Cover illustration © Margherita Brunori, a graphic reproduction inspired by the fieldwork experiences captured in the photo diary of the research project

In libreria

Digital Food Provisioning in Times of Multiple Crisis. How Social and Technological Innovations Shape [..] Consumption Practices

edited by Arne Dulsrud and Francesca Forno

19 aprile 2024
Versione stampabile

This edited collection brings together theoretical and empirical reflections on the role played by new technology and digital platforms in the provision of food. The way food is produced, distributed, consumed and disposed has significant consequences for the environment, affecting soil fertility, water and air quality, the state of the climate and the loss of biodiversity. Such negative effects are strictly related to the agro-industrial system of production and consumption, based on logic of low prices, high availability and high waste.
This collection brings together a carefully curated range of insights from a team of twenty researchers coming from different fields working in different European universities engaged in the PLATEFORMS SUSFOOD2, ERA-Net Cofund project for more than three years. As a result, this book will appeal to people working on food studies and on sustainable food production and consumption, offering both conceptual-theoretical insights into contemporary food issues alongside empirical illustrations.

Arne Dulsrud is Research Professor at Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
Francesca Forno is professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento,

From Introduction (pagg. 1-6)

The complex process through which food reaches the consumer’s table has become a central topic in political and public debate. This discussion has also been pushed by the growing awareness among citizens of the negative social and environmental impacts of the conventional agrifood supply chain and their increasing interest in the healthiness of their diets. Indeed, the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food have significant environmental impacts, such as soil degradation, water and air pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Therefore, developing sustainable forms of food production, distribution, and consumption is crucial to achieving an ecological transition (Alfredsson et. al., 2018).

Over recent years, the international community has gradually acknowledged that the way food systems are evolving needs to be coupled with sustainability. One important example is the contribution of the current food system to climate change: about 21–37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributable to the food system (IPCC Special Report Climate Change and Land, 2019). The societal and human impacts are similarly severe: two billion people suffer from obesity and related diseases, while 836 million people are still undernourished, although annually one-third of the food produced – about 1.3 billion tonnes per year – is wasted (Gustavsson, Cederberg, Sonesson, Van Otterdijk, and Meybeck, 2011). More recently, the so-called Triple Cs – Covid, Conflicts and the Climate Crisis – have worsened an already critical situation. These events, among others, have put the need for a resilient and sustainable food system both on the EU’s political agenda through the Green Deal and on the programme of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) where the need to accelerate innovation and digitalisation in the food sector to combat climate change is being heavily emphasised. 

Digital technologies, many argue, contain a great promise and an opportunity for more sustainable consumption of food in everyday life (Cooper et. al., 2012; Graham & Haarstad, 2011; Nemes et. al 2021). Digital platforms can bypass conventional and slow-moving retail supply chains through direct distribution. They provide opportunities for innovation niches and circular food distribution systems. The various applications can assist consumers to choose climate-friendly products in-store. In addition, digital platforms can provide sharing options for surplus food and stimulate networks between retailers and consumers. They can enable the formation of ethical consumption communities which exert a pull effect in the value chain (Schneider et. al., 2018). 

Based on this thinking, it is reasonable to ask whether digital technologies can provide the expected paradigmatic shift to a more sustainable consumption pattern. Southerton and Fuentes (2022) argue that to realise these potentials, digital food platforms must be able to ‘reconfigure’ (Geels et. al., 2015) what are often assemblages of household food practices, held in place by clusters of socio-technical arrangements, norms, and habits (see also, Fuentes & Samsioe, 2021). Major research questions are raised concerning what is required to make such reconfigurations possible and the sustainability implications of those changes. At the same time, as more critical scholars argue, digitalisation often also leads to increased surveillance, the misuse of personal data, unequal access, manipulation, and the acceleration of unfair material distribution (Zuboff, 2019; Srnicek, 2017; Dulsrud & Bygstad, 2022).
As the food supply landscape is rapidly transforming in a time of crisis and rapid socio-technical innovation, it is crucial that the social sciences can relate to these changes and provide thoughtful accounts of their social and environmental consequences. This book brings together a carefully curated range of insights from a team of researchers from different fields (sociology, marketing, food and gender studies, economics, and law) working in different European universities who were engaged in a collaborative project for more than three years. Grounded in empirical research conducted in Norway, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Sweden, this anthology explores how (and if) socio-technical innovations in food provisioning are fostering new and more sustainable forms of food consumption in everyday life, investigating if and how digital food platforms can drive/facilitate sustainable provisioning practices in households.
The recent and expanding discourse on new online food provisioning services has generally portrayed the opportunities provided by new digital platforms as more sustainable, often in an uncritical manner (Michelini, Principato  & Iasevoli, 2018). Social media, apps, direct selling websites, and food platforms have often been considered unambigously positive sustainability tools.  
However, despite the increasing availability and popularity of digital food platforms, a better understanding of their impact on consumption practices is still needed to determine whether they represent a genuine opportunity to promote more sustainable diets. Moreover, it is worth noting that most studies not only hypothesise that food platforms could provide a more sustainable option but also tend to underestimate the issue of ‘recruitment’. Exploring how these new sales channels can effectively reach and retain consumers is a crucial aspect that requires further investigation, also in view of the fact that online food shopping remains less popular than other retail channels and this despite the boost received during the Covid-19 pandemic (Oncini et al., 2020; Holmberg, Hansson, & Post, 2022; see also Oncini in this volume). 
[…] while motivations for healthier and more sustainable eating may explain consumers’ inclination to try new shopping channels, it is important to recognise that adopting a new shopping routine is not an easy task and may require time, resources and/or the acquisition of new skills. Furthermore, some digital platforms may be more suited to certain individuals than others. For example, platforms that deliver food at home (such as ‘digital box schemes’) are more amenable to those with stable jobs and fixed working hours (Hertz & Halkier, 2017). Consequently, the ability of digital shopping channels to attract consumers may vary according to people’s lifestyles and skills.
In other words, if food consumption is important for shaping the sustainability of the food supply chain, transitioning to a more sustainable food system requires understanding and active engagement with households and their multiple food practices. In addition to food acquisition, it is equally important to understand how food is handled once it enters the household. Put differently, to assess the potential of new digital food platforms to promote sustainable eating practices, it is necessary to comprehend how everyday food practices fit within household life and how the interaction with new supply services becomes integrated into these complex arrangements, supporting or hindering consumers’ sustainable practices (Fuentes & Samsioe, 2020).

Courtesy by Springer