Making Sustainable Food Choices


Making Sustainable Food Choices: Influencing Consumer Behaviour for Food Sustainability in Oxford

Click to download the full report.

This report aims to provide some suggestions as to how we can start to make the way we eat in Oxford more sustainable. The sustainability of our current food production is a large and complex issue, but in this report we have decided to narrow our focus to three key areas for change. These areas have been selected for their positive impact on sustainability and the ease with which consumers will be able to understand them.

  • Meat consumption: a shift to eating less red and white meat is one of the most effective ways to reduce the impact of our diets on land, water, and energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Seasonality: the popular concept of food miles is often unhelpful in determining the real environmental impact of food; we argue that purchasing food that is in season is usually a better guide and ensures a lower carbon footprint.
  • Local food: eating more locally produced food makes our food supply chain more diversified and more secure, and localises the issues of sustainable production practices, making it easier for consumers to monitor how food is produced.

We offer a range of strategies to change consumer behaviour, two of which are explored in greater depth (see the “Labelling” and “Education” sections). In addition to this, many of our suggestions are contained within the three target area sections. We have endeavoured to put forward recommendations that are practical and with low barriers to adoption in Oxford. Here we highlight a selection of our ideas that we think ought to be considered by local authorities, charities, community groups, and other concerned stakeholders, all of which can be implemented relatively quickly:

  • A city-wide campaign to promote meatless options (as implemented in cities including San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Cape Town). This could include:
    • Employing various publicity methods like events, a signature list for citizens to express their commitment, a website, posters, etc.
    • Making vegetarian meals the default option on certain days in public catering in schools and other institutions.
    • Recruiting restaurants and other caterers to participate, provide support, and promoting those that offer good meatless options through city publications (e.g. street maps).
  • Engagement with retailers to encourage consumer purchases of sustainable foods.
    • Raising visibility of seasonal and local foods in retailers through better signposting or a separate section.
    • Highlighting foods that are in season or explain the meaning of the various sustainability labels on food packaging through the use of visual aids.
  • Enhancing consumer awareness of local food through a “Made in Oxfordshire” labelling scheme.
    • This should include information about when the food is in season on the label.
    • The scheme seeks to capitalise on the environmental impact, quality and freshness of the food in marketing to appeal to consumers.
  • Promoting label literacy through a public awareness and education campaign to empower consumers to make their own choices.
  • Giving consumers the information necessary to make it easy to eat sustainably.
    • Bring together practical tips on how to eat sustainably in educational materials for consumers (either print or online).
    • Educate about when foods are in season alongside existing healthy eating initiatives in schools.

You can download the report here: OxPolicy Food Sustainability Report


This paper was written by a team of Oxford University students, to whom we owe much gratitude: Alice GoldmanGary TanMegan WiessnerRonak PatelWeng Hong Low, and William Hodgkins. Operational support was provided by committee members Thomas MaassenZachary Parolin and Timothy Yap. The report was edited by Ruth NgTimothy Yap and William Hodgkins.

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