Shaping sustainable food systems : Local participation in addressing global challenges

Sammanfattning: The current unsustainable trajectory of food systems puts the social and ecological processes and functions on which human flourishing depends at risk. This last decade has seen, on one hand, continued insistence on transformative action and on the other, uncertainty and instability with respect to traditional, established institutions, such as the state. As a response, new configurations of actors are aiming to participate in food system governance. New governance arrangements that increasingly lean on civic actors are considered as windows of opportunity, but their possible pitfalls have received less attention. This thesis seeks to understand and explain how the participation of new actors in the food system contributes to transformative change towards sustainable food systems. In order to achieve this, this thesis develops and applies a novel interdisciplinary approach, which combines: a food systems perspective, theories concerning food system governance, transformation, participation and the creation of transformative futures.The four papers each investigate essential elements for transformative change towards sustainable food systems. Each paper represents different empirical cases, but the papers’ theories build on each other. Paper I starts by setting out a transdisciplinary understanding of food systems in terms of structure and dynamics beyond existing frameworks, built on co-design through a science-policy dialogue. It unpacks the idea of sustainable food systems across four elements: nutrition and diet, economic impacts, environmental impacts, and social equity. Paper II explores food systems change, through the case of food banks in Europe; civil initiatives that address food poverty by handing out surplus food parcels. By comparing initiatives from the Netherlands, Italy and Ireland, their transformative impact on food systems is reviewed. Paper III goes on to interrogate the role of participation in change processes. It does this through an assessment of the extent to which participation is properly executed in policy processes that aim to democratise and ‘open-up’ the making of an Urban Food Strategy. It does so by comparing the case of Eindhoven, the Netherlands and Exeter, United Kingdom. Finally, paper IV is focused on how imagined futures affect participatory change processes. It focuses on the use of future-oriented participatory methods, foresight, and their implications for transformative change. The paper contributes to the field of foresight by formulating several levels of ambition for transformative change associated with foresight processes, and a number of different roles for the researcher to take in processes of change. The papers establish a new understanding of food systems, followed by insights into food systems change, the role of participation in change processes, and how imagined futures affect this participation. Together, they demonstrate the benefits of buildingon food system knowledges from, from different spheres – i.e. public, private and civil as well as across different scientific research disciplines. The thesis concludes that a concrete, actionable understanding of how participatory processes focused on present and future food systems, contribute to transformative change in food systems.

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