Interpretations of social sustainability in UK food policy: The pliable pillar.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Since its advent in the 1980s, policy for sustainability has been seen to comprise three strands or “pillars”: environmental, economic and social. The social pillar, characterized as having both substantive elements (referring to desired social outcomes) and procedural elements (referring to the social processes by which outcomes are to be achieved) has proved the hardest to define and implement. In the UK, the sustainability lens was first applied to the food supply in 1994, after which a series of food sustainability policies struggled to specify and accommodate the social dimension. Numerous attributes, including food availability, safety, quality and adequacy, ethical trading, worker welfare, animal welfare, rural livelihoods, decent wages, trust, equity and assorted “social values,” were listed under the social heading in these frameworks. But efforts to incorporate a social element in food sustainability programmes looked experimental and opportunistic; conspicuously, they lacked the “green filter” that would distinguish “social sustainability policy” from other social policy relevant to food. The social pillar emerges not as a rigid feature but as a pliable component that can be molded to fit changing agendas, co-opted to legitimize other policy initiatives, retrofitted to pre-existing policies, or omitted altogether. Throughout the period reviewed (ending in 2015), the social dimension of sustainability, though often mentioned and sometimes prioritized, persistently lacked a clear and agreed definition in relation to food.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Food Security and Sustainability: Volume 4.
EditorsDavid Barling, Jess Fanzo
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherAcademic Press
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)978-0-12-817698-6
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2019


  • food


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