European initiatives address vital role of citizens in food system transformation

Last Updated : 26 October 2023
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    The world's food systems are currently facing a myriad of challenges that require immediate attention and action. Despite the urgency of this matter, citizen engagement in the processes that can drive the transformation remains a challenge, particularly in terms of their involvement in public policy processes.

    To address this crucial issue of food system transformation, the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), in partnership with FOODTRIALS, ALL-Ready, CLEVERFOOD and FOODPathS, hosted the event “Mobilising Citizens For Change” dedicated to showcasing success stories and initiatives that highlight the role of citizens in transforming food systems. This event aimed to accelerate food system transformations by fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders, from national to international levels.

    Over 90 participants from a diverse pool of countries joined the discussion, out of the 150+ registered, among which representatives of European institutions, international organisations (e.g., UN body, OECD, etc.), local and national authorities, academia, civil society and the food industry.

    In conversation with EU projects managers: challenges and solutions

    The event provided a platform to identify and showcase successful stories in the field of food systems transformation from four EU-funded projects. It demonstrated the importance of aligning efforts and adding value to national and regional initiatives.

    These four initiatives are working on redefining urban food policies, harnessing agroecology and forging partnerships through collaborative networks. They have engaged citizens and other food actors in the process of transforming food systems. The panel discussion delved into identifying existing gaps necessary to be filled to ensure access to safe and nutritious food while contributing to more sustainable food systems that respond to the evolving needs of society.

    By examining these case studies, the speakers provided an analysis of the main challenges faced when involving citizens. Lessons learned and key elements for success in transforming food systems were identified, including:

    1. Addressing Knowledge Gaps and Impact Measurement: The discussion focused on identifying knowledge gaps and the best ways to measure the impact of sustainable food system transformation strategies. The panellists emphasised that citizens’ lack of awareness and limited access to credible and understandable information makes informed decisions difficult and therefore a significant barrier to the widespread transition to a more sustainable food system. They underlined that better measurement methods, such as surveys to consumers and citizens to test the pulse of knowledge, can help refine strategies and improve the effectiveness of initiatives. “Involving citizens is the key to elevating your chances to successful transformation and having a strategy that actually works,” said Dolinda Cavallo, Senior Project Manager at ENoLL (ALL-Ready project).
    2. Connecting Experiences in Regional Sustainable Food System Transformations: Panelists explored the opportunities and challenges of connecting experiences and best practices in sustainable food system transformation. “In the journey to a sustainable future, citizens are the driving force behind transformative change. Collaboration and communication harness the potential of every individual's actions today to shape a brighter and more inclusive tomorrow,” said Camila Massri, Senior Project Manager at EUFIC (CLEVERFOOD project).
    3. Citizen Engagement: The panel discussed strategies for effectively engaging citizens and younger generations emphasising the use of engaging content and gamification, and finding champions, adding that the younger generation can be the entry point: engaging children from a young age can empower them to influence their parents and drive behavioral change within the family on thus, on a broader scale. The panel also reserved time to focus on methods for including individuals less interested in sustainability and explore behavioural "nudging" techniques to encourage changes in attitudes and practices, such as offering incentives and rewards; and also by showing tangible benefits and impact of their participation on initiatives: “It is challenging and time-consuming to involve all citizens and engage beyond the “kale and hummus consumer”, but in cities that have long-standing tradition to citizens inclusiveness, we do see the added value,” said Anja De Cunto, Head of the Food team at Eurocities, (FOODTRIALS project).
    4. Cultural Variations in Approaches: The discussion investigated inclusivity and whether different cultural contexts require distinct approaches to sustainable food system transformations. It was mentioned the need for cultural sensitivity training for project leaders and participants to understand and respect diverse cultural practices and preferences, co-creation of solutions with local communities to ensure cultural inclusivity, and acknowledgement of the value of cultural diversity in food systems as an integral part of the transformation process.  An example was the accommodating religious food priorities or restrictions in the school’s canteen meal plans and activities, such as halal food or non-dairy products. It was also mentioned that different agendas with a shared vision can run in parallel: “The sustainable food systems agenda needs to be up to the people working in the specific regions and environment. This will change the actors that will be involved in the future European territories. These territories will become more diverse, and more bottom-up defined and that is what we need for this snowball of sustainable outcomes to roll,” said Hugo De Vries, Research Director at INRAE (FOODPathS project).

    For more information about the event, please find the full agenda here.

    Please find the presentations’slides from our speakers:

    • Anja De Cunto, Head of the Food team at Eurocities : FOODTRIALS slides
    • Dolinda Cavallo, Senior Project Manager at ENoLL : ALL-Ready slides
    • Camila Massri, Senior Project Manager at EUFIC : CLEVERFOOD slides
    • Hugo De Vries, Research Director at INRAE : FOODPathS slides

    You can watch the recording from the panel discussion here:

     

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    For media inquiries and further information, please contact: Daniela De Lorenzo, Media & Outreach Manager