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Thematic Fields

Sessions in: Sustainable Food Systems

F.1 Microbes in, for, around Food Systems

Organizers: Maya Hey, Alicia Ng, Mikko Jauho
University of Helsinki, Finland

This panel is interested in nuancing where and how microbes tangle up with humans—both in and around food systems. Food systems encompass all aspects of nourishing humanity, which could be characterized by its gerunds (e.g., the growing, harvesting, raising, slaughtering, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, purchasing, cooking, cleaning, and consuming of other organisms) as well as the institutions, infrastructures, and knowledge hierarchies that enable such actions. Microbes enable and disrupt these gerunds; some are along for the ride, some may even help us, but others can kill, especially people who are more vulnerable to microbial toxicities due to physiological, historico-social, or geopolitical reasons. As convenors, we are keen to dwell on these differential stakes and their sociotechnical configurations insofar as they help us think through what exactly is being sustained, to what extent, and for whom. How can we make sense of a human-focused food system in a more-than-human foodscape?

Microbes are ubiquitous in the food system and impact social practices across economies of scale. They often evade governance, disrupt supply chains, and spoil what would’ve been food for us. Modern attention to the microbe has pivoted from “containing” their deleterious effects to “harnessing” their powers, often hailing microbes as a nature-based solution to a broken food system. This shift has recently invited social scientific discussions in areas such as probiotics, resource/waste managements, and cellular agriculture, increasingly scrutinizing how we envision and encounter microbial life. Given that microbes are not only ‘out there’ affecting our food but are in-and-of our foodways, how we think about, handle, and regulate microbial life will underwrite our futures of food.

Baked into questions about microbes and sustainable food futures is the degree to which human flourishing (in food systems) and microbial flourishing (in more-than-human entanglements) stand at odds with each other. If one comes at the cost of the other, then these tensions are worth exploring in finer detail. Conversely, if there is a way to honor both, then the preconditions for such a future are worth elaborating. Extending the critique of Paxson and Helmreich (2014) on the perils and promises of microbes, how can we model and ideate a desirable set of relations, without falling into a set of temporary, prescriptive, or technosolutionist fixes? What rhetorics, narratives, or assumptions need reworking?

We welcome case studies and musings that span, but are not limited to, laboratories, soils, fields, farms, kitchens, markets, waste facilities, and, especially, the move from one space into another (e.g., lab to field, field to kitchen, kitchen to intestine). We also invite different disciplinary vantage points (e.g., agroecology, biotechnology, culinary praxis, design, and beyond), transnational perspectives, and a variety of methodological priorities. We seek empirical, applied work, as well as theoretical, speculative work and we value works-in-progress as much as we do completed manuscripts. Our aim is a panel that coalesces around microbial life and the complex (re)considerations they pose to human systems.

Paxson, H., & Helmreich, S. (2014). The perils and promises of microbial abundance. Social Studies of Science, 44(2), 165–193.

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F.2 From the edge to the core: participatory food environment research in European cities

Organizers: Alexandra Czeglédi1, Diana Szakál2, Ewa Kopczyńska3
1: Research Fellow, Environmental Anthropologist, Environmental Social Science Research Group, Budapest, Hungary; 2: Research Fellow, Learning Experience Designer, Environmental Social Science Research Group, Budapest, Hungary; 3: Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland

In this interactive session, we propose to look at different food environments (home, eating out, shopping, logistics, familial, cultural, and social events etc.) from a critical perspective by integrating marginalised experiences and often overlooked knowledge from the socio-economic peripheries of European cities.

To better identify what interventions are most needed to promote socio-nutritional change and foster sustainable practices in food environments, it is essential that we place the experiences of marginalised groups and communities at the centre of our discussions. By understanding participants’ lived, everyday experiences, food scientists, nutritionists and health professionals can be better informed about the diversity of challenges and need emerging in different food environments.

We welcome proposals that address challenges and solutions in the broader food environments in partnership or co-researching with marginalised and disenfranchised groups. We welcome interactive knowledge exchange on experimental and creative participatory methods such as photovoice, citizen science, food mapping, focus group discussions, walk-along, sound walks and any creative methodological application of actor-network theory (ANT) and practice theory.

Aim of the session: In the presentation part, we aim to provide a horizontal overview of small-scale participatory research projects on food environments (methodological co-design, challenges, lessons learned) from different European contexts. This will be followed by a deeper exploration of each topic in the discussion part, where participants will share their thoughts and reflections on the input presentations.

Methodology: The World Café methodology is a simple and flexible way to initiate an interactive, meaningful discussion in a large group. Brief, frontal input presentations elaborate on various discussion topics on current participatory food environment research projects. Moderated discussions follow the presentations. Participants will take turns at the tables every 15 minutes. The moderators provide guiding questions and templates to explore synergies at the tables.

Session follow-up: A joint conference proceeding with the selected speakers and session participants might be published. We will focus on the lessons learned from the session and new directions in participatory research on food environments.

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F.3 Food Justice in Alternative Food Networks: theoretical, empirical and transdisciplinary perspectives

Organizers: David Steinwender, Sandra Karner
IFZ Graz, Austria

Food Justice is “the right of communities everywhere to produce, process, distribute, access, and eat good food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, ability, religion, or community.” [1]

Alternative food networks (AFN), such as community supported agriculture initiatives, food cooperatives, community owned grocery stores, community gardens and farmers’ markets, have been attributed with numerous potentials in order to address social and ecological challenges, e. g. to be more socially inclusive, more democratic and being ecologically sustainable.

In earlier years, when these AFNs emerged, attention of scientific research has mainly been paid – and partly still is being paid – to the analysis of potentials and under which conditions/circumstances these potentials can be unleashed. Meanwhile there is a ‘colourful field’ of initiatives connected to AFNs to be examined critically. We argue that for example social inclusiveness is not necessarily a characteristic of these initiatives, although many claim to be socially inclusive or at least wish to be. In order to foster the aspect of social inclusiveness and other potentials, these initiatives are aiming at, different governance levels might be of relevance: starting from individuals, groups and institutions up to policies and funding schemes at different levels (local/municipal, regional/provincial, national, supra-national).

For this session we would like to invite contributions based on empirical work, e.g. case studies, or desk research that deal with the question of how AFN initiatives could become more inclusive and accessible for everybody, especially for disadvantaged, deprived/marginalized, vulnerable, or discriminated social groups.

Contributions from transdisciplinary or action research are highly welcome.

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F.4 (M)eating the future: technologies, materialities, and politics of food

Organizers: Désirée Janowsky, Martin Winter
Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany

The production of meat products is associated with many potential dangers for the future. These dangers are located on the global-planetary level as well as on the embodied-individual level: first, meat can be related to ecological problems, the climate crisis, pollution, and soil damage. Second, it involves the breeding and killing of billions of animals to a vast amount in precarious and poor working conditions. Third, meat can be seen as a root for issues of individual as well as public health. The issue of the production and consumption of meat is at the core of political transformation and social conflicts. On the one hand, an immense increase in productivity is associated with the success story of the fight against hunger, at least in Western countries. At the same time, however, meat production endangers the livelihood of many people on earth. However, efforts are already being made to change this and the field of meat production is in great flux: Various ways are emerging to make nutrition more sustainable. There are technical innovations such as plant-based meat alternatives, in-vitro meat or meat from insects. There is also the question of how the practices in nutritional science capture the problems associated with meat consumption and health related interventions.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that food and eating are far more than mundane practice and are a highly relevant and fruitful research objects for STS (see most recently Mol 2021). The papers presented in this panel will examine how perspectives of STS can be aligned to examine technical and scientific development in the food sector and identify opportunities for sustainable development. How can local alternative practices of food production offer a way out of the industrialized mass breeding of animals? How is technoscientific knowledge of different animal or plant-based meat co-produced with social norms and hierarchies, e.g. of what kind of meat products are produced for whom? But not only the production of food can be seen as a technological practice, food itself is a technology in everyday life that (re)produces lively bodies. This coupling of technologies and bodies is a prime example of being ‘cyborgs’ (Haraway). How is the technoscientific production of meat products and bodies entangled with knowledges of health and capability? How is this related to social differentiations of race, class and gender? These and further questions will be discussed to develop a grip on current futures of food that offer a perspective of a more sustainable and livable more-than-human world.

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F.5 How can universities support the transition to sustainable food systems? – cancelled

Organizers: Silvia Gaiani, Urszula Ala Karvia
Ruralia Institute, UH, Finland

Universities which are historically recognized as the place for knowledge development and knowledge conservation, have the responsibility to transform themselves and to become drivers of innovation, to become incubators of change and experimental labs at the service of their territories.

Universities have in fact the possibility to directly influence the well-being of their communities, by entering in the daily life of teachers, researchers, officers, staff, and students.
In addition to this direct effect, they can promote actions having rebounding effects on the daily lives of the families of those who work and study in the university and can stimulate the diffusion of lifestyles with minor environmental impact and more socially sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

Universities can be drivers of culture awareness and innovation with regard to the different components of food sustainability. They can enact a number of initiatives, by integrating education, research, third mission, and being a model which influence the different stakeholders who interact with them. In addition to their involvement in education and sensitization on sustainable development themes, universities can be living labs of good practices for the promotion of healthy, ethical and sustainable diets: for instance, by intervening on public procurement for canteens and university cafes, on vending machines or on the production of food within university experimental farms.

The role that universities can play in supporting the transition to sustainable food systems is a theme of profound importance which involves actors and policies inside and outside universities, both at local, national and international level. In these complex contexts, national and international experiences demonstrate how universities can become fundamental factors in the food chain.

The objective of the thematic session is broad: we would like to unfold the dimensions of food sustainability in the life and goals of European universities, by discussing best practices, projects, and policies. Some of the questions contributors are supposed to reflect on are: How can universities support policy makers and other stakeholders in the transition to effective sustainable food systems and what are the main challenges they face in the process? What does it take to develop a vision of food systems with benefits for all?

We invite theoretical and empirical submissions from a wide range of contexts and disciplines, both from the global North and South.

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