Fair Food Futures: Localising the SDGs through food justice

A Discovery Early Career Researcher Award funded by the Australian Research Council

The United Nations 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a challenge to the international community – how to transform towards a more sustainable and ‘just’ society. The goal of Zero Hunger especially calls for a ‘fundamental transformation of the way we grow and eat food’. While Australia is not widely seen to have a food security problem, inequitable access to food is a significant local problem. Some 3.6 million Australians are food insecure; up to 40% of edible food is wasted; there has been a 10% rise in people seeking food relief in the past 12 months; with Indigenous people, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, the aged, unemployed, young and rural people most vulnerable.

In Australia, and elsewhere, community food networks such as urban gardens, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, organic cooperatives, food charities and ‘fair food’ organisations are important civil society stakeholders, who actively confront these inequalities within food systems. These organisations emphasise equitable access to food that is ecologically sustainable, healthy and fairly produced, exchanged and consumed – widely understood as food justice. This idea differentiates them from food security approaches focused on producing more food and provides a potentially progressive framework for thinking about alternative food futures. They are examples of food utopias that we can learn from. And they are growing.

How can community food networks influence the kind of wider paradigm shift towards sustainability that the 2030 Agenda requires? In other countries, civil society participation in food system decisions has resulted in major transformations in people’s ability to define healthy, sustainable and just food systems and improve food access. In Australia, however, civil society is often excluded from food governance despite evidence that it is instrumental in addressing hunger and social and ecological justice. More research is needed to examine the role that civil society might play in implementing the SDGs locally.

Using qualitative case studies and future scenario building, Fair Food Futures will enable a more inclusive discussion about what a just food system should look like. The project has 4 aims:

1. To examine the discourses, strategies, successes and limitations of community food networks as they seek to address food access, justice and sustainable food production and consumption.

2. To explore how Australian community food networks at multiple levels (local, regional, national, global) envisage a more sustainable and just food future, and examine how these visions connect to the global Sustainable Development Goals.

3. To identify the factors that shape, enable or constrain the capacity for community food networks to inform food systems governance in Australia, localise the Sustainable Development Goals, and provide recommendations for policy reform.

4. To interpret findings from the above research in the context of emerging sociological theory on food utopias and food system governance.

Research design

Fair Food Futures will explore the visions for change put forth by community food networks in Australia as a way to progress transformation to sustainable food futures. This builds on existing research into community food networks that argues:

  • Community food networks emphasise food justice, not just food security
  • Community food networks are important for food system governance, but are often excluded
  • Community food networks can be instructive for localising the SDGs
  • Community food networks have the potential to transform future food systems and can help point to potential sustainability pathways.

The project will use an innovative food utopias-governance framework to understand how community food networks contribute to food justice, and the governance challenges they face. As both theory and method, food utopias can widen whose voices are heard through: (1) providing a critique of conventional narratives; (2) documenting experiments whereby food is being done differently; and (3) focusing on the process of creating dialogue. Case studies of local community food “experiments” will produce findings on how civil society makes change happen, at what levels and scales, and in what directions, and allows us to question different narratives of socially desirable change.

Food future scenarios will then be created to explore the visions of civil society and connect these with food system governance. Future scenarios as a method acknowledges that different futures are possible and provides a process for exploring multiple scenarios for embracing or avoiding certain possibilities. With food justice at the centre, these scenarios will help communities and policy makers to debate equitable pathways to achieve Zero Hunger and localise the SDGs.

Where do we plan to conduct research?




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