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Image shows the transformation of a Monarch caterpillar to a butterfly

Concepts behind our research

What is a food system?

In FixOurFood we take a food system approach to our research. A food system is a complex web of production, manufacture, delivery, consumption and health for a particular region or country. It encompass the entire process that it takes to put food on our plate from farm to fork. Food systems are heavily influenced by many factors such as the choices we make and the demands we put on the planet and the economy as we produce or consume food. 

Aspects in a food system are highly interconnected with changes in one element in the food system affecting another in a positive or negative way. Effective action to improve sustainability or access to healthy food, for example, requires not just working with individual aspects, but supporting change in more interconnected ways, and often by working in synergy with multiple parts. In FixOurFood we are taking a whole system approach by working with different aspects of the system and supporting change among them.

Why do we need to change food systems?

The current food system is broken and no longer fit for purpose. The evidence is all around: there is food insecurity (we can’t always be sure we will have the food we need, when we need it); food poverty (too many people going hungry with an over-reliance on food banks) and there is rising obesity (especially in children). If these challenges weren’t enough, we are also causing irreversible damage to the planet with our habits and choices. By 2050 our food system will need to meet the demand for food from a human population projected to reach nearly 10 billion, while adapting to climate change and managing accelerating loss of biodiversity. Just improving the food system is not enough: We need a wholescale transformation if we are to get to the underlying issues driving the problems in, an created by, our food systems.

What is transformation?

Overcoming the challenges in our food systems requires a transformational approach. In this context, transformation can be considered to be a qualitatively distinct form of change. It is different from adjustments or reforms which are generally about supporting change to keep systems the same. Transformation is about creating something fundamentally different.

A good example is the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. The change that the caterpillar undergoes is not to achieve a more efficient caterpillar. Instead it dissolves itself in a chrysalis and then, through a radical transformation, reallocates the same resources to create something completely different. The outcome is not a fatter, fitter, faster caterpillar but a butterfly with a very different function, ability and purpose.

Large scale system transformations, such as in food systems, is much more than changing behaviours and technologies. For such transformations, fundamental pattern shifts are needed in activities, approaches, assumptions, mindsets, cultures and beliefs, as well as in the systems, structures and business models underpinning current systems. Together, new interactions between values, nature, technology and behaviours are needed through a tansformation that leads to much more sustainable, fair and just food systems.

Download the new report on Transformations from Transforming UK Food Systems (TUKFS)

What is a regenerative food system?

One of the challenges in supporting transformation is radical visions and imaginations of what the outcome of change might be. This is difficult to achieve if we have limited personal experience of how things can be really different. In FixOurFood, we are therefore relying on a new concept, called regenerative systems to help us guide the development of actions that we believe will be transformational.

A regenerative food system is one where human and environmental wellbeing spiral up and reinforce each other. Most of our human systems are degenerative, where actions result in the exploitation of natural resources and the degradation of the wider systems on which we depend. Instead we need to find ways to create new kinds of regenerative food systems that go well beyond just reducing harm to sustainable and where ‘life creates the conditions to generate more life’ – both for people and our planet. Part of the role of FixOurFood is then to help examine what a regenerative food system might look like, and use this to better inform how we can support transformation towards such systems. You may find this film, created by Future Stewards useful in understanding the concept of ‘regenerative’.

Why is collaboration so important to FixOurFood?

Transformation to the food system cannot be achieved in isolation; it requires action, knowledge, ideas, a collaborate spirit, and motivation. Systems can change if there is enough momentum and if that momentum is cohered in effective ways. Ultimately, change then comes from how different groups and people work together with vision and purpose to reshape our relationship to food and where it comes from.  In FixOurFood, we are therefore working with those from across the entire food system in Yorkshire combining knowledge, expertise and innovative minds to achieve our aims. Co-creation is at the heart of FixOurFood, and is essential to our success.

What is the Three Horizons tool?

To transform the food system, we need to be bold and have big goals. FixOurFood is inspiring others in the Yorkshire food system to envision and transform together towards a viable future food system by using the powerful Three Horizons futures tool to guide the transformation journey. You can find out more about Three Horizons here.