Signature Research Themes

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Environment, Food Systems and Natural Resources

Food is essential to our lives and has a deep impact on our planet, including habitat loss, and on our health. Food production is intertwined with people, natural resources and the environment in myriad ways.

Our food systems are increasingly vulnerable because of climate change, population growth, industrial agricultural methods and consumption patterns. Alternatives are not only critical to feed an ever-increasing global population, while conserving natural assets, but are also an opportunity to boost the local and national food industry and foster regional identity. At the same time, the way humans currently handle food systems negatively impacts natural resources and ecosystem function.


This Signature Theme aims to become a leading centre in Food Systems studies and beyond. Our aim is to influence stakeholders including research, public policy and organisations in the evolution of business models, food cultures, diets, land use and more. The range of expertise included in our team can generate comprehensive solutions to the challenge of sustainable food chain systems and related issues.

This Signature Theme will aim to identify approaches to reduce the impact of food systems and move towards sustainable food consumption. We define food systems as ‘all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the outputs of these activities’ (HLPE, 2017). For instance, interdisciplinary ground-breaking research can consider how to ensure food security and healthy food, sustainable consumption and consumer’s behaviour, look at cultures of food and human-animal relationships, and investigate how land use patterns can enable restoration of local and global ecosystems, and will have a strong impact on policy and industry. Topics in natural resources and the environment which interface with food will be particularly sought after.

Strengths and angle

This Signature Theme has real strengths in its distinctive angle and contemporary relevance (especially with regards to Brexit, Covid-19, local produce and engagement with natural environment), its clear link to and reflections on Kent as a location, but simultaneously international implications and outlook, its potential to link research and teaching and to forge clear connections to external organisations and the concerns of business and stakeholders including schools. Its links to the University’s large successful project Growing Kent & Medway and Eastern Arc also ensure its place for strengthening regional innovativeness.

Further directions

We will merge four sub-themes and build work that crosses them and combines their interests:

  • Food Systems, Health and Sustainable Consumption
  • Conserving Nature
  • Human-Animal Relations
  • Environment, Society and Sustainability

We will build up connections to health agendas, pay attention to the gaps in policy engagement and work with bodies such as Defra, instigate stronger engagement across the business sector, form more ambitious and innovative approaches to research activities, and ensure stronger engagement across the disciplines. We will also investigate how to embed the Signature Theme Areas and this includes Sustainable Development Goals (such as: Zero Hunger and Good Health and Wellbeing), Brexit & Covid-19 interfacing aspects in the curriculum of Schools within the University and create a Postgraduate Taught multidisciplinary degree with various pathways tuned to each School using existing modules. Knowledge exchange activities will also be identified in detail.