Researchers at the University of Twente (UT) have published a blueprint for sustainable post-growth food systems based on principles of sufficiency and regeneration.
The findings, which appear in a paper published in the Nature Sustainability journal, argue that food systems can be the foundation of healthy communities, ecologies, and economies. The researchers describe the global food system as ‘exhibit A in the crisis of growth-addicted development.’
“The current system is exploitative of humans and animals, ecologically rapacious, hooked on fossil fuels, and controlled by a small number of multinational corporations from food to fork,” the researchers warn. “This system produces massive quantities of the wrong foods at incredible social, ecological, and economic costs.”
The report authors identified several examples of ‘post-growth’ food systems. These include:
- Agroecological farming and gardening. This broadly involves the promotion of farming practices which reduce emissions, recycles resources and prioritises local supply chains. An example of this is in vertical farming. The researchers say this adoption can enhance biodiversity, maintain fertile soils, and improve system resilience
- Food as ‘commons’ rather than a commodity. This involves the belief that food, as an essential for human existence, can be better served through a hybrid system of governance. This can come about through creating a culture of appreciation among the processes in which food reaches consumers. The key resource here is the Routledge Handbook of Food as a Commons (2018, chapter 1, pdf)
- Food policy councils (FPCs). The researchers argue that food is connected to ‘multiple siloes’ of governance, from agriculture, to public health, to education, which often work as independent bodies rather than being integrated. FPCs ‘are inclusive and representative of diverse and private stakeholders and cut across multiple sectors of policy expertise related to food’
UT has various initiatives around sustainability, forming a key part of the university’s Shaping2030 mission as the ‘ultimate people-first university of technology… empowering society through sustainable solutions.’ Maarten van Aalst, UT professor of climate and disaster resilience, was a lead author in the pivotal IPCC report ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adoption and Vulnerability’ published in February. van Aalst described the report as a ‘red alert for humanity.’
The wider understanding behind ‘food as a commons’ relates to the global inequality of food being so scarce for citizens of many nations where others waste many tons each year. In June, Sustainable Future News spoke with GrowPura, a company focused on vertical farming, whose CEO John Irvine had seen food insecurity first-hand due to his global career meaning GrowPura’s mission ‘really hit a note.’
“We have seen what food systems designed to achieve relentless economic growth and profit maximisation do to the environment, farming communities and our health, and it’s not good,” said Dr Steven McGreevy, report co-author and UT assistant professor of institutional urban sustainability studies.
“We need to support these [post-growth] models where they exist and rediscover, transfer, or further develop them where appropriate,” added McGreevy.
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