Writing a recipe for teaching sustainable food systems: Lessons from three university courses

Christy Anderson Brekken, Hikaru Hanawa Peterson, Robert P. King, David Conner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The sustainability of the food system is at the forefront of academic and policy discussions as we face the challenge of providing food security to a growing population amidst environmental uncertainty and depletion, social disruptions, and structural economic shocks and stresses. Crafting a sustainable and resilient food system requires us to go beyond disciplinary boundaries and broaden critical and creative thinking skills. Recent literature calls for examples of pedagogical transformations from food systems courses to identify successful practices and potential challenges. We offer a recipe for what to teach by framing systems thinking concepts, then discuss how to teach it with five learning activities: deductive case studies, experiential learning, reflective narrative learning, system dynamics simulations and scenarios, and inductive/open-ended case studies, implemented with collaborative group learning, inter/trans-disciplinarity, and instructor-modeled co-learning. Each learning activity is animated with concrete examples from our courses at Oregon State University, University of Minnesota, and University of Vermont, USA. We discuss opportunities and challenges implementing these strategies in light of student, instructor, and institutional expectations and constraints. But the challenge is worth the effort, because food system transformation requires active learners and systemic thinkers as engaged citizens, food system advocates, entrepreneurs, and policy makers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1898
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 6 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This study and publication costs were funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under National Institute for Food and Agriculture grant 2014-68006-21854.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors.


  • Applied economics
  • Collaborative learning
  • Food systems
  • Graduate education
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Reflective learning
  • Sustainability
  • Systemthinking
  • Transdisciplinary
  • Undergraduate education


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