A message of hope

Published on
April 13, 2021

If you are purely optimistic about the acceleration of the sustainability process in the food system, then you are only thinking that it will all work out. You therefore end up not taking action, because you trust things will happen ‘all on its own’. If you are purely negative about the transition opportunities, then you lose all hope and stop innovating because you think it doesn’t make sense anyway.

But doing nothing is really not an option. The impact of food is far too great to let it run its course: economically and spatially, socio-culturally, and of course because of the influence of food production and consumption patterns on animal welfare, human health and the resilience of nature and the environment. So we have to make room for hope; seeking space for transition towards more sustainable practices, perspectives and values. There is broad support for the position that business and policies as usual is not an option and certainly not future-proof. There is considerably less agreement about the route to be taken, about the rate of change or about the agreed destination we should all be aiming for.

Multiple transition paths, different speeds and multiple targets – that's what it will come down to. All the more so because we not only want to work towards a sustainable and healthy food system, but also towards a more inclusive food system. A food system that represents players of various origins. A food system of the future must be pluralistic for it to exist. Pluriformity means that there is a legitimate place for oddballs, cross-thinkers and daredevils. There are more modes of production and consumption than the usual ones. In fact, ‘Transition to a Sustainable Food System’ is not least about exploring and broadening the possibilities for alternative ways of producing and consuming.

Inclusive does not mean that there will not be losers. A transition cannot exist without winners and losers, whereby today's winners could be tomorrow's losers and vice versa. Anyone declared crazy today may just be the celebrated visionary tomorrow. Thus the importance of support and resistance as the research theme of ‘Transition to a Sustainable Food System’. Who will take part and who will demonstrate leadership? Who is still resisting and digging their heels in and who is going on the offensive? What is stopping market parties, consumers and/or governments from reforming the food producing country of the Netherlands with greater urgency and obligation? Where do all those entrepreneurs and innovators draw their enthusiasm from what players are already working towards greater sustainability? What traditions, interests, perspectives and world views undergird this?

In the so-called iceberg model, which we take as a point of departure in ‘Transition to a Sustainable Food System’, we are now at the base of the iceberg and are talking about the deeply submerged mental models. It pertains to the forces behind our actions that drive particular development opportunities in the food system to be encouraged and cultivated, while others are frustrated and marginalised. It should be clear that when we start thinking about how to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system in the coming years, this is sure to be a rather fundamental issue. After all, it is about what is obstructed and what is given a chance to develop, what endures and what is distanced from and parted with.

Transition is an unpredictable process with no roadmap or prescribed path. Transition involves doubt; it is daring to doubt. It is an age-old truth that understanding and science begin with doubt. So in the years to come, it is also about sowing doubt – in the hope of reaping understanding. Above all, it is about holding on to Seneca's wise words: When you are wise, you merge one thing with another: hope not without doubt and doubt not without hope.