(Un)Sustainable Food Consumption Dynamics in South/Southeast Asia: Changing Patterns, Practices and Policies among “New Consumers” in India and the Philippines

What are the consumption patterns of the growing middle classes in emerging countries? What are the environmental and social impacts of these practices? How can more sustainable consumption pathways be reached?

Project Summary

In emerging economies and among the growing middle classes, changing labour markets and production processes along with rising purchasing power is translating to a moving up on the energy and protein ladder. The consumption patterns of these new consumers raise concern among policy-makers and researchers in terms of environmental impact and social inequalities.

Very little empirical data exists at the sub-national level on the challenges and opportunities their consumption patterns actually represent and what role households might play in charting transitions to more sustainable patterns.

This research project will contribute new and inter-disciplinary research on the dynamics of consumption patterns, practices and policies among new consumers in two mega-cities of South and Southeast Asia: Bangalore, India, and Metro Manila, the Philippines.

This project is timely relevant, as the global economic slowdown will affect job opportunities in emerging economies, where concerns about wage and employment prospects have already subdued household consumption – which in turn may have unfavourable effects for promoting more sustainable forms of consumption.

While the research is city-specific, consumption must also be understood against the backdrop of change and continuity in the broader world system, including the labour market, migration and remittances, and global media flows.

This project proposes an approach that is relevant to studying consumption in other contexts and proposes research findings that will transcend the local to offer insights into how social practices emerge in a context of globalisation – towards a deeper understanding of sustainable consumption pathways.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

Based on fieldwork in both Metro Manila (the Philippines) and Bangalore (India), this project aimed to understand current and changing food consumption patterns, practices and policies in two mega-cities of South and Southeast Asia with a focus on the growing middle classes. Three approaches came together towards this aim, including industrial ecology methodologies, social practice theories, and the anthropology of policy. Our empirical research drew from 217 interviews, revealing the role social norms and conventions related to food consumption, as well as how meanings around food differ in varying cultural contexts. We found that eating out is an important trend in both cities, creating occasions for people to step out of class and caste distinctions and experience food as a form of adventure. The food service sector is a highly relevant space for further studies in relation to food waste; our research found very little food waste generated at the level of households. Women remain primarily responsible for food preparation in the home, oftentimes with the assistance of domestic help. While the most significant impacts during the food production and consumption stage occur upstream from households, during storage and transport for example, we evaluated the environmental impacts of how food waste is managed – proposing options for improved waste management in both contexts. The pathways of circulation and domestication of policies related to food waste was also studied in Bangalore, revealing the role of gated communities in micro-approaches to waste management. In Metro Manila, we found an increasing trend towards organic food and vegetarianism, particularly when eating out; in Bangalore, conversely, eating out is a way for vegetarians to experiment with non-veg dishes. In terms of methodological approaches and conceptual developments, social practice theory offers a rich prism through which to study food consumption, as a complex practice. Combining and understanding food consumption as both biophysical patterns and social practices required a reflexive stance in the interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data, leading to a key contribution of this research project: how much of what we consume should be combined with an understand of why and in what way we consume, towards a more complete picture of food consumption practices, patterns and policies.


Report on Consumption Patterns, Material flow analysis (MFA)

The (Un)sustainable food consumption dynamics in Bangalore and Manila project is an interdisciplinary project that aims to identify changes in food consumption patterns and practices and related policies in two megacities: Bangalore in India and Manila in Philippines.

The objective of this report is to review for internal purposes the “MFA part” activities of the first project year (phase I), the main results, reflect on the challenges faced and report conclusions in view of the second project year (phase II).


Report on environmental impacts of food consumption

The research project on ‘(Un)Sustainable Food Consumption Dynamics in South/Southeast Asia’ focuses on understanding food consumption trends in the context of the rising urban middle class populations in two of southeast Asia’s fastest growing cities – Bangalore and Manila. Preliminary findings from the survey on food consumption in Bangalore and Manila indicate that a subset of residents are keen on consuming fresh and/or organic food produce for a variety of reasons. This ranges from perceived health benefits to lowering environmental foot prints and that both cities Bangalore and Manila need to frame and enforce comprehensive, far sighted and sustainable policies to manage their food waste and in general municipal solid waste (Ganguly et al., 2014). Therefore, LCAs on food production and food waste management undertaken in other part of the world can offer powerful insights on the environmental impacts of these two life stages of food for the context of Bangalore and Manila and provide a meaningful first meaningful step in the undertaking of a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in a given specific context.

Research Team

Marlyne Sahakian
Université de Lausanne

Suren Erkman
Université de Lausanne

Shalini Randeria
Universität Zürich

Sunayana Ganguly
Principal Member
Freie Universität Berlin

Christine Lutringer
Principal Member
Ecole Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Czarina Saloma Akpeduno
Principal Member
Ateneo de Manila University – Quezon City

Arab Hoballah
Associated Member
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Randall Krantz
Associated Member
World Economic Forum (WEF)

Uma Rani
Associated Member
International Labour Organisation

Useful Links

Full Working Paper:






Policy domains


Host Institution