Sustainable Food Transformations

Peter Oosterveer, Simon Bush, Gert Spaargaren, Aarti Gupta, Hilde Toonen and Sigrid Wertheim-Heck

Food, an essential part of everyday life for all human beings, involves critical sustainability challenges from production through to processing and trade, and consumption and waste. Food impacts biodiversity, climate change and social equity. Critical sociological and political analysis can contribute to reducing the negative impacts. The Environmental Policy Group addresses these challenges by researching the ways in which sustainability is included in food production and consumption, and by studying how different social actors and organizations in globalising food networks engage with innovative governance arrangements and socio-technical innovations.

Building on social practice theories, ecological modernisation theory and transition theory, as well as theories on global value chains and production networks, our empirical research addresses the everyday practices of food consumption, consumer access to sustainable, safe and healthy food, and consumer-retailer interactions. We also study the institutional organisation of globalising food networks, including labelling and certification schemes handling sustainability related food risks. Analysing the connections between different actors within food production and consumption networks, offers innovative perspectives on strategies for environmental change.

By applying these theories, we contribute to debates around the design of innovative governance arrangements for sustainable food networks with a particular attention to the critical role consumers and civil society actors play in globalising food networks. A global perspective is central to our approach to analysing environmental transformations in the domain of food whereby we pay particular attention to social (inequality) impacts which come along with and result from these transitions. The research aims for societal impact through the identification of promising ways to advance environmental transformations in the domain of food in an equitable manner.

The future of food requires continuous reflection on technological innovations and environmental change, identification of changing food practices (production, retail and consumption), and analysis of innovative food governance arrangements. ENP research on food deals with these future challenges.