At a recent meeting of academics and activists, a farmer stood up to address the overcrowded meeting room. “If you are optimistic about the future of our food systems, and our planet, you are naive at best,” she said, “but, if you do not have hope, then you have nothing.” It is indeed hard to be optimistic at this moment. The systems of food provisioning inherited from the 20th century have failed: the number of hungry people around the world hovers under one billion while 1.9 billion are overweight.1 At the same time, conventional food production is not environmentally sustainable: agriculture is a key driver of climate change and natural resource depletion. Looking ahead, global population growth, growing inequity, and climate change are all factors that will further complicate, and contribute to, an insecure food future. We are thus facing a complex challenge: how can we move to a just and sustainable food future?
Food security refers to having adequate access to appropriate food for an active and healthy life. If you have access to adequate and culturally appropriate food, you are considered to be food secure. While the challenges of feeding current and future populations are well articulated, innovative and effective solutions for achieving food security remain elusive, and time is of the essence. To ensure food security for all, innovative solutions are needed, and yet, as young scholars, we have faced frustration and limitations when it comes to proposing innovative solutions for food security. Furthermore, young scholars are increasingly being pushed to publish quantity over quality, and are generally not incentivized to consider radical or innovative directions in their work. These frustrations led to the launch of this Special Issue. A key objective of this Special Issue is to provide a creative space for scholars who may be limited in the scope of their publication outlets, especially when it comes to proposing “out of the box” ideas.
The young scholars that have contributed to this issue began this adventure from the same starting point: a place where food insecurity is a complex, multidirectional, messy problem requiring multiple solutions. But the consensus in some ways stops there. Indeed, there are contradictions and debates across the solutions presented in this Special Issue. Perhaps this is not surprising given that these contradictions have come to define many of the big problems our generation, and indeed future generations, are facing. Yet, through these contradictions we can also uncover insights into the different ways individuals and groups in society view the world. These insights shed light on what people value, and this in turns allows us to recognize that there is no single “right” solution. While we focus on young thinkers, we recognize that everyone is responsible for pushing forward new ways of thinking and new ways of doing that allow for a plurality of values. We need to build pathways that are aligned with these values.
Beyond opening up dialogue, this special issue is also a way to start to address two of the reasons why we feel effective solutions for food security have been slow to surface: limited diversity, and challenges for innovative scholarship. In terms of diversity, and to quote Einstein, we start from the idea that, “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” And yet, we see that many of the solutions for solving recurring and interconnected food crises are restricted to a seemingly global consensus that gives priority to economic growth and trade liberalization over nutritional, social, ecological, cultural, and spiritual priorities. From our perspective as academics, we see that there continues to be a lack of diversity in the make-up of university faculties and academic journals. The limited diversity in the background of researchers, and even what is considered “scientific knowledge,” further restricts the diversity of solutions. One implication of this limited diversity is that, while food insecurity is experienced primarily in the global South, the solutions are still largely developed and proposed by scholars and practitioners from the global North. The good news is that things are changing: there is growing recognition that effective solutions are developed by, or at least with, people who understand the context, history, and possibilities, and who will be impacted by the solutions.
The second, but related, challenge limiting the ability of young scholars to propose solutions is linked to disciplinary legacies. Within the social sciences and humanities, scholars have traditionally struggled to promote ground-breaking innovations. We propose that this is, in part, because discovery in these disciplines is the result of slow and stepwise processes whereby scholars contribute to evolving understandings of social relations through research and publications. Discovery is not always the goal of this research, but rather, the objective is to anticipate and/or understand social processes, not necessarily discover or direct new ones.
Further stifling the development of solutions is the tendency for researchers and scholars of food security to work in relative disciplinary and ideological isolation. In an effort to agitate the predominant food security discourse, and to provide new perspectives and visions for the future, we deliberately sought contributions from emerging scholars and practitioners from around the world. The resulting collection speaks to the two challenges we set out to address.
The solutions put forward in this Special Issue promote multiple solution pathways and possible futures by challenging how science is communicated and by breaking down barriers about who gets to make claims to knowledge. The feature article “The Importance of Hunting for Future Inuit Food Security” by Carie Hoover et al. demonstrates why we need to understand and learn from Indigenous peoples. In their reflection on the food security of Inuit peoples of the Arctic, the authors show how a failure of governments to co-create appropriate strategies, starting from local knowledge and realities, leads to problematic policies. The defense of Indigenous practices, values, and knowledge can result in conflict, as Levi Gahman’s review of Zapatista rebellion illustrates. And yet, the value of the practices that are being defended offers promising solutions for ensuring food sovereignty, and, by extension, food security. Engaging people in research and policy can shift power relations, as highlighted by Helena Shilomboleni’s piece on participatory action around land deals in Mozambique. In the context of globalized food systems and social sustainability, Megan Bailey and Niklas Egels-Zandén propose ways for consumers to become more aware of what happens along the seafood supply chain so as to contribute to social justice at sea.
Alongside the need to ensure meaningful participation of people, contributions in this Issue stress the need to also focus on local contexts. Susanna Klassen, for example, argues in favor of place-based approaches to food for enhancing socio-ecological sustainability.
Many articles in this issue call on us to actively challenge and push boundaries: not only of contemporary science and popular notions of who “counts” as a scientist, but also of common sense. We need to reject the tendency to call innovative and radical alternatives “unrealistic.” Indeed, we wonder at what point did it become realistic to have one billion people undernourished, almost two billion people overweight, and the earth’s ability to support us starting to crack? We must push ourselves to reimagine how our food systems can function, and for whom they function. For example, as consumers seek out increased certification (i.e. fair trade, organic, and sustainability labels) to ensure that foods meet certain standards and values, we must ask, as Simon Bush does, who should bear the burden of certification? Seth Baum et al push the boundaries of our imagination by proposing solutions for global food supply after a major catastrophe.
Deep concern related to the ecological impacts of conventional food production has motivated many contributors. Stefano Pascucci and Jessica Duncan propose principles of circular economy for re-designing food production systems to reverse the negative ecological and social impacts associated with conventional food systems. Given that many of the ecological impacts of the industrial food system are externalized, there are increasing calls to reform the way that agricultural practices and products are valued and priced. Elizabeth Hardee proposes developing credit markets for nutrient stewardship. Another proposal, advanced by Randall Coleman, is to develop a “soil currency” to raise awareness of the importance of soil by creating a soil currency and credit system. Marwa Shumo proposes black soldier flies as part of an ecofriendly solution for converting food waste into livestock feed.
For us, there is urgent need for practices, knowledge, and infrastructure that support the assemblage of imaginative, reflexive, and representative futures. Just because things are, does not mean they ought to be, and it is this thesis that we want readers to take on board after they digest what this Special Issue has to offer. Finally, the solutions proposed in this Special Issue can be read as an atlas of possibilities. The atlas that past and present generations have thus far used for social-ecological navigation needs to be updated with contemporary and future routes. Today we are at a critical juncture that requires creative route planning. There are multiple roads we can, and must, travel to bring us towards our destination: a food secure future. We recognize that some routes may take us off-road and others may lead us directly to roadblocks. It is our hope that the solutions presented in this Special Issue will help lead us to a destination of just and sustainable food futures.
- Obesity and overweight. Fact sheet no 311. World Health Organization [online] (2015). http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.