FLEdGE Author Meets Readers: Social Movement Engagement in Food Systems Governance in the Spotlight

November 2019

By Peter Andrée and Patricia Ballamingie

FLEdGE-affiliated authors and co-editors, Peter Andrée, Jill K. Clark, Charles Z. Levkoe, and Kristen Lowitt, explore how food movement organizations in Canada and abroad are responding to crises in the food system by getting deeply involved in shaping policy and governance. Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance is available free online, and readers have been responding favourably. A recent Author Meets Readers event at Irene’s Pub in Ottawa, hosted by Carleton’s Faculty of Public Affairs, focused on readers’ responses to the book. Another event, taking place November 8 at the Canadian Food Policy and Law Conference in Toronto, will engage lawyers and food policy academics in the discussion too.

At the Author Meets Readers event, which took place on October 17, Professor Peter Andrée set the stage by highlighting the collaborative research that underpins the book and some of its main observations about the growing impact of food movement organizations on how our food systems work.  Civil society is “the realm where ‘I’ becomes ‘we’”, Andrée noted, adding “civil society organizations are formed as we mobilize ourselves, our friends and our neighbours to create the world we would like to see”. This book is chock-full of examples of how civil society organizing is making a difference. Here, Andrée cited several illustrative examples, from the Civil Society Mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security, to the creation of an agricultural strategy for Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to the town of Correns, France, that has turned to organic agriculture to revitalize the economy while addressing social and environmental challenges.

Andrée then passed the microphone to two readers well-versed in food systems, who had lots to say about the book and its value to them.

Sarah Berger-Richardson is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. Her work focuses on food system regulation. She noted that this book is an “honest” account of what civil society can and cannot do – addressing both challenges and opportunities.  In her view, one of its strengths lies in the introduction of a ‘continuum’ for thinking about the various ways that food movement organizations engage in decision-making, from being one of many stakeholders, to collaborative governance arrangements, to self-governance (see the schema, below, from chapter two in the book). She noted that while “continuums don’t always map perfectly in practice”, there is value in spelling out what people are doing – to better understand the ways people attempt to engage in food systems governance. Berger-Richardson raised questions about what happens as food movement organizations become part of decision-making structures. How might they get past polarizing positions to work with others to find common solutions? And is this always the best goal to have in mind?

Governance Engagement Continuum: The role of food movements

Next up was Moe Garahan, Executive Director of Just Food, a civil society organization working to address sustainable agriculture and food localism through a food systems lens in Ottawa.  Moe offered a practitioner’s point of view on issues raised in the book. On the one hand, she noted: “This is excruciatingly demoralizing work: it takes this long, and this much work, to advance alternatives.” On the other hand, she emphasized the critical work of organizations like hers towards transforming food and farming systems to make them more just and sustainable.

Next to the microphone was Professor Amanda Wilson, an Assistant Professor at Saint Paul University in their School of Innovation.  Wilson and Dr. Charles Levkoe (Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at Lakehead University) co-authored a chapter looking at food movement organizations engaged in the national food policy making process in Canada, turning it into more than just an opportunity to be ‘consulted’ by government, but also to strengthen the national voices of movement actors. Wilson responded to some of what she heard from Berger-Richardson and Garahan, noting the need to not only “remain hopeful, and be visionary, but also acknowledge tensions and challenges.”

The remainder of the evening was filled with interesting questions and discussion with the audience on key book themes. Attendees posed questions about the imminent federal election, and the implications of the (emergent) Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, the latter of which should give civil society organizations in Canada a new vehicle through which to inform federal food-related policies.

The next chance for readers to engage with this book takes place on Friday, November 8, when Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance will be discussed alongside several other recent titles at a book launch event at the Canadian Food Law and Policy Conference taking place at the University of Toronto. Details of the event can be found here: http://foodlaw.ca/conference2019/home

The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-accesbook. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

 Posts in the series: