"Food systems are characterised by power structures"

Theresa Tribaldos researches food systems, from production to trade to consumption. In this interview, she explains which aspects she considers particularly important and why more sustainable food systems concern us all.

What are you trying to find out?

In my research, I focus on how we can make our food systems more sustainable, healthier and fairer. Food systems encompass all aspects that are necessary to ensure that we end up with food on our plates. This includes not only agricultural production, but also processing, trade and consumption. Consultancy, logistics, regulation and, of course, the natural resources that we need for agricultural production are also important.

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The focus is explicitly on the transformation process, meaning how we can actually achieve changes in our food systems. For me, issues of fairness are also central because they help us to find sustainable solutions that also meet the needs of less privileged parts of society.

About the person

Theresa Tribaldos

Theresa Tribaldos is co-leader of the research group "Just economies and human well-being" at the Centre for Development and Environment CDE. She studied geography and holds a doctorate in international relations. Among other things, she is leading the Swiss part of a partner project with Finland on the question of how the path to sustainable, healthy and climate-neutral nutrition can be organised in a fair way.


Why is this important from a scientific point of view?

We know that food systems are central to many of our current societal problems. They contribute to various forms of malnutrition and undernourishment, and hunger is still a serious problem for around 800 million people around the world.

However, food systems are also responsible for changes in land use and are therefore important drivers of biodiversity loss. In addition, food systems contribute around 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. This means that we can only achieve transformations towards greater sustainability if we take adequate account of food systems and focus on such issues.

How could this benefit society?

Food systems have great potential to make our society more sustainable. They can contribute to health and well-being through a balanced diet. They can create habitats for various animal and plant species through diverse and environmentally friendly production and help to cool the planet by storing CO₂.

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What fascinates you personally about this research project?

Food systems are incredibly diverse and we all have a connection to them. We all have to eat regularly and therefore have to deal with the topic in some way.

However, nutrition is also a form of cultural characterisation: Depending on the place and way of life, different cultures consume different foods, which they produce using different cultural techniques. We can therefore also learn a lot about people and their societies through food. And finally, eating together with family or friends can bring us closer and bring happy moments into our lives.

What is the biggest challenge that needs to be overcome?

Food systems are very strongly characterised by power structures. We see a high concentration of finances, land ownership or influence on decision-making processes. These structures do not normally promote small-scale, diverse and sustainable food production.

Many people cannot afford a healthy diet. They have no voice in decision-making processes or work under very precarious conditions in food production. These people do not usually benefit from the existing power structures. They also have few opportunities to change them. In many places, such power structures also promote political polarisation, which makes change more difficult.

How is the research project financed?

My research is made up of various projects and the funding of these projects also varies. An important source of funding is government research funding such as the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF or its Finnish counterpart, but private foundations or government agencies such as the federal government or the cantons also make contributions.