Creating New Food Systems ETH WFS 2015

So the topic of this session is innovation and social change in the food system.  I’m going to start with some examples of innovation. There are too many to cover in such a short time, so I only choose some examples. Then I’ll share some conceptual tools for thinking about how to create powerful social change. 

The capital letters indicate when to move forward in the prezi.



FMKT Farmers markets are certainly not an innovation, but their rediscovery is. Their primary function is direct exchange between farmers and eaters, but they serve many other functions as well. They are now a destination for foodies, families, people concerned with nutrition, and a place to have breakfast. They introduce people to new foods, teach about ecology through seasonality, about cooking through conversations, and most importantly, about relationships. They are friendly instead of alienated, people talk to strangers. They go beyond competition. In the US, farmers markets had declined so that in 1994, there were less than 2000 markets in the whole country. Now there are nearly 8500. In California in 1970 there were no farmers markets. A social movement started and there were 7 markets by 1977, 52 in 1981, and 729 in 2011.1` Now there are more than 70 every week in Los Angeles.

The new generation of farmers markets are run by the farmers, democratically. Not allowed to sell anything they don’t grow themselves. See California Certified Farmers Market Program.

CSA Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another model of directness through which a household invests in a farm’s growing season and in exchange receives a weekly “share” of the harvest. The institution has become more sophisticated, through “multi-farm CSAs” which combine the offerings of several farms and through specialized software which enables cooks to customize the contents of their boxes. (One of the major challenges for CSAs is cooking skills. When cooks feel they are wasting unfamiliar or excess food, they tend to leave the program. Recipe books.)

FOOD ASSEMBLY This is a new innovation which is sort of a mix between fmkt and CSA. List the products online and then show up to pick up what you want, at a particular time. Build a sense of community among the “members”. More committed than fmkt, but more choice than CSA. There’s a global website to facilitate participation in food assemblies

KOCHHAUS Ensuing innovations have built on both the successes and failures of the CSA system, addressing the cooking problem. facilitates direct relationships between farms and households, building on the CSA model of community-organized pick-up hubs. Worker-owned Three Stone Hearth offers members cooked food with a weekly menu. “Dinner-kit” schemes like offer ingredients organized around a specific set of meals (recipes included). In Berlin, Kochhaus stores are organized around a series of tables, each containing ingredients for a beautifully illustrated recipe. At the farmers markets, at retailers, at restaurants: Classes on making babyfood, canning and preserving… making yogurt and cheese. Examples: Cornersmith

HUBS  To support farmers in their transition to direct marketing, which demands transportation and human resources, a new gadget is the Food Hub, which replaces exploitative middle-men with an ethical intermediary that provides transparency about pricing and maintains “source identity” throughout the process. More than 200 Food Hubs across the country organize and transport food to retailers, restaurants, and households. Reinventiong the middle-man, food hubs help with distribution from small farms to retailers, restos, and consumers. In order to be a “different kind fo middleman”, they have principles, transparency, and something that is beign called “source” or “identity” verification.

MEAT PROCESSING Building new local food industries requires understanding the key issues, which is different for every industry. In the US, small-scale livestock farmers face the problem that meat for retail sale must be safety certified by the government. The large meatpacking corporations bought up that part of the commodity chain, and farmers had no choice but to sell their animals to slaughterhouses at whatever price the corporations would pay. In order to take control of the transaction, they need to retain ownership through slaughter and butchery so that they still own the animal at the point of retail meat sale. Cooperatively owned abattoirs, mobile slaughterhouses, and other gadgets unified by the term “niche meat processing” enable farmers to share the costs of certification.

FOOD POLICY COUNCILS An innovation of the Community Food Security Coalition from the early 1990s was Food Policy Councils, which brought together government policy makers, charitable food banks, agricultural organizations, and other parties to identify interventions to promote sustainable and secure food systems. This means systems analysis of what is sensible for a given region. This could result in urban gardens, protection of periurban farmland. In 2014 there were 200 in the United States, 57 in Canada, and 6 in tribal nations. More than half percent of FPCs are independent grassroots coalitions, some are independent nonprofit organizations, and about 1/5 are government-appointed advisory bodies.

YOUNGHENRYS Many social entrepreneurs focus on producing and distributing one product more sustainably. I love the example of Young Henry’s brewery in Sydney. They are on a rampage about fresh beer. And since glass reuse is much more efficient than glass recycling, they are focused on these bottles. They’ve built a vending machine.

FARMTOSCHOOL One of the most long-standing food system innovations in the US is Farm-to-School, which develops policies to enable school food services to buy directly from local farmers, as well as developing school gardens, and other agro-eco-gastro educational programs. 26 states now have supportive procurement legislation, and 40,000 US public schools now have programs, affecting 23 million students and spending $385 million on local farm products.

UNIVERSITY students have not only demanded agro-eco-gastro education, but that their administrations transform the campus food-service systems to support local farmers and provide students with higher quality food. Since 2008, the Campus Real Food Challenge has secured $60 million in purchasing pledges. 27 Universities have committed to source 20% or more of the total food served from “real food” sources.

SUBSIDIES Since the 1990s, mothers eligible for food aid have received additional coupons to spend at farmers markets through the WIC program and seniors program.

CORNER STORES The concept of “food deserts” is used to describe neighborhoods without retail access to healthy, fresh food. In addition to urban gardens and CSA programs, other gadgets are mobile produce vending programs and Healthy Corner Stores projects, such as New York City’s healthy bodegas initiative, which enables stores to sell healthier food at the same price as junk food. And in New York City, the FRESH program will subsidize new retailers or renovations which meet specific criteria for offering fresh and healthier food.

NATIONAL FOOD POLICY The Union of Concerned Scientists has proposed a National Food Policy which would shift agricultural subsidies from corn and soybeans (pumped into junk food and feedlot animals) to produce needed to enable every American to eat the government’s recommended diet of 50% fruits and vegetables. Their economic analysis concludes that shifting $90M of the current $5B in subsidies would also produce 189,000 new jobs and $9.5 billion in new economic activity. Without subsidies, junk food would take its true market price, higher than unprocessed foods.

EDUCATION LABS Outside of Europe, enthusiasm for artisan food outstrips producers’ knowledge and skill. Sydney’s Rootstock is an innovative natural wine festival at which organizers require that winemakers pour their wine in person and half of the festival is devoted to closed sessions for the winemakers to taste and teach one another. European winemakers are welcomed to the festival for free, as educational partners to the Australians and New Zealanders. Rootstock is based on the recognition that don’t only need to build the market, need to build the industry, and develop the product.

CULINARY INCUBATORS To support artisan food entrepreneurship, “culinary incubators” provide certified commercial kitchen space at hourly or daily rates. Access to this space allows food startups to produce goods legal for retail sale and to build businesses without capital investment. According to a 2013 report on the 135 incubators operating in the US, 61% of users are women, 28% are low-income, and 32% are people of color. Example: Union Kitchen

URBANFARM Urban gardening is full of gadgets, from agronomic innovations such as composting devices, aquaponics, raised beds to avoid contaminated soil, to educational services, such as City Slicker’s free backyard gardening program, which installs vegetable gardens for low-income households and at low-income childcare sites. City Farmer has been tracking these projects all over the world for decades. Urban farming programs often provide jobs and training for low-income youth. Growing Power transforms 44 million pounds of compost into one million pounds of micro-greens and vegetables while providing jobs and farmer training for urban youth at their sites in Wisconsin and Illinois. Growing Power offers subsidized baskets to hungry community members. I’m especially impressed with some of the gardens in Berlin which have no fences and are really a site for socializing, Princessenstrasse Community Garden, Tempelhof Flughafen Rübezahl Garten

LANDUSE Land-use regulations are a key gadget for making cities sustainable and food secure. Greenbelts, protections for peri-urban farmland, edible landscaping, and urban farms can be developed and protected through legislation like California’s 2013 Assembly Bill 551, which allows cities and counties to create tax incentive programs for urban farms.

ALTINVESTMENT Since the Global Financial Crisis people have become doubtful about investing in Wall Street. BALLE educates and organizes around the idea of local investment. And this image is about how a young couple (the “fairies”) decided to invest in a farm. The Lexicon of Sustainability is promoting the idea of farm fairies

So now we’re going to step back and talk about where these innovations have come from, to get a sense of the history. It’s important to know you are not alone in this work.


PERMACULTURE. From 1930s in Australia in Japan, farmers were developing ideas about sustainable agriculture, in terms of water use, no-till, forest farms. In 1978, the concept permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia. There are many permaculture institutes providing education and consultation on projects. 

ORGANIC agriculture also began to be articulated in the 1930s based on traditional practices, biodynamic ideas and the search for scientific alternatives to chemical-based agriculture. Already in 1928, the Demeter certification of biodynamic agriculture was established in Berlin. In 1997 Demeter became an international symbol. Soil Association founded in UK in 1946 based on the interrelation between farming, ecology, and human health. In 1964, Natur et Progres was founded in France, and in 1972 the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements was also founded in France.

ECOVILLAGE term developed 1978 to promote sustainable living. Built on communal movements of 1960s and 1970s. 1995 Global Ecovillage Network now with sits in 70 countries on 6 continents. Linked with ideas about “voluntary simplicity”. The idea of questioning what makes for a satisfying life, embracing self-sufficiency and life with ecology, has very old religious and secular roots going back to epicureanism in ancient Greece, Henry David Thoreau in the US, many British practitioners, Gandhi. Ideas about reducing consumption and worktime, increasing self-sufficiency, critical reconsideration of technologies…

FAIR TRADE started in the 1940s and 50s by radical churches to express solidarity and support with 3rd world or what we now call Global South countries. In the 1960s it was further developed as a form of anti-imperialism in Europe and North America. The idea was to bypass retailers and corporations and establish direct relations between producers and consumers. The Whole Earth Catalog founded 1968 already applied this idea to relationships within the US and canada.

BOYCOTTS 1965 United Farm Workers led by Cesar Chavez created a farmworkers strike and consumer boycott which resulted in the first union labor contract with farmworkers in 1970. 1977 Boycott in US and Europe of Nestle for misleading and dangerous marketing of infant formula in global south. In 1981 the world health assembly passed the first of many resolutions and recommendations limiting the use of and advertising of infant formula, 60 countries have specific codes regarding advertising. To win with a boycott you only have to impact 10-15 percent of sales.3

CFSC Community Food Security Coalition founded early 1990s in US (closed in 2012). Wrote first white papers on this topic. The 1992 Los Angeles riots…prompted the department of urban planning at UCLA to conduct a study of the neighborhood’s food system… The synthesis between urban anti-hunger interests and farmers’ economic sustainability perspectives was to be laid around the notion of “food security”, defined after the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization as “the state in which all persons obtain a nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable diet at all times through nonemergency sources”. Andy Fisher, one of the study’s authors, called for a comprehensive reform of hunger alleviation in a policy paper considered a cornerstone of the community food security approach, emphasizing a shift from compensation to prevention: “Food security differs from hunger in certain crucial ways. First, food security represents a community need rather than an individual’s plight, as with hunger (…) Second, whereas hunger measures an existing condition of deprivation, food security is decidedly prevention-oriented, evaluating the existence of resources – both community and personal – to provide an individual with adequate acceptable food (…) A food system offering security should have sustainability such that the ecological system is protected and improved over time, and equity, meaning as a minimum, dependable access for all social groups”… successfully introduced legislation supporting community food projects as part of the 1996 Farm Bill, securing federal funding ever since. This is where many economic innovations, especially those around affordability, have been generated.

SLOW FOOD founded Italy 1986 to promote local foods and traditions of gastronomy and food production. Became an international in 1989 and founded a University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2004. 100,000 members in 150 countries.

The Slow Food Manifesto 1989: Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life. May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food. That is what real culture is all about: developing taste rather than demeaning it.

VIA Vía Campesina founded 1993 as an international farmers organization. Represents 200 million peasant farmer and fisherfolk families in 70 countries. Since 1996 they have promoted the international policy concept of “food sovereignty”, the “right to feed oneself”, encompassing land rights, indigenous and agroecological practices, domestic market protections, and cultural preferences.

Nyéléni Declaration 2007: Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

SIT Social Movements

So now we’re going to zoom out a little more. What is social change? What are social movements?

Main points:

  • resistance is not automatic: “when you can’t drink the water, everyone will be an environmentalist. When the planet is dying…” in most cases people do NOT fight back. (we need to understand powerlessness – why don’t people fight? And we need to understand power – what happens when they do?)
  • We aren’t sure what success is… often it gets coopted? Did we win when starbucks sells fair trade coffee and walmart sells organic?
  • What constitutes a social movement? Is not-voting a movement? Is shopping a movement? Is not eating a particular thing a movement?

LIT There aren’t any easy answers to these questions, and even as an activist and a scholar for many years, I don’t even have my own personal answers to these questions.

So what I’m going to do is just introduce you to four of the most helpful pieces of social movement scholarship and let you follow up.


This might seem a bit extreme to you right now, but you might change your mind by the end of the course.

John Foran studies national revolutions. He looks at more than 30 cases to generate a set of variables which determine predict successful and unsuccessful national revolutions:

  1. dependent development (the economic structuring of a given national economy for the purpose of exporting value)
  2. exclusionary state (Exclusionary or colonial rule describe forms of local governance and power that are socially-exclusive, nepotistic, or aristocratic. Under colonialism, oppressed nations are politically and economically dis-empowered by oppressing nations. In other cases, political power may be consolidated by local economic elites or structured nepotistically around a single family. However, revolutions may also occur in countries in which the nominal ‘left’ has an opportunity at electoral representation.)
  3. political cultures of resistance (Political cultures of opposition include leading ideologies, organizations and networks, cultural idioms, subjective historical experiences, and emotions all combined into opposition to a given ruling regime or political system.)
  4. economic downturn (An economic downturn typically causes a drop in the quality of life for the masses of people in Third World countries. Due to the nature of capitalism, economic growth and downturns are cyclical. The Third World proletariat only receives marginal improvements to their quality of life during periods of boom and major decreases during periods of bust. This, in turn, can create widespread disaffection from the reigning political establishment, legitimize political cultures of opposition, and help create the diverse character of revolutionary coalitions.)
  5. world-systemic opening (A world-system opening is a moment in which imperialist powers are too distracted, divided, or slow to effectively intervene against a revolutionary movement.)

There’s only one example reasonably relevant to the food system I can think of: LatAm autonomous regionalism: stepping out of the world system and developing regional institutions. (Tip: This is something you might want to come back to after my lecture on Thursday…)


You can get a reform by raise the costs of the current way of doing business until it becomes in the interest of your enemy to give you what you want (that’s the cheaper option). How to raise the costs, disrupt business as usual. Examples: Nestle campaigns, Grape boycotts, banning GMOs, labelling GMOs, stopping free trade agreements.

Change the Culture

Eyerman & Jamison argue that “it is precisely in the creation, articulation, formulation of new thoughts and ideas –new knowledge– that a social movement defines itself in society.” The example is the environmental movement. 50 years ago the idea that humans live in an ecology was a marginal view. Today it’s hegemonic (hegemony means the idea that’s most powerful). The way to do this is to create an idea or what they call a “cosmology”, and figure out technologies and roles to spread it. Alberto Melucci argues that what social movements do is create culture, by generating new identities and spaces, and encouraging people to experiment.

WORDS There are countless versions of the idea. The movement proliferates serious and cute jargon like “foodshed”, “food justice”, “farm to table”, “urban farming”, “locavore”, “indie food”, “small batch” and “foodportunity”… when ‘organic’ was coopted by corporations, the movement went deeper: “know your farmer.”

APPLE CHAT My version of the cosmological and cultural quest of the Local Food movement is “food as community, not as commodity”. Robert Pekin runs a CSA in Australia. In Australia as in many countries, there’s a big problem now with farmer suicides. The farmers are in so much pain when the farm isn’t financially viable that they kill themselves. Says that direct marketing makes farmers feel they have relationships, they can’t kiill themselves because people care about them.

Melucci looks at how identity, culture, meaning and space nurture “social conflicts” (political struggles) in “submerged networks”. The meaning people are making when they make shopping (or farming) decisions becomes political. These submerged networks of socio-cultural activity can ultimately shift what Eyerman & Jamison call “cosmology”. Social changes sought by movements may happen less as a result of discrete confrontations and more (and more durably) because of slow long-term shifts in beliefs and values.

But in a world saturated with ideas and entertaining stories, what makes an idea powerful?

LEXICON In my interviews with farmers and artisan producers, I ask them why people buy from them. The answer is startlingly consistent: “The story.” People are willing to pay more, make extra trips, suffer inconvenience, change their recipe – because more meaningful than the commodity itself is the story. The story is the undoing of global commodity chains, which are all about making the story invisible. Symbol schemes like bio or fair trade don’t give us the story, they just tell us that the story is ok. offers “information artworks”, each of which presents a concept or practice, makes some part of the food chain into a story we can know and tell.

TABLE: The most important thing on the table is the stories we can tell about the food. Sometimes I’ve had the experience that people feel that the point of impact is what they put in their mouth. But I would argue this is not so powerful for social change. It’s more important how we help to build social meaning around food. Is it purism about my body or about dialogue that moves things forward?  In the Local Food movement, every farm has a story, every cheese has a story, every recipe has a story. And these stories are complex and unfinished. We wonder about the farmworkers, we wonder at the Chinese terrace farms, the chemistry of bread, and why grandmother’s potatoes tasted best. We have learned to eat in the company of earthworms and piglets, incomplete labels and pending regulation, comfort foods and “fair” foods, soil and ghosts.

HEIRLOOM Avery Gordon researches histories that have been lost. In this enterprise she welcomes “haunting remainders”. She is hospitable to ghosts with unoffical stories to tell.4 Why don’t we recognize this tomato? The conversation about that will take us through the entire food chain. The Local Food movement has been hospitable to the ghosts of animals, fragile varieties, distant farmers, humble farmworkers, displaced peasants, all the former inhabitants of burned rainforests, generations of home-cooks and their unwritten recipes. We have tried to find a place at our table for all of these and more. They’ve made dinner much more interesting as we develop our palate to taste the terroir, the history, culture, and political economy from which the food has come. And the conversation turns to how we can learn to cook in a way that supports a global food system that is just, diverse, and secure.

SPACES Creating spaces and events where food is a destination is a way to get people to think about the pleasure they get from food and to convince them to invest in quality and in artisan producers. These spaces take the form of food truck vending zones to annual festivals. In Australia food festivals include cooking classes and lectures by chefs. In addition to traditional farmers markets, there are a number of entrepreneurial spaces celebrating artisan food. In Berlin Markethall Neun has a street food market, a breakfast market, and a dessert market and Neue Heimat offers drinking and music surrounded by artisan food vendors all day on Sundays. I ran an underground restaurant which was a space to get people to connect with the pleasure of food, to learn about high-quality ingredients and about buying direct from farms, and to make new ideas about how they want to spend their food money, where they want to get their food, cooking instead of eating out, etc.

The innovations I discussed at the beginning of the lecture are what Melucci would call experiments and opportunities for people to develop new meanings and commitments. They take the new idea and make it practice-able.


ALLEN Eyerman and Jamison explain that social movements generate new roles and Melucci and many other social movements scholars note the importance of personal identity in contemporary movements. I like to be a little more straightforward and call this “heroism”. The local food movement has created new archetypes of heroism.  As farmers have moved into direct marketing (which has not always been an easy transition in terms of resources and personality), they have produced new identities valorizing their calling, as autonomous entrepreneurs, traditional agrarians, peaceful pastoralists, stewards, husbanders, and ecologists. Farmers are active teachers, discussing agronomy, varieties, and cooking. They are an army of bodhisattvas visiting the city. Full of joy, carrying novel perspectives on life, death, and money, as well as a level of scientific knowledge that astonishes their “educated” customers, these iconoclasts seem whole even though they are out of fashion. In 2008 an urban farmer, Will Allen, received the MacArthur Genius Grant.

LEE some farmers have taken a stronger stance. This is Lee Kyung-Hae at the WTO ministerial protests in Cancún México in 2003. Shortly after this photo was taken, he made ritual suicide to make his point. 

WATERS Chefs have embraced a responsibility to create “sustainable cuisine” which means not only attending to issues of food production, but finding ways to do community nutrition and cooking education. Alice Waters created the Edible Schoolyard Project. Dan Barber researched how the Local Food movement can effectively change the global food system through his concept of “the third plate”. Barny Haughton created the Square Food Foundation, which provides cooking classes to elders, sex workers, and troubled youth. “Food is a class issue…There’s no reason why people with less money should have to eat rubbish. It’s all about information and confidence and access to ingredients… it’s cheaper to do it that way.” Chef Ann Cooper’s foundation is devoted specifically to reforming school food to ensure child nutrition.

BIRITE Even retailers have taken on a leadership role in the movement. Sam Mogannam purchased his father’s grocery store, Bi-Rite Market, and has transformed it into a leader of small retailers. He works directly with farmers, even loaning them money to rebuild after fires and other problems. He has written a book, Eat Good Food, and founded a non-profit cooking education program, 18 Reasons. “We believe in the transformative power of food. We love good food and think that every person has a right to eat well.”

CHAD Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery makes 175 loaves of bread a day. He has decided hat’s the right number. He spends the rest of the time teaching restaurateurs and home cooks to make their own bread. My latest work is about how artisans like Chad make business decisions. Charles Heying’s research on artisan industries in Portland finds collaboration, mentorship, and solidarity within and across industries, rather than competition. I am studying how they make decisions about resources, how they want to work, and how they create relationships along the commodity chain and with the commodity itself. Paul Cavallo of Spitfire Motorcycles describes his work as “This is all about building something that has a soul.” 7

AUSBUFF I’ve met cheesemakers who were electricians and plumbers, who went on vacation to italy, fell in love with food, fell in love with cheese. Go back to NZ or Australia and buy a herd of buffalo. Clevedon Valley Mozarella. AusBuff Stuff

FOODCLASS And let’s not forget the heros at the last point of the commodity chain, who I’d rather call “cooks” than “consumers”. They cultivate new values, tastes and desires, and train themselves to what Robert Bellah et. al. call “practices of commitment – to farmers and whole animals, to region and seasonality, to cooking in an ecosystem.

BUTCHER The new heros have resurrected dead crafts, such as butchering and affineur (cheese manager), “Farmers market manager” has changed from a part-time job for an environmentalist to a career path. “Brokers” do personal shopping for chefs and “foragers” gather wild foods. I want to show you a quick video, not only for the content, but because the video itself is an example of how to be helpful. And I think these new roles are making new archetypes not only of heroism, but masculinity

1 Russell Sydney A History of the Farmers’ Market Movement in California. 2005: Santa Monica, CA.