Putting the food system in context

Putting the food system in context

Putting the food system in context

Het voedselsysteem in context plaatsen

The mediating role of interpersonal relationships across the contextual dimensions that both contribute to and limit the emergence of responsibility in food systems. Credit: Sustainability (2022). DOI: 10.3390/su14137776

According to a new study from the Université de Montréal, innovations that make the food supply chain “more responsible” – more environmentally friendly, good for public health, fairer for farmers – will happen faster if the context that paves the way for them is better understood.

And to that end, two researchers from the Université de Montréal conducted a comprehensive study of food supply systems in the north and south of the world — in Quebec and Brazil — that provide a blueprint for improving the way millions of people eat and drink.

Published in the magazine SustainabilityThe research was conducted at UdeM’s School of Public Health by Professor Pascale Lehoux and doctoral student Renata Pozelli Sabio, a Brazilian who previously did her master’s degree in management and bachelor’s degree in food science in her home country.

The researchers based their findings on 34 interviews with leaders from 30 organizations, evenly split between Quebec and the state of São Paulo, Brazil, that produce or supply local or organic food, care about animal welfare or have socially oriented business models.

They were asked to describe innovative practices they engage in, as well as contextual elements that promote a responsible approach to their business.

In Quebec, participants gave examples of innovation, such as setting up ‘meals on wheels’ programs for seniors, getting local or organic foods on the menu at schools and universities, building rooftop gardens, producing local honey and buying non-perishable foods in bulk.

In Brazil, interviewees said they helped small farmers’ cooperatives market their produce, employed women in poor areas to prepare packed lunches of organic food to sell online, and held workshops where people discuss ways to eat healthier. .

The participants then put those and other innovations into context per theme:

  • Some mentioned technological challenges (fresh food is going bad in public markets due to a lack of cold stores, unsuitable farm equipment that compacts and destroys organic soils).
  • Others cited biophysical and ecological inspirations and constraints (deforestation leading to a drive for sustainable development, monoculture that limits honeybees’ access to wildflowers).
  • Some cited economic factors (capitalist models in Brazil that prioritize marketing “big and shiny” bananas no matter how they’re grown, or public markets in Montreal where local organic produce is overwhelmed by cheap imports).
  • Political and institutional measures helped some take advantage of government programs to hire young people to deliver meals to seniors, while one-size-fits-all regulations were deemed ill-designed to promote local cuisine.
  • In São Paulo, the sociocultural and demographic context helped overcome opposition from city officials to a federal law aimed at putting organic food from family farms on school menus. Nevertheless, public awareness of ecologically responsible farming remains very low.
  • Consumer behavior and diets are often income-driven; only the middle and upper middle classes can “support a business that uses local labor, manages the land well, uses no pesticides, and generates jobs and income,” as one Quebec resident put it.
  • Problems with the food supply chain can hinder responsible practices: for example, if carrots from small producers come washed but not peeled, it can be a turn-off for distributors; likewise, it can be difficult to find organic bird food for the chicken industry.
  • Finally, several interviewees cited interpersonal relationships as key to building a responsible food system, where building trust from field to factory and kitchen to table is a key to success.

According to the UdeM researchers, the implications of these observations and findings are manifold for policymakers.

“We tell them, ‘Here are some ways you can look at the contextual dimensions of a problem and figure out how to encourage everyone in the food systems to act more responsibly,'” says Lehoux.

“You can fund programs that support that, you can regulate to better align the work of large and small players, you can fund research to advance the cause, you can promote awareness and build consensus on responsible food practices” , Sabio added.

“What the context shows us is that it’s not just one way to get us where we want to be — there are many,” Sabio said. “Right now, the dominant food system is prioritized, but that is changing. Sooner or later, a more responsible food system will emerge — we just need to understand how.”

Sustainable practices linked to farm size in organic farming

More information:
Renata Sabio et al, How does context contribute to and limit the emergence of responsible innovation in food systems? Results of a multiple case study, Sustainability (2022). DOI: 10.3390/su14137776

Provided by the University of Montreal

Quote: Putting the Food System in Context (2022, Sept 2), retrieved Sept 2, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-food-context.html

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