Welcome to ‘Fair Food Futures’

This research officially began in May 2019, and we have had an exciting and busy start to the project – including finally getting the website ready for the public! Amidst these very challenging social and ecological times – undeniable climate crisis, social inequalities, hunger and the parallel crisis of effective leadership – finding pathways to sustainability with justice at their centre is a goal that is increasingly shared by many. Indeed, transformation and leaving no one behind are at the heart of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and civil society participation in charting a better future is a key part of this task. Yes, the SDGs are contentious and fraught with power imbalances; there is huge variation in how they are being implemented (or not) across government, business, industry and the social sector; and we are falling behind on progress on many SDG indicators. But despite these challenges, the SDGs also provide us with a common language and policy space for having renewed discussions about the intersections between hunger, ecological systems, climate action, poverty, inequality, health and well-being, economic development, rights, collective action and institutional reform.

Fair Food Futures sees the many food justice experiments happening across Australia as central to the rethinking and remaking of sustainable and just food systems. Through participatory research, the project aims to bring the multiple perspectives, activities, stakeholders and outcomes associated with fair food movements and initiatives across Australia into a creative process of dialogue and future visioning. It asks whether and how civil society’s hopes for healthy, resilient and just food futures can inform new stories about the pathways to sustainability that we might collectively pursue. What lessons for food system governance can we learn from the many food utopias happening in Australia right now? What lessons for achieving the SDGs?

In 2019 I was privileged to explore these questions and more, as we worked to establish engagement and support for the project. An important component of the study lies in making connections between advocacy, academia and policy spaces, as well as local, regional and global spheres. Highlights included:

  • In February I presented preliminary findings to the United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Social Solidarity Economy at the Asia-Pacific regional conference in South Korea on ‘Localising the SDGs through Social Solidarity Economy’.
  • In June I connected with food sovereignty scholars at the European Rural Sociological Association Congress in Trondheim, for whom the scaling-up of food movements across the world will be the focus of a forthcoming special issue of Sociologia Ruralis.
  • In July, and in collaboration with the Fair Food Alliance.Brisbane, we held a workshop focused on local food policy in Brisbane. This brought government policy makers together with food-focused advocacy groups, social services, social enterprises and community members to discuss actions and build relationships.
  • In October I delivered a talk at the University of Melbourne on ‘Resilience, food justice and the future of food system governance’.  This was part of the Sustainable Food System Seminar Series hosted by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute as part of the Sustainable Food Systems Project. I also presented this to the Asian Rural Sociology Congress in Indonesia in November.
  • In December I joined a Future Earth early-career research workshop on the Future of Food. My talk ‘Where is food justice in the SDGs’ contributed to a rich debate on food futures between scholars from fields as diverse as soil science, cell biology, health and nutrition, media communications, ecology and education.
  • Finally, we started fieldwork with one case study in Brisbane and organised 3 more to start 2020.

What’s new for 2020?

This year the project will focus on qualitative case studies of food justice experiments in Brisbane. Each has a unique approach to defining food system problems and solutions, and all represent creative and impactful civil society initiatives that build local food justice and sustainability. More information on case study findings will be published as the research progresses.

2020 will also see me travelling to Brazil for the International Sociological Association Congress in Porto Alegre. Here we will bring together some amazing research on food utopias from around the world, including quite a few studies from Australia. As this is the home of the World Social Forum, I am also excited about connecting with international social justice activists in a range of side events throughout the week.

Alongside Fair Food Futures, I am kicking off related research (with colleagues at UQ and abroad) on ‘food sovereignty and employment policy in Indigenous communities’, ‘human rights and the SDGs’, and a comparative study of ‘civil society SDG implementation in Australia and Germany’. There is a special issue of Journal of Sociology in the pipeline on ‘Imagining rural futures in times of uncertainty and possibility’. We will soon also welcome the the first group of Honours and PhD students into the project.

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