricultural ecosystem. It draws on the authors’ own research conducted over the last twenty years as well as incorporating the vast literature that has been generated on coffee agroecosystems from around the world.

The book uses an integrated approach that weaves together various lines of research to understand the ecology of a very diverse tropical agroforestry system. Key concepts explored include biodiversity patterns, metapopulation dynamics and ecological networks. These are all set in a socioeconomic and political framework which relates them to the realities of farmers’ livelihoods.

The authors provide a novel synthesis that will generate new understanding and can be applied to other examples of sustainable agriculture and food production. This synthesis also explains the ecosystem services provided by the approach, including the economic, fair trade and political aspects surrounding this all-important global commodity.