All posts by Claire

PhD student in the RNA Silencing and Disease Resistance group, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge Claire's current research is on the mechanisms of RNA silencing in a green alga, a simple plant species. RNA silencing is a term that describes a number of critical regulatory pathways that are found in plants and animals and further understanding of these pathways could see the development of biotechnological solutions to issues of crop yield and plant disease.

Cambridge Food Security Forum meeting

If you are interested in the food system, and taking action to achieve a sustainable system in Cambridge, please join us for a meeting on Thursday 12 May at 5pm.

The Cambridge Food Security Forum was set up in 2015 to bring together students and post-docs that have an interest in the global food system. Over the last few months, we’ve organised a public discussion on reducing meat consumption, run a seminar series Food: Field to Table?, run a stall at the Science Festival and will soon be holding a joint conference with the Oxford Food Forum.

We are holding this meeting to elect a new committee and to start planning events for the 2016/2017 academic year. Please let us know here if you would like to join us for this meeting. We will settle a location in central Cambridge once we have numbers. If you are a student or an early career post-doc and you would like to be involved in leading the Forum next year please also indicate what roles you might like to take on.

Even if you are not affiliated with the University, do join us at this meeting – it would be fantastic to have your thoughts on projects for next year!

Any questions, or if you are interested but cannot attend the meeting, get in touch at

We look forward to meeting you soon!

Conference: Technological Frontiers in Food Security and Sustainability

The annual food systems conference held in association with the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food will take place in Oxford on 7 May.
The conference will examine the role of technology in achieving a sustainable and secure food system.
The key note will be given by Dr Monika Zurek from the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford and sessions will cover:
  • technological advances in food production
  • innovation in natural resource management
  • barriers to social acceptance of new technologies
The day will include a poster session and opportunities to network.
More information and registration is available here.
This conference is jointly organised by the Cambridge Food Security Forum and the Oxford Food Forum.

You are what you eat: Nutrition and Health Policy

We invite you for another exciting event in our Easter term seminar series.

We will have two fantastic speakers –

  • Dr Bhavani Shankar (SOAS, University of London) who will present Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA programme)
  • Prof Theresa Marteau (Behaviour and Health Research Unit, Cambridge) will speak on intervening to change dietary behaviour to improve population and planetary health.

When: 3 May 5pm – 7pm

Where: Alison Richard Building, SG2

Time to squash the beef?

For those of you who missed Squash the Beef on 1 March 2016, here is one view on the evening’s discussion. And have a look at this pamphlet that we put together with some of the key facts and figures.

Many of us have a curious relationship with meat. More than any other food item, meat makes a meal. It is the centerpiece of a Sunday lunch or dinner with the family. Serving a prime cut is a sure sign of a generous host. Meat is manly.

Some of these views about meat are arguably a carry over from times when it was difficult or expensive for the average household to obtain meat. Now that meat is (too?) reasonably priced, many of us can afford to feature large quantities of meat as part of our diets. And so we do — our consumption of animal products has increased by 100% from 1970 to 2013. If we continue this trend, there will be a further 60% increase by 2030 (see this great resource).

Many of us might be able to financially afford to eat more meat. Increasingly, however, we are being asked to consider whether our health and our environment can afford our taste for meat.

The Cambridge Food Security Forum asked the Cambridge community to consider this issue at Squash the Beef, a public discussion held at the wonderful Espresso Library.

Professor Tim Benton, the UK Champion for Global Food Security and Professor of Population Ecology at Leeds, started the evening by setting out the impact of meat consumption on the environment. The facts are quite extraordinary. For me, the most striking is that, at current rates of consumption, by 2045 agriculture will take up the entire budget of carbon dioxide emissions that we can afford to emit if we want to avoid large global temperature rises. Put another way, we will not be able to afford to have emissions from manufacturing or transportation.

Clearly something has to give. Some options come to mind after hearing from Tim that we typically overeat protein by two to three times and that intensively grown beef results in emissions roughly an order of magnitude higher than other meats. (The numbers can get confusing because animals are raised in such different environments. Sometimes lamb is the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions.)

But that is not to say that meat needs to be eliminated from diets entirely. Tim Hayward, a food writer and broadcaster, led an interesting discussion on this point. Tim sees a continued role for meat in our diets. He thinks that by engaging with where meat comes from — how the meat gets from field to plate — and by eating higher quality meat less often we can move to more sustainable meat consumption. He also spoke of how he has confidence in selecting parts of an animal that are usually considered undesirable offcuts and cooking those up into something delicious — the nose–to–tail principle.

The final speaker for the evening was Alice Kabala. Alice is a food blogger at Thoughtful Forkfuls and a chef at CAMYOGA in Cambridge. She spoke about her own decision to turn to a plant-based diet and how it is possible to obtain enough protein and critical nutrients from vegetable sources (of course, acknowledging that B12 is lacking and needs to be supplemented). It was a refreshing discussion of how it is possible to have a nutritious and varied diet without consuming meat.

Coming away from the evening, I was excited by the level of awareness and interest in this important issue. I really like that the discussion around meat consumption is becoming more focused on environmental impact. Partially because we are all tired of the inconsistent messages about the dietary impact of eating this and that (although there does at least seem to be consensus that processed meats are not good for us). And partially because focusing on the environment really does highlight that this is not a matter of personal choice. How can it be when meat consumption has such a large global impact in the form of contributing to climate change?

The message of the evening was not that everyone should switch to a plant-based diet. Indeed, one of the important messages was that avoiding meat consumption is a luxury that some people do not have — for some communities, fish and meat provide a critical, local protein source. But for those of us in more economically developed countries like the United Kingdom, I do not think there are any grounds for shirking the need to, at least partially, squash the beef.

This event was made possible by the generous support of Cumberland Lodge, the Cambridge Strategic Initiative on Global Food Security and Quorn.

Consumer choices: shaping and responding to the food system

Join us for an exciting series of seminars looking at how consumers shape and are influenced by the food system.

Tuesday 19 April 2016: The modern hunter-gatherer: access to food in urban environments

Tuesday 3 May 2016: You are what you eat: nutrition and health policy

Tuesday 17 May 2016: Waste not: overcoming the food waste problem

Tuesday 31 May 2016: Ethical consumerism: good for the food system?

All seminars will be held from 1700 to 1900 in SG2 Alison Richard Building, West Road, Cambridge.

Further details to follow!

Image credit: Action Press/REX FEATURES

Market interference – helping and hindering sustainable food systems

We have a great seminar coming up on how market interference shapes our food system.

Fiona Smith (Warwick, Law) will speak on how agricultural subsidies distort the food system and how subsidies can be better regulated to produce positive outcomes for food security.

Christian Theil (Cambridge, Development Studies) will discuss his proposal to start taxing meat in China.

Tina Schivatcheva (Cambridge, Development Studies) will chair the session and illustrate the impact of regulatory barriers by discussing changes in the Bulgarian food system after joining the European Union.

Please join us on 9 March from 17.00 to 19.00 in Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building.

Image credit: Tom Toles, The Washington Post

Squash the Beef: a discussion on the global and personal impact of meat

Cambridge Food Security Forum is excited to be at Espresso Library on the evening of 1 March for a discussion on the global and personal impact of meat consumption. With ever increasing demand for meat, it is time to assess the impact that our personal choices have.

We have three great speakers joining us –

  • Tim Benton is the UK Food Security Champion. He will help us understand what meats have the most and least impact on our health and the environment.
  • Tim Hayward, the owner of Cambridge favourite Fitzbillies, will argue for continued meat consumption, but lesser amounts of higher quality meat and consumption from head to tail.
  • Alice Kabala, food blogger @Thoughtful Forkfuls, will talk about ways to have a nutritious and varied meat-free diet.

We will post a summary of the evening’s discussion for those that are unable to join us.

Many thanks to Cumberland Lodge, Quorn and the Cambridge Global Food Security Strategic Research Initiative for making this evening possible.

Lent Term CRASSH programme

We have released the Lent Term programme for the CRASSH discussion group, Food: Field to Table?

This term we will be focusing on the market forces that shape the global food system – from multinational supply chains, the impact of agricultural subsidies, to the politics of food provisioning and the role of gender and technology in driving market exclusion.

Our first session on Wednesday 13 January will conclude with a drinks reception.

We look forward to seeing you then!