Joint session of FOOdIVERSE partners during the ESA Sociology of Consumption Midterm Meeting in Oslo

During the Midterm Meeting of the Research Network of Sociology of Consumption 2022 on 2nd September 2022 in Oslo, we discussed diverse food cultures diversity along the food chain, diverse food governance as well as our living lab approach with a considerable audience.

The German team approached the concept of ´bio-cultural diversity` with statements made by participants of the two Focus Groups, which were conducted in April 2022. The participants of the focus groups reflected on the notion of ´good food`, emphasising ambience around eating: eating in company, the preparation of a time-consuming menu including decorating the table. Interviewees claimed that food should be colourful, especially in winter. Cooking with leftovers was mentioned in both groups: “What I also understand by good food is that you cook from leftovers.”. Rituals, like buying cookies and chips to eat them on the couch and watching TV on a Saturday night, were mentioned, which is in contrast with avoiding products associated with an industrialised food system.

The next presentation by the Norwegian team provided an overview over the results of a representative survey about food consumption patterns in all five participating countries. One key topic was the regular consumption of meat, which varied from Italy (lowest 42%) to Norway (highest 74.8%). The numbers were reverse when regular consumption depended on the knowledge of the meat production with Norway (lowest 9.5%) to Italian consumers highest (43.2%). Most flexitarians live in Germany (28%) and UK and Germany account for the highest numbers of vegetarians (4.2% and 4%) and vegans (each 1.3%). We also learned that ´good food` for participants of the Norwegian Focus Groups means everyday food “there is no difference between weekdays and weekend – we eat well every day.”. Norwegian participants mentioned the relevance of harvesting from nature, as well as home-grown and local food. To know the provenance and to be familiar with the producer, trusting the producers, were closely associated with social embeddedness and sharing of food.

The Italian team elaborated on the theoretical background of Alternative Food Networks and Practice Theory by investigating the CSA “Naturalmente” in Trento. The presentation stressed the components of practices of understandings, engagements and procedures. The members of the CSA share a common understanding of what ´good food` means, for instance food as a relational good instead of a commodity, short food supply chains, fair working conditions of people working in agriculture, waste reduction and producers’ commitment to sustainability practices. In addition, engagement in a CSA transformed practices of its members like planning of food consumption and re-utilization of leftovers. There was also a change in mobility habits like an increased use of bicycles.

Each partner conducted an audit in one supermarket and in one discount shop. The UK team provided an overview over the first analysis. Over 1,500 product lines were audited. The data collected was on product name, variety, country of origin, packaging and sustainability/origin certification. Across the five countries, the variety was labelled on apples (approx. 95%), potatoes (80%) and tomatoes (60%). In contrast, for cabbages, beef and eggs were only for 10% or less of the products variety information available. Interestingly, for peas and bread was no varietal information available on the product labels. Only a few key variants of apples dominated in the mainstream market with 63% of all product lines consisting of the same six international varieties. Gala and Gala ´mutants` alone accounted for more than 28% of all lines audited. This uniformity can be explained, by size, colour and  greater resistance to mechanical damage as well as good storage qualities. In other words, they fit to the mainstream systems of provision, which makes Gala not only to a biological variety of apple, but also to a bio-economic variety of apple.

The partners from Poland discussed the key characteristics of Civil Food Networks (CFNs), which served as a starting point to launch the FOOdIVERSE Living Labs. The presentation also differentiated types of existing Living Labs and how the FOOdIVERSE project implements this approach in the project. In order to illustrate the living labs, the Polish team also elaborated on the different CFNs we studied in the initial phase of this work package. Advantages of Civil Food Networks are their diverse members and the various competences they bring into the group. Additionally, CFNs are place-based initiatives, hence they know the local food system. Therefore, Civil Food Networks meet basic criteria of a Living Lab methodology and ensure real-life settings and with their diverse competences they can trigger innovations. Three sources for a potential long-term impact were identified, i.e., the participant involvement, their flexibility in adapting to external circumstances and a high demand for activities of food networks.

The project was co-financed by the NCBR, BMEL, MIPAAF, RCN and DEFRA within the framework of ERA-NET SUSFOOD and ERA-NET CORE Organic Cofund Joint Call program