BSEN10020 How Sustainable is My Food?

Academic Year 2023/2024

There is now widespread recognition that the global food system is unsustainable. This means it is responsible for adverse environmental and social impacts. An important question each individual should ask, and answer is, how sustainable is my food? To answer this we need to think about the answer to other questions, including: Is the food we choose to eat causing impacts, in Ireland and beyond, that will result in future generations being handed a significantly degraded environment? Is the food we eat supplied to us made possible, at prices we are willing to pay, because of social exploitation? Is the food we have access to needlessly wasted? In this module, we will explore the evidence that will help us find answers to these, and other, questions. We will also examine our own diets, and work out what kind of impacts they have. Finally, we will explore the possibility of fixing the food system so we can eat sustainable food.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module you should be able to:
(1) explain the difference between a food item, a meal and a diet
(2) outline the reasons for considering both sustainability and nutrition when evaluating which foods to eat
(3) explain the environmental impacts caused by the food system, and the choice of foods you eat
(4) record and evaluate the food you eat and identify options to reduce the adverse impacts of your food choices

Indicative Module Content:

(1) A working definition of 'sustainable'. Strong vs weak sustainability. Relative vs absolute impact. The donut: from the social floor to the environmental ceiling.
(2) Recoding the food you eat. Keeping a food diary. Identifying foods, and recording what is eaten (type, amount).
(3) Impact of the food system and specific foods on soil and land. Soil quality, soil loss, land occupation, land degradation, biodiversity.
(4) Impact of the food system and specific foods on the atmosphere. Climate and air quality impacts. Causes and adaptation.
(5) Impact of the food system and specific foods on the hydrosphere (water). Water quality, disruption of the hydrological cycle, irrigation.
(6) The role of nutrition and its relationship with environmental impacts. Nutritional Life Cycle Assessment.
(7) Estimating the impact of a food item, meal and diet. The EAT-Lancet report and beyond.
(8) Fair access to food: food deserts, pricing and fair share. Cheap food vs the cost of producing food. Access to foods.
(9) How sustainable is the food we eat? Using the diet recorded by the class, an assessment will be made of whether the food eaten is sustainable.
(10) Food waste
(11) Guest speakers from NGOs, industry, research, as time permits

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning








Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
(1) Lectures
(2) Data collection by the class
(3) Analysis of the data collected to answer the question
(4) Different communication methods 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Assignment: Collect a food diary for 7 days, grouped by food item, meal and diet Week 4 n/a Graded No


Assignment: Calculate selected impacts and nutrition of the food recorded in the food diary Week 7 n/a Graded No


Assignment: Information poster (A4 page, 1 'typical' meal) to convey the sustainability and nutrition of that meal to the general public Week 10 n/a Graded No


Assignment: 2-minute video, aimed at your peers, describing the best options for reducing the adverse impact of your diet and explaining the reasons why. Week 12 n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.

Name Role
Professor Paula Bourke Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Tom Curran Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Ronald Halim Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Fionnuala Murphy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Sharon O'Rourke Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Junli Xu Lecturer / Co-Lecturer