FBMSYS-Introduction to Food Systems

Module Provider: Food and Nutritional Sciences
Number of credits: 15 [7.5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Prof Richard Frazier

Email: r.a.frazier@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Online Course

Summary module description:

This online module will advance the system science knowledge of students and enable them to begin addressing systemic challenges that the food sector faces.  Students will learn how food systems work, and how they can be analysed, optimised, and newly created.  This will embed knowledge and skills that will enable students to better articulate and address the big challenges that society currently faces, including ensuring that consumers have access to sustainable and healthy diets, while providing foods through environmentally sustainable and climate neutral food supply chains.


This introductory module aims to give students knowledge, skills and social competences on the food system, systems approaches to solving problems, and challenges in the food sector.  The module aims to:

  1. Introduce the concept of Food Systems;

  2. Introduce Systems Science principles to enable analysis and optimisation of complex systems;

  3. Encourage students to reflect on their own position in the Food System, as consumers and as professionals, and their individual profile and ambitions within those contexts.

Assessable learning outcomes:

After completing the module, students can:

  1. (K) Define Food Systems and describe their importance to society;

  2. (K) Explain key elements of system science, list the principal components of the food system and describe their systemic interactions and dependencies;

  3. (S) Describe and evaluate potential effects of changes in components or syb-systems of the whole food system;

  4. (S) Identify current challenges, critically evaluate different responses to these challenges, and draft their own responses;

  5. (S) Outline own competence profile in different subfields of the food sector, identify and name gaps that prevent an in integrated consideration of Food Systems aspect;

  6. (SC) Formulate individual development goals.

(K) Knowledge; (S) Skills; (SC) Social Competences

Additional outcomes:

The module will provide an introduction to the overall programme of study and roles of contributors within the MSc Food Systems programme.

Outline content:

The module will be delivered in the format of an online course, with video lectures completmented by directed reading, discussion boards and exercises to deliver the following content:

  1. An Introduction to Food Systems – a first insight into the Food Systems concept, including:

    1. Why Food Systems? Global challenges and trends

    2. Innovation opportunities in Food Systems: Creativity and transformational power

    3. Food Systems in a societal context: Ehtics and environmental sustainability

  2. Fundamentals of System Sciences – key systems sciences concepts, including:

    1. System science elements: System analysis, design and engineering, theories and methodologies

    2. Systemic interaction: Components and sub-systems, systemic interfaces

    3. Dynamics: feedback, feed-forward, stability, tipping points

  3. Food System Nodes – the elements of the food system in a system science context, including:

    1. Production

      1. Enablers, seeds, chemicals

      2. Farming and Smart Farming

      3. Bulk raw material

    2. Processing

      1. Business-to-business (B2B): functional ingredients

      2. Business-to-consumers (B2C): food and beverage

      3. Nutrition and health

      4. Packaging

    3. Distribution and Consumption

      1. Logistics

      2. Retail, supermarkets, gastronomy

      3. White goods, equipment

      4. Consumer insights and information

    4. Side streams

      1. Recycling

      2. Added value components

    5. Regulatory framework of the food system

  4. Putting it Together: Case studies of food systems applications (product and service value creation) are developed and discussed

  5. Planning my Future Food System Career: Final assessment for which students will use the gained knowledge, skills and social competences to reflect on their own position in the food system

Global context:

This module forms part of a programme of study that addresses global food security challenges toward creating a Food System that is more resource-efficient, secure, transparent and trusted, and that ultimately provides consumers/populations with healthier diets. This integration requires a new human resource that pool that is able to think beyond a simple discipline, and can analyse and understand the workings of complex systems.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module will be delivered in the format of an online course, making use of video lectures, directed reading, discussion boards and other online learning resources.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 15
Guided independent study:      
    Wider reading (directed) 35
    Completion of formative assessment tasks 15
    Group study tasks 30
    Essay preparation 25
    Reflection 30
Total hours by term 150 0 0
Total hours for module 150

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Set exercise 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:


Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students will produce a reflective report, titled “Planning my future food system career”. Students will use the gained knowledge, skills and social competences to reflect on their own position in the food system, describing their individual profile and ambitions, and identifying gaps and learning needs to reach their career goal. 

Formative assessment methods:

Students will participate in online quizzes and moderated discussion boards.

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/exams/student/exa-guidePG.aspx

Assessment requirements for a pass:


Reassessment arrangements:

Resubmission of coursework with mark capped at 50%

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

Last updated: 27 September 2019


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