3-5 May 2021
Europe/Vienna timezone

H - Sustainable Food Systems

H.1 Transforming the food system 

Karner, Sandra (IFZ - Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture, Graz), Pataki, György (ESSRG - Environmental Social Science Research Group, Budapest), Hungary

In order to successfully tackle the manifold challenges related to food production and consumption, changes in the entire food system are necessary, which do not only concern the food chain, but also the social, political, economic and environmental context it is embedded in. Against this background, food system approaches are increasingly seen as key to identifying new opportunities for changes towards more sustainability and social justice. According to such a perspective, transformation demands for coordinated efforts across scales, various sectors and multiple actors, as well as drawing upon diverse disciplinary and practical perspectives, and understanding how value systems shape the food system. Moreover, involving the full range of actors is essential for linking theory and practice, which finally should lead to concerted, joint action for change. Thus, this session invites contributions dealing with theories and cases of food system transformation.

Effective joint action usually involves a common vision about what is a sustainable food system, an understanding of where positions on the vision diverge, and increasing degrees of agreement on how to realize the vision. However, efforts to encourage rapid and joint actions that transform food systems are often impeded by disagreements on different pathways for change among different stakeholders. This session invites contributions which present “hands-on” experiences on how operational challenges have been tackled in innovative examples of how to enable different actors to identify ways to align different positions and plan/implement actions for change.

There are several theoretical lenses, which may be put on food system transformations, ranging from the multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions[1], institutional change perspectives[2], social innovation[3] and social practice approaches[4], social movement theory[5] to the assemblage theory[6] and more. Therefore, we also invite contributions that address theoretical dilemmas, offer new theoretical insights, and critically evaluate existing theories of food system change.


KEYWORDS: Food system, transformation, theories of food system change, sustainability transition


[1] E.g.: Gaitán-Cremaschi, D., Klerkx, L., Duncan, J. et al. (2019): Characterizing diversity of food systems in view of sustainability transitions. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 39: 1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-018-0550-2

[2] E.g.: Brest, P. (2010): The Power of Theories of Change, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Stanford Graduate School of Business.

[3] E.g.: Kirwan, J. et al. (2013): Grassroots social innovation and food localisation: An investigation of the Local Food programme in England. Global Environmental Change, 23: 830-837

[4] E.g.: O’Neill, K.J et al. (2019): ’Fractures’ in food practices: Exploring transtions towards sustainable food. Agriculture and Human Values, 36: 225.239

[5] E.g.: Sage, C. (2014): The transition movement and food sovereignty: From local resilience to global engagement in food system transformation. Journal of Consumer Culture, 14(2): 254-275

[6] E.g.: Marsden, T., Hebinck, P. & Mathijs, E. (2018): Re-building food systems: embedding assemblages, infrastructures and reflexive governance for food systems transformations in Europe. Food Sec. 10: 1301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-018-0870-8