Food as a commons: Setting an innovative research and impact agenda for the future of food in the UK
Thinking of food as a 'commons' in the transition to more bottom-up food systems.
The industrial food system is associated with severe social and environmental consequences. In the UK, people and associations are engaging in bottom up attempts to transform the food system by urban gardening, community supported agriculture schemes, cooperatives, food distributions, and other alternative food systems. This project brings together practical and theoretical approaches to food as a commons to reflect on the opportunities and main obstacles of this transition, identify the milestones and think of the role of different stakeholders (policy makers, communities, academia, enterprises). There has been a significant increase in the attention paid to the flaws and incoherence of the industrial food system. Hunger, environmental degradation, malnutrition, exploitation of workers, excessive use of water and pesticides, loss of biodiversity and climate change. In response, the use of technology, precision farming, big data, tracking and other forms of material and digital innovation have been presented by many as the way forward.
What we're doing
This project is looking in a different direction, that of commons as old/new forms of social innovation that can be used to build a long-term and resilient alternative to the mainstream food system. Commons is a multi-disciplinary notion increasingly utilized by economists, lawyers, geographers, urban planners and social movements, along with organizations like the World Bank and the FAO. However, the multiplication of uses led to the multiplication of interpretations and applications.
We are held a two-day workshop to bring together academics and non-academics who are actively engaged in the study and practice of the link between the commons and the food system. At the workshop we looked at bread as an example of food as a commons. By working with people who are actively engaged in the study and practice of the link between the commons and the food system from academics to bakers, a research and impact agenda was created on the role that the commons (both in their theory and their practice) can play in constructing a socially and environmentally sustainable food system. This meeting made the researchers aims clearer and sharper and ultimately paved the way for a change in the way society might view bread.
A second session was held to work out four key areas. Firstly, the entire bread chain was mapped, as it was easy to replicate the process, and who and what is involved in creating a loaf. Secondly the researchers learnt to tell stories and refine how they talked about bread as a commons. They collectively drafted a manifesto and aim to write a collective book to the bakers of the future about what baking and sustainability should be about. Thirdly, they baked a ‘commoners loaf’ – their meeting ended up with everyone coming out with a loaf using heritage seeds and ingredients from local farmers and baked by local bakers with the aim for it to be put on the market at an affordable price. The researchers have been in talks with the Head of Procurement at the University of Bristol who has expressed interest in buying the bread. Finally, the long term ambitions for the project are to be able to reproduce this meeting in various places around the UK. The initial meeting, which took place in the South West of England, was so positively received that there was high enthusiasm for the meeting to become a national event.
How it helps
Our workshop has helped to create a research and impact agenda on the role that the commons (both in their theory and their practice) can play in constructing a socially and environmentally sustainable food system.
Lead researcher profile
Dr Tomaso Ferrando, Lecturer in Law
Related research centres
- Coventry University
- University of Louvain
- Cabot Institute for the Environment Innovation Fund to the value of £3,810