About Table

Table seeks to facilitate informed discussions about how the food system can become sustainable, resilient, just, and ultimately “good”. We impartially set out the evidence, assumptions, and values that people bring to food system debates. 

Scientific knowledge is necessary for understanding the issues and complexities around healthy and sustainable food. But science alone cannot tell us how to act or what a good and ethical food system is. Making decisions about the food system involves value judgements about what is important and these depend on people’s preferences and visions for the future.

Therefore, we aim to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and perspectives to bring out value-based reflections and to clarify the arguments, assumptions and evidence around issues of concern.

Table is rooted in academia. We are a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR). Table is the successor to the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University of Oxford, which for 15 years conducted, synthesised, and communicated research on food sustainability. You can find previous FCRN explainers and FCRN reports on our website.

 

Approach

As public awareness of crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality has grown, the environmental and social impacts of the food system are now subject to greater scrutiny. As a result, debates about the future of food – and how the food system can become sustainable, resilient, just, and ultimately “good” – are becoming more intense and polarised.

While these debates may nominally be about food, they are also not about food. Rather, they reflect differing beliefs about how we should live and interact with the natural world and one another. For example, when people argue over whether organic farming can feed the world, whether local is better, or whether we need to give up meat, they are not just debating scientific evidence but also the future they want for themselves and humanity. Their proposed solutions depend on what they believe about – among other things - the legitimacy of certain technologies, the malleability of human nature, what landscapes should look like, the role of the state versus the individual and human motivations.

In other words, discussions about how to nourish everyone sustainably are founded on many, often contradictory, values, desires, assumptions and cultural preferences. These influence how people interpret science and understand the world. These underlying values need to be brought into the open and more explicitly discussed. When they are not, the consequences, are all too often miscommunication, the entrenchment of existing positions, and inertia.

Table sets out the evidence, assumptions, and values underpinning different viewpoints on food systems controversies – controversies that have a profound bearing on how we go about tackling food-related climate change, using land, the ways in which food production and distribution are managed and practiced, the governance arrangements, and foods we eat. Through mapping debates, we highlight critical differences and areas of agreement, identify research questions to help resolve uncertainties, and suggest paths forward.

A key part of Table’s process is facilitating dialogue between diverse voices in the food system. We aim to engage a wide variety of stakeholders, including researchers, farmers, industry, civil society and policymakers, and bring together representatives of different regions, sectors, areas of expertise and viewpoints. We attempt to engage in debates impartially, while recognising that everyone, including our own staff members, has their own assumptions and values.

We use several methods of dialogue to tease apart contentious issues, including:

  • Spoken or written interviews 
  • Invited blog posts
  • Panel discussions and workshops
  • Our online discussion forum

As well as providing a platform for a wide range of voices, we will describe and explore the conversation, leading to the following outputs:

  • Building Blocks: Short, peer-reviewed, foundational explainers of key concepts relevant to food systems and sustainability (e.g. what is agroecology? What is sustainable intensification? What are nature based solutions?) Their function is to foster greater basic food systems literacy within the stakeholder community and ensure that debates do not simply arise from misunderstandings.
  • Debates Dissected reports: Analytical, peer reviewed reports, drawing upon our dialogue process and describing the debate. The goal is to help stakeholders reach a better mutual understanding of the reasons for agreements and disagreements, while highlighting areas that hold promise for more collaborative thinking and agreement.
  • Podcasts: Each series will focus on a particular theme and comprise 6-12 episodes, each involving a range of speakers and perspectives on a particular question within the theme.

Table plans to apply this methodology to a wide variety of themes. Our first project focuses on the question of scale in the food system, that is, to what extent the future of food should be global or local.

Table’s work is an ongoing and iterative process. We welcome feedback on our methodology.

 

Who we are

Table is run by a small core team with one full-time researcher and a supervisor from each of the partner universities.

We are grateful for the extended Table community that includes LEAP, SLU-Future Food, and WUR-Dialogue Centre.
 

Board

Tara

Acting Director, Dr Tara Garnett, 
University of Oxford

Tara has worked on food for over 25 years within both the NGO and academic sectors. Since 2012 she has been a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, a fellow of the Oxford Martin School and part of the Wellcome Trust-funded LEAP project. In 2005 she founded the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), Table’s precursor. Tara has a degree in English Literature (University of Oxford), a Masters in Development Studies (School of Oriental and African Studies) and a PhD from the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey. In 2015 she was awarded the Premio Daniel Carasso.

Gert

Prof Gert Spaargaren,
Wageningen University & Research

Prof Gert Spaargaren is Professor of Environmental Policy for Sustainable Lifestyles and Consumption in the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University. His main research interests are in environmental sociology, sustainable consumption and behaviour, and globalisation of environmental reform.

Annsofie

Dr Annsofie Wahlström, Swedish
University of Agricultural Sciences

Dr Annsofie Wahlström is the Programme Director of SLU Future Food, which funds Table. She holds a PhD in Animal Nutrition and Management. She has worked on research and development in cooperative and commercial settings both nationally and internationally for several years before joining Future Food at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Researchers

Helen

Helen Breewood, 
University of Oxford

Helen Breewood is a Research and Communications Officer at Table. Helen holds an MEng and BA in Chemical Engineering via Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. During her MPhil at the University of Manchester, she used life cycle assessment to calculate the environmental impacts of meals prepared in a canteen. ​She also worked on Maastricht University's project to create the world's first lab-grown burger. Helen blogs about global sustainability problems and solutions at The Progress Motive.

Walter Fraanje

Walter Fraanje, 
Wageningen University & Research

Walter Fraanje is a Research and Communications Officer at Table. He holds an MSc in Environmental Policy (cum laude) from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and a BA in Philosophy and a BSc in Industrial Engineering and Management from the University of Groningen. Before joining FCRN, Walter was the content coordinator of an EDx MOOC on ‘Co-creating Sustainable Cities’ (Wageningen University and AMS-Institute). As an environmental sociologist, he is interested in sustainable consumption studies and social and political questions underlying food system sustainability. He aims to understand if and how changes in people’s day-to-day lifestyles and (collaborative) consumption practices can contribute to sustainable development.

Matthew

Matthew Kessler, Swedish 
University of Agricultural Sciences

Matthew Kessler grew up in New York, USA disconnected from agriculture and how food ended up on his plate. After five years of working on and managing farms, a BSc in Environmental Sciences with concentrations in forestry and sustainable agriculture from Warren Wilson College and a MSc in Agroecology from Norwegian University of Life Sciences, he pays a bit more attention to where food comes from! Matthew is a Research and Communications officer at Table and currently sits in the Department of Energy and Technology at Swedish University of Life Sciences. He has a particular interest in what catalyses food system transformations (e.g. policy, climate, markets, movements, etc.) and who is being served by those changes.

Research Directors

Tara

Dr Tara Garnett, 
University of Oxford

Tara also acts as a Research Director for Table.

Jeroen

Assistant Prof, Jeroen Candel, 
Wageningen University & Research

Jeroen Candel works as assistant professor in the Public Administration and Policy Group at Wageningen University & Research. He holds a bachelor in Public Administration and Organisational Science and a master in Public Governance (cum laude) from Utrecht University as well as a PhD in 'Putting food on the table: the European Union governance of the wicked problem of food security'. He is interested in emerging forms of food and agricultural policy and studies these by using public policy and governance theories. Beside his research, Jeroen coordinates and teaches introductory courses on Public Policy and Governance and European Union politics. Furthermore, he is a columnist for Foodlog and member of the Dutch Council on Animal Affairs.

Elin

Associate Prof, Elin Röös, Swedish 
University of Agricultural Sciences

Elin Röös researches and teaches about sustainable food production and sustainable land use from many different angles. These include assessing the environmental impact of different foods using life cycle assessment (LCA), calculating the climate impact and land use associated with different types of diets and comparing environmental impacts of different farming and food systems. She also works on many interdisciplinary projects looking at the economic and information policy instruments for more sustainable dietary patterns and how more sustainable and healthy food ingredients can be produced and processed.

Other core Table staff

Rosina

Coordinator, Rosina Borrelli, 
University of Oxford

Rosina Borrelli is the Coordinator for Table, working part-time. She holds a BSc in European Business with Technology and an MA in Culinary Arts. She works within the Food Systems Transformation team in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford on the IFSTAL Programme training future food systems thinkers. Her main interests lie in food education, and she is a trustee for TastEd, and works with the local Food Partnership in Eastbourne.

Wendy

Intern, Wendy Jenkins,
Wageningen University & Research

Wendy Jenkins is an intern at Table. Wendy holds an honours bachelor degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Guelph, Canada and is an MSc candidate in the Nutrition and Health Programme at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Through her studies, Wendy has focused on the intersection of these two fields and bridging some of the gaps between them. Wendy is the co-author of ‘The Portfolio Diet for Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction’ a cookbook and guide for patients and clinicians on following an evidence based diet to reduce cholesterol and environmental impact.

 

Rachel

Intern, Rachel Carlile,
University of Edinburgh

Rachel is an intern at Table. She has an MSc in International Development from the University of
Edinburgh and is now working on her PhD, conducting research with small-scale farmers and
social movements in Mexico to better understand different uses of agroecology. Working across
anthropology, human geography and development studies, Rachel is interested in lived
experiences of food production and consumption, particularly in post-colonial contexts. Through
ethnographic research she seeks to understand the possibilities and challenges associated with
food systems change, looking at the ways in which concepts and practices are engaged with and
shaped by different actors.

Other Table collaborators

Prof Jamie Lorimer is Professor of Environmental Geography at the University of Oxford. He is an environmental geographer whose research examines the production of environmental knowledge, and how this knowledge comes to shape the world around us. He focuses on powerful understandings of nature and their consequences for human and nonhuman life across different spatial scales. Recent research projects have explored these questions in relation to rewilding, the microbiome and the rise of plant-based eating.

Dr Kelly Reed is an archaeobotanist with interests in food systems, agricultural development and cultural adaptations to environmental change in the past. She is currently the programme manager for the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Wellcome Trust funded Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project based at Oxford University. 

Prof Ken Giller is Professor of Plant Production Systems, within WaCASA (the Wageningen Centre for Agroecology and Systems Analysis) at Wageningen University. Ken’s research has focused on smallholder farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular problems of soil fertility and the role of nitrogen fixation in tropical legumes, with emphasis on the temporal and spatial dynamics of resources within crop/livestock farming systems and their interactions. He is co-chair of the Thematic Network 7 on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Honorary Senior Research Fellow with the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, UK.

Prof Tiny van Boekel is Emeritus Professor at the Department of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences, Wageningen University and Research. He has expertise in food quality and safety, food processing and novel proteins.

Prof Imke de Boer is Professor of Animal Production Systems in the Department of Animal Sciences at Wageningen University and Research. Her research examines what role animal-source food could play in a sustainable diet.

Samara Brock has worked for over 15 years in sustainable food systems as a planner for the city of Vancouver, supporting the development of agricultural projects in Cuba and Argentina, and as a program officer at the Tides Foundation in Vancouver. She holds a master's in Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia, and a master’s in Food Culture from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the Yale School of Environment. Her dissertation research project engages with organisations attempting to influence the trajectory of the global food system as a way to understand how they comprehend this system and how they prioritise strategies to transform it.

Dr Karin Jonsell is a communications officer at SLU Future Food, a platform that develops research and collaboration for ecologically, economically and socially sustainable food systems. She has a background in communication and coordination both in Sweden and abroad, and has a PhD in Astrophysics.

Matthew Fielding is the Deputy Director of the SIANI (Swedish International Agriculture Network Initiative) platform and the Co-leader of the SEI Initiative on Governing Bioeconomy Pathways. He has worked in environment and sustainable development as a researcher, project manager and communicator. He played a vital role in clarifying Table's role, structure and processes.

Prof Michael W. Hamm is the C. S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Fellow, Centre for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) at Michigan State University, where for 17 years Mike has published and engaged with communities on a range of topics regarding health, sustainable food systems, urban agriculture, and regional/local food systems. He has a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition. Prior to his 2003 move to MSU he spent nineteen years on the Rutgers University faculty in Nutritional Sciences where he co-founded the New Jersey Urban Ecology Programme and the Rutgers Student Organic Farm.

Morgan Farl studied Graphic Design and Advertising at Drake University, earning a BA in Creative Advertising. He currently works as a Freelance Graphic Designer on the island of Maui.

 

Funders and partners

Table’s three founding partners contribute both financial and practical support. These are:

We are committed to maintaining our impartial approach, to keeping our resources free for all to use and – importantly – to ensuring that different perspectives on food sustainability issues are reflected in our work. For these reasons, we do not accept industry funding.

 

 

We are grateful for additional financial support from:

 

For more details, please contact Tara Garnett @ taragarnett@tabledebates.org.

 

Advisory board

Table is in the process of setting up an advisory board. Its role will be to provide Table with independent guidance from food systems experts and ensure that our work remains societally relevant and useful.

 

Support our work

Table is an organisation rooted in academia. We seek to maintain our impartiality and remain transparent about our funding sources. If you would like to explore the possibility of supporting Table’s work, either as a funder or as an academic collaborator, please contact Tara @ taragarnett@tabledebates.org.

We also accept donations.