The Importance of Citizen Scientists in the Move Towards Sustainable Diets and a Sustainable Food System

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  • Libby Oakden
  • Gemma Bridge
  • Beth Armstrong
  • Christian Reynolds
  • Changqiong Wang
  • Luca Panzone
  • Ximena Schmidt Rivera
  • Astrid Kause
  • Charles Ffoulkes
  • Coleman Krawczyk
  • Grant Miller
  • Stephen Serjeant

To enhance sustainability, the food system requires significant shifts in the production, processing and supply of food. Ideally, a sustainable food system should operate, not only to protect the biosphere, but also to provide nutritious, high-quality food, and to support social values, an equitable economy, and human and animal health. It should also be governed responsibly within a supportive policy environment. Implementing these shifts is a task of immense scale; but citizen participation/engagement has the potential to help make sustainability a reality through distributed learning, dynamic sensing, and knowledge generation. Technological advancements in sensing and data processing have enabled new forms of citizen participation in research. When food system research is embedded within society it can help us to understand which changes towards sustainability work and which do not. Indeed, citizen engagement in food systems research has the potential to help bring citizens on side, supporting the growth of a food culture of resilience and of sustainable practises (including dietary change). This commentary provides examples of how existing research and alternative food production systems and agroecological practises may provide possible frameworks for citizen participation in food system studies. We highlight potential future food and citizen science approaches. Widening citizen participation and encouraging the involvement of other food system actors, including those in local, national and international governance, is essential to capture the full potential of citizen science in enabling transition to a sustainable food system. For the research community citizen science offers engagement and empowerment of wider communities with science; collecting and analysing data; and creating viable solutions to food system and diet issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number596594
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 20.09.2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by STFC Food Network+ pilot funding (ST/P003079/1), and STFC 21st Century challenge funding (ST/T001410/1) Piloting Zooniverse for food, health and sustainability citizen science. CR was supported from the HEFCE Catalyst-funded N8 AgriFood Resilience Programme and matched funding from the N8 group of Universities. Additional funding was provided by Research England via the project Food based citizen science in UK as a policy tool. Additional funding was provided by the Food Standards Agency to conduct an additional Rapid Evidence Assessment in December 2020. SS was supported in part by ESCAPE—The European Science Cluster of Astronomy &Particle Physics ESFRI Research Infrastructures, which in turn received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 824064.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Oakden, Bridge, Armstrong, Reynolds, Wang, Panzone, Rivera, Kause, Ffoulkes, Krawczyk, Miller and Serjeant.

    Research areas

  • citizen science, co-development, food systems, participatory research, sustainable diets, widening participation
  • Sustainability Governance