Dr. Afton Halloran
My upbringing in a rural part of Vancouver Island, Canada has had a deep and lasting impact on my interest in sustainable food systems. When I moved to the big city (aka Vancouver) to start my BSc, I remember being shocked that I would actually have to buy zucchini, apples and rhubarb – after all, I was used to growing it myself!
At 15 years old, I attended high school in Japan and lived with a host family in a small farming village on the Bōsō Peninsula. This was the first of a multitude of significant and transformative experiences working, living and researching in both urban and rural communities of Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
As a naturally curious person my interests are many, but you can basically boil my main interest down to system change, the process of addressing the root causes of social problems, which are often intractable and embedded in networks of cause and effect. The system that I have dedicated my life to understanding and improving is the food system.
You see, the food system is really the mother of all global challenges. Our current global food system has, in many ways, delivered on providing enough calories to the majority of people on this planet. But, like many citizens and experts alike, I think we need to rethink what exactly we want the food system to deliver on today and in the future.
How can a systems perspective help? Well, unless we attempt to deal with the root causes of the major global challenges that we are experiencing today like malnutrition or climate change, we will only be mitigating the consequences of malfunctioning systems, or, inadvertently, providing cover for their failure. In doing so, we will cease to create the change we want to see. System change is not the only way of addressing social problems, but it does provide us with useful tools to understanding these problems and evaluating them, and sets out principles for achieving change.
Over the last 12 years, I have built up a robust background in the field of sustainable food systems. After all, in order to understand how a system works, you need to understand it from multiple points of view.
In mid-2017, I received my PhD in International and Paediatric Nutrition with a specialization in Sustainable Food Systems. My thesis looked at the impact of cricket farming on rural livelihoods, nutrition, and the environment in Kenya and Thailand. I completed my MSc in Agricultural Development at the University of Copenhagen in 2012, specializing in urban agriculture as an urban land use in Tanzania and Copenhagen. I hold a BSc (honours) in Global Resource Systems from the University of British Columbia.
In addition to my academic credentials, it has been important for me to gain experience from different organizations/institutions. From 2010 to 2012, I worked as an urban agriculture project officer and affiliated researcher for the Canadian NGO, Sustainable Cities International in Tanzania. Together with many other dedicated people, I was responsible for successfully incorporating urban agriculture as a land use into the Dar es Salaam Master Plan. Since 2012, I have been working on the topic of edible insects in sustainable food systems. I am a co-author of the most downloaded publication in the history of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. I am also the lead editor of Edible insects in sustainable food systems. From 2015 to 2016, I worked as a researcher for the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.
As an independent consultant, I have been advising intergovernmental organizations, companies and NGOs on issues related to sustainable food systems such as the future of food, the social impacts of food production, food culture/gastronomy and sustainable diets. I also moderate events and facilitate high-level workshops.
I also work for the Nordic Council of Ministers, where I am an External Consultant to a project called the Nordic Food Policy Lab. One of my biggest accomplishments has been leading the development of the Solutions Menu: A Nordic Guide to Sustainable Food Policy, a publication that is now in the hands of many influential policy-makers around the world. I also consult on initiatives under the New Nordic Food Programme and The Nordics Programme.
Since 2018, I have been a member of the World Restaurant Awards judging panel and a member of the board of directors of FunkisFabriken Centre for Sustainability Research. I am one of the Agribusiness Academy’s Experts and I sit on the SIRI Commission’s Working Group for Food and Technology in Denmark.