Sustainable Food Systems Transformation, from Critique to Practice: Describing and designing food futures
At the center of debates regarding food system transformation are socio-technical innovations involving novel foods and novel ways to produce food. In this thesis, I examine digital agriculture technologies such as e-commerce platforms, and alternative proteins such as cellular agriculture as two agri-food innovations with much promise to fundamentally transform the way we produce, process, distribute, and consume food across scales. I contribute to sustainability transformation literature and practice by undertaking empirically informed critiques of agri-food innovations, developing a more nuanced characterization for their potential promise, and advancing community-based research to scrutinize their impacts on-the-ground. My thesis begins by examining the sustainability-related tradeoffs of entomophagy and cellular agriculture. I found that alternative proteins have substantial potential to positively impact the global food system across multiple dimensions, such as food price stability and environmental sustainability; however, technical barriers to scale and high potential cost may dampen their impact. In my later chapters I assess the framings of and potential futures for agri-food innovation. I found three distinct framings for how digital agriculture technologies are transforming food systems, and a lack of civil society participation within these discussions. In addition, I found that access, integration, and centralization are key dimensions across which cellular agriculture can be assessed in terms of its promise to transform food systems. In my final phase of research, I partnered with an e-commerce platform to survey local food system stakeholders in Ontario to better understand their digital technology needs. I found that stakeholders are keen to use digital tools, but political economic barriers across the digital platform sector prevent their widespread benefits from being realized. This thesis advances sustainability transformation scholarship by explicitly considering its normative dimensions: transformation of what? For what purpose? By whom? Crucially, the myriad ways in which agri-food innovations are governed can result in diverse forms of change, following less or more business-as-usual processes. Hybridized governance processes and increased public and civil society participation are crucial to achieve sustainable food system transformations. Future scholarship that advances actionable research projects with civil society and public stakeholders can open space for imagined, desired, and possible futures.
Glaros, A., Thomas, D., Nost, E., Nelson, E., & Schumilas, T. (2023). Digital technologies in local agri-food systems: Opportunities for a more interoperable digital farmgate sector. Frontiers in Sustainability, 4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frsus.2023.1073873