Sustainability in times of disruption: Engaging with near and distant futures in practices of food entrepreneurship

Gaast, Koen van der; Leeuwen, Eveline van; Wertheim-Heck, Sigrid


The sustainability transformation of the food system involves imagining a sustainable future whilst functioning within the current unsustainable food system. Some argue there is a difference between the goal-oriented and comfort seeking form in which the near future is engaged, and the reflexive, imaginary way in which the distant future is engaged. This begs the question, how is engagement with near and distant futures balanced, and what does this mean for the overall sustainability transformation of the food system? We studied future engagement in practices of food entrepreneurship in the Dutch province of Flevoland during the disruption caused by the covid-19-induced lockdowns. This disruption posed a challenge and an opportunity to study near and distant future engagement in depth. Through an online survey and offline semi-structured interviewing, we questioned practitioners of sustainable food entrepreneurship during the first and second lockdown, respectively. The findings show near future engagement is mostly associated with immediate change in practices enforced by the covid-19 lockdown, whereas distant future engagement primarily was visible in continuous change in practices as associated with sustainability. However, this does not mean near and distant future were perfectly balanced. Therefore, we argue pre-existing trends with regards to sustainability can be accelerated or obstructed when they meet the immediate effects of disruption. Our paper concludes by stating the need for more research to the interaction of near and distant futures in different contexts and circumstances.