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Multiplicity of Perspectives on Sustainable Food: Moving Beyond Discursive Path Dependency in Food Policy

Article | 15-05-2019

The idea that a sustainable transformation of the food system is urgently needed is gaining ground throughout Europe. Yet, opinions differ substantially on what a sustainable food future exactly entails, and on how this future may be achieved.

This article argues that recognising this multiplicity of opinions and perspectives in policy making is productive because it creates attentiveness to innovative ideas and initiatives and may contribute to a broad social support base for policy choices.

However, food policy makers may overlook the diversity in perspectives by unreflexively adopting understandings of problems and solutions that are historically dominant in their organisations. In this article, we reveal the usefulness of triggering reflection on such discursive path dependencies amongst policy makers. We do so by presenting a three -fold case study that we conducted in the Netherlands.

First, we analytically distinguish five perspectives on sustainable food that feature prominently in the Dutch public debate. Subsequently, we show that only two out of these five perspectives predominantly informed a Dutch food policy—despite intentions to devise a more integrated policy approach.

Finally, we discuss the findings of two focus groups in which we discussed our analyses with Dutch civil servants who have been involved in drafting the Dutch food policy. These focus groups triggered reflection among the civil servants on their own perspectival biases as well as on discursive path dependencies in Dutch food policy making.

We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for the understanding of the discursive politics of sustainable agro-food transformations in Europe.

This article draws on findings of a Dutch language report, entitled Perspectieven op duurzaam voedsel: Pluriformiteit in debat en beleid.

Author(s)Michiel de Krom en Hanneke Muilwijk
Publication date15-05-2019
PublicationSustainability