Embracing and exploring diversity in sustainable transition pathways to food and nutrition security

Through the project TRANSMANGO we hope to contribute to a better understanding of sustainable transition pathways to changing food systems. Especially in WP6 we put focus on the diverse food practices performed on the local level all over Europe and their contribution to food and nutrition security[1]. The European ‘fragmented foodscape’[2] is constituted by a range of various and often contrasting social practices that co-exist and interact with another. Hence we have selected a diverse range of food practices all over Europe in order to explore whether and if so how they enhance food security. These practices range from urban food (policy) initiatives in the UK to food assistance in Italy.

The 18 diverse case-studies that have been selected for WP6 illustrate the European[3]  heterogeneity in Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) practices and transition pathways. The selection covers predominantly ‘counter movements’ and more radical FNS transition pathways of which most have a focus on ‘bottom up’ initiatives around the consumption of food (rather than the production) as this field is still underrepresented when it comes to food system transition research. As can be seen in the figure, all of our partners have selected two case-studies. This was done based on the requirement that these social practices cover entitlement- and/or self-reliance issues. Using this divide amongst the cases allows us to zoom in on the contradictions in European food governance. Foremost, it provides us with a good insight into the complexity and heterogeneity of food practices, but also shows the need for ‘macro-level’ actors (e.g. the EU) to embrace these diverse interactions on a ‘micro-level’.

WP6 map of cases

Self-reliance focussed
Transition pathways that are focussed on social practices that build self-reliance in food security will provide insights into food governance practices. Self-reliance is a trait highly valued in a neo-liberal focused society and is incentivised by many governments. Following up on calls for self-reliance (e.g. ‘Big Society’ in the U.K. and ‘Participation society’ in the Netherlands) many new community-led partnerships and coalitions have emerged targeting FNS issues. Food policy councils and networks and urban food initiatives are explored to unpack these new forms of food governance.
The case of Voedselteams (Food teams) in Flanders (Belgium) highlights a particular form of an Alternative Food Network that has established a local food system within a social group based on common values. Counteracting a perceived powerlessness to influence the food system this community-led initiative connected farmers and consumers, creating a local food system based on volunteers.
Aiming to influence food governance on a national scale, the Sustainable Food Cities Network was formed in the United Kingdom. Building on the idea that food has the power to be a vehicle for positive change, they aim to help people and places by sharing challenges and exploring opportunities. Bringing together public, private and third sector organisations it is a good example of a cross-sector partnership that aims for healthy and sustainable food.
These new forms of collaboration and institutional arrangements contribute to FNS based on a self-reliance approach on various levels. In WP6, we interrogate these self-reliance practices to improve the understanding of food governance on a local level.

Entitlement issues
The case studies that explore entitlements zoom in on social practices that address vulnerable groups and their entitlement issues, such as food assistance and -charity and school food programs. Leaning on Amartya Sen’s definition of entitlements to food (1981), we interrogate local European initiatives that aim to distribute entitlements to food. On the contrary to the previous, these forms of food governance do not rely on self-reliance, but target those that are too vulnerable.
For example in Spain, both of the case-studies will be focused on re-habilitating entitlements to the rural and peri-urban poor. One of the case-studies is focussed on initiatives that alleviate difficulties for the rural elderly in remote areas (63.5% of Spain is classified as remote) where social sustainability and food security are at risk. The initiative Menjar a Casa (eating at home) is one of the recent attempts in Valencia to improve food security of the elderly through the home delivery of prepared meals.
The case of food assistance in Tuscany (Italy) will explore Emporio della Solidarietà (emporium of solidarity), an initiative that aims to improve regional food security. By looking at how they coordinate their actions between the different levels of stakeholders, the relation to the nutritional content of the food and how the program relates to the existing welfare system, we will explore new ways and means of cooperation to adapt the practices of food assistance to emerging needs in a changing environment.
Exploring practices based on an entitlement-approach provides insights into a food governance approach contrary to that of self-reliance, one that has a different relation to societal sub-systems (such as social welfare).

Embracing diversity of transition pathways
These diverse food practices that are central to WP6 represent a part of the fragmented foodscape in Europe and its complex nature. We aim to show the need to embrace the diversity within the different transition pathways for they all are local constructions to the locally perceived challenges in FNS. These social practices are re-assemblages of the resources at hand on a local- as well as a national- and global level. We explore how key actors shape and construct their social practices, the extent to which they interact with policy and wider institutional settings, and the implications for food and nutrition security in Europe.

[1] Deliverable D6.1 Case-study selection and methodological guidelines for local level analysis of FNS pathways

[2] The idea of the fragmented foodscape is derived from and inspired by assemblage theory. Assemblages are composed of heterogeneous elements that may be human and non-human, organic and inorganic, technical and natural (Anderson and McFarlane 2011, p.124)

[3] Two Tanzanian case-studies have been included since much of the FNS discussion and literature has focused on Africa, this allows us to learn from that debate and how policies have been adapted to FNS research.


One thought on “Embracing and exploring diversity in sustainable transition pathways to food and nutrition security

  1. Reblogged this on Rural Sociology Wageningen University and commented:

    A recent post by Aniek Hebinck on the local case-studies in TRANSMANGO. A diverse selection of 18 case-studies in Europe (and Tanzania) represent the Fragmented Foodscape that will improve our understanding of transition pathways to a sustainable food system.


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