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Do sustainable food system innovations foster inclusiveness and social cohesion? A comparative study

Hennchen, Benjamin; Schäfer, Martina

Introduction: Existing food systems are not only responsible for severe environmental damage, but also face pressing social challenges, with people having uneven access to safe and healthy food, good working conditions, and political participation. These socio-ethical aspects play a key role in successful food transitions. So far, aspects of social cohesion and inclusiveness within social food innovations have rarely been analyzed in more depth. Many social innovations have emerged over the last few decades, such as land cooperatives, farm leasing models, community-supported agriculture, or citizen shareholder companies. Expectations towards these financing models vary from facilitating more investment in a sustainable and socially responsible agri-food sector and a shift towards more local food to the creation of transparent relationships between food producers and consumers. Objectives: It is against this backdrop that this paper compares three different food innovations—citizen shareholder companies, community-supported agriculture, and food co-ops—regarding their inclusiveness, the degree of member involvement, and the quality of experienced connectedness. Methods: Empirically, this paper draws on quantitative and qualitative data, including an online survey, two focus group discussions, and a broad literature search. Results: Findings reveal that all food innovations show a rather low level of inclusiveness, although efforts are being made to overcome barriers to access. Food innovations generate social cohesion between different actors along the value-added chain, which is constituted differently in a more service-oriented versus a community-oriented model. Discussion: Overall, these innovations provide key momentum towards the dominant food regime by rewarding producers for sustainable practices, establishing stronger producer–consumer relationships, and motivating consumers to assume shared responsibility. Based on the different approaches adopted, we consider the food innovations as complementary for food system transitions.
Published in: Frontiers in Sustainability, 10.3389/frsus.2022.921169, Frontiers