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Sustainable Food Systems: an Opportunity to Grow

By Pamela Fergusson, RD, PhD | December 8, 2017

In 2017, I began a new chapter in my practice as a dietitian by volunteering for Dietitians of Canada as part of the Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Team. I feel so honoured to have the opportunity to give back to DC by contributing my knowledge on a topic I feel passionately about. Through my research, my practice, my experience of teaching and my own experience as a consumer, I am constantly seeking new knowledge and perspectives on our food systems and reflecting on my experience of it. I feel we all have a responsibility as actors in the food system to consider how our choices affect the social, ecological and economic environment we live in. As dietitians we have an opportunity to provide leadership in this area, and I have learned a great deal by being part of this new group.  
My journey to the Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Team started in September 2016 when I spoke at the International Congress of Dietetics in Granada, Spain. The theme of the conference was Going to Sustainable Eating, and I was so impressed to see DC demonstrate their commitment to this issue through the large number of dietitians they sponsored through travel grants to attend the conference. I was one of those! I spoke about ‘Communicating sustainable eating to clients’, and I shared my research and practice experience of speaking with my clients about making more environmentally responsible food choices.
At the conference I had the opportunity to network, and to speak with other dietitians about the work dietitians are doing in Canada and abroad regarding sustainable food systems. After the conference, I was invited to join the Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Team. I was pleased to say yes, and I can say that I have learned a great deal by being part of this group.

Definition of Sustainable Food Systems

As anyone who has ever been part of a committee knows, agreeing on definitions can be challenging! We have decided on a few key definitions to guide our work:
This is the definition of Sustainable Food Systems used by the FAO and the UN High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security:
A sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food and nutrition security for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised.1

To this we add a recognition of the importance of a Food Justice perspective in achieving food and nutrition security, as defined by Robert Gottlieb & Joshi Anupama:
“Food justice seeks to ensure that the benefits and risks of where, what and how food is grown, produced, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten are shared fairly. Food justice represents a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities.”  And also the important contribution of Alkon and Agyeman that, “key to achieving food justice is to have communities who have experienced injustices empower themselves to participate in the political process.

In the context of the nutrition profession it is also worthy to acknowledge the concept of sustainable diets, as this is relevant to our consumer-choice related work.  Our team uses the FAO definition of Sustainable Diets:
Sustainable Diets are those diets with low environmental impacts, which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.3

Our activities and contributions as a team

The members of the Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Team come from a variety of backgrounds, including education, academia/research, private practice, agriculture and public policy. This diversity of experience and orientation is a key strength of our group, as we have the opportunity to learn from one another.

This group has come together at a strategic time, as 2017 was an important year for policy relevant to the Canadian food system. This year, we have had the opportunity as individuals, and as a group to contribute feedback to the consultations on Canada’s Food Guide, Front of Package Labelling and Marketing Food to Children. All of these consultations were relevant and it was important that dietitians had a voice. I’m so glad that DC made this a priority.

Other work that our team has done in the short time we’ve been together:

  • Drafting a PEN document that addresses the question, “Can eating less meat and more plant-based foods be better for the environment?”  This document has been submitted to PEN and will be published in 2018.
  • Liesel Carlsson, one of the team members, is currently conducting relevant PhD research in partnership with Dietitians of Canada. Her research team has released a report called, “Sustainable Food Systems that Promote Healthy diets”, which is available here.
  • As a team we have presented at several conferences this year, including for the Canadian Association for Food Studies at Ryerson University in May 2017 and the Dietitians of Canada National Conference in St. John’s NL. Members of the Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Team will be presenting at the upcoming DC conference in Vancouver in June 2018.
  • Developing on new webpage on the DC website to allow us to disseminating our findings and learnings.


What you can do to get involved

Overall, I would highly recommend getting involved in a volunteer activity at DC. Find an opportunity that you are truly invested in and are passionate about. We are stronger together and the opportunities to shape public policy are such an important part of the work that DC does. I have been honoured to be part of it so far, and I look forward to continuing to be involved.

If you want further information about the work of the Sustainable Development Leadership Team you can contact Leslie Whittington-Carter.

  1. Brundtland, Gro Harlem, and World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  2. Alkon, A. H., & Agyeman, J. (2011b). Introduction: The food movement as polyculture. In A. H. Alkon & J. Agyeman (Eds.), Cultivating food justice: Race, class, and sustainability (pp. 1–20). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. HLPE, 2014, Food Losses and Waste in the Context of Sustainable Food Systems, Report of the HLPE, Rome: HLPE “available at


Pamela Fergusson a Registered Dietitian with a PhD in nutrition. She has a private practice in Kensington Market, Toronto, and contributes to teaching at Ryerson University. Pamela is a member of the Dietitians of Canada Leadership Team on Sustainable Food Systems, and the advisory boards of Balanced and also Conscious Eating Canada.

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