Event summary: The Future of Food Symposium 2021

On the 8th and 9th of September 2021 the second The Future of Food Symposium was hosted online by the Centre for Business in Society, at Coventry University. The online event invited a range of stakeholders from businesses and society, including academics, local government representatives, community based organisations and food industry professionals to present, discuss and devise what a more sustainable, and resilient, food system looks like.

The symposium was a timely event given the increasing precarity that COVID-19 has brought to many people’s livelihoods and lifestyles, even in the world’s wealthier nations where weaknesses in food supply chains have been exposed. With current levels of global consumption and production considered to be unsustainable, transforming food supply chains must be placed at the centre of the road towards a more sustainable food system. This challenge, the road from post-pandemic recovery to a resilient food system, set the scene for the 2021 Future of Food Symposium.

The symposium was opened by Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South. Zarah is a vocal advocate for tackling food poverty. For Zarah, going from recovery to resilience means ensuring good decent quality food for everyone where food is not a luxury, but a universal right.

The symposium featured four fantastic keynote speakers. Anna Davies, Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at Trinity College Dublin, presented a ‘manifesto for sustainable food sharing futures’. Discussing the findings from the Share City project, Anna explained the importance of exploring contemporary forms of food sharing. Such activities are making important contributions towards the pathway to more sustainable urban food systems.

Jamie Crummie highlights the issue of food waste

Jamie Crummie, Co-founder of the food-sharing app Too Good To Go, presented a powerful message that tackling food waste must be the focus of climate change tackling efforts. The third keynote speaker was Professor Moya Kneafsey. Her keynote speech focused on bringing to the table the concept of territorial food systems and their importance to the future of food. The final keynote speaker, Suzanne Higgs, Professor at the University of Birmingham focused on how eating together affects food consumption.

The event also offered the opportunity to highlight innovative research undertaken by Centre for Business in Society researchers. Working in partnership with Fareshare Midlands, Doctoral Researcher Marsha Smith presented research that looked at the factors that constrained the response of community food groups over the course of the pandemic. The research team presented a short video documenting ‘behind the scenes’ footage which illustrated all the work required to get surplus food to people in need within communities.

Marsha Smith presents some of the reasons that constrained the response of community groups during the pandemic

Overall the symposium featured 6 tracks of paper presentations and 3 practitioner panel debates, covering several emergent themes which included:

  • The importance of food sharing to facilitate a sustainable food agenda within communities
  • The role of technology in tackling food waste
  • The behind the scenes ‘reality’ of community food provisioning
  • The role of territory and place, diversity and circularity in progressing towards more sustainable food systems
  • The importance of certification and reporting to translate sustainability messages into practice

The takeaway messages in summarising the event were fourfold:

  • Firstly that whilst fantastic work is being undertaken to build more resilience in the food system, the societal structures that underpin how we access and consume food are shifting and continue to shift.
  • Secondly that those working in the food sector and beyond are exhausted and want to move beyond this period of uncertainty and disruption.
  • Thirdly the importance of considering how informed current decision makers are and what information is requested to govern effectively.
  • Fourthly that this is a critical time to consider the future of food. An array of challenges are building the perfect storm threatening the global food ecosystem therefore research and collaboration with practitioners is critical.

Overall, the symposium was a great success in providing a critical space to present and discuss a number of issues in looking at how the food system is recovering and moving forward in working towards a more resilient future. The Centre for Business in Society look forward to working with wider organisations in handing over the reins for the third Future of Food Symposium next year.

More information about the Future of Food Symposium can be found on the website – http://futurefoodsymposium.uk/