Food, sustainability and territory. From Alternative Food Networks to the governance of local sustainable food systems
Simon Maurano, University of Bergamo - CORES LAB
Food production, distribution and consumption are strictly connected with the issue of sustainability. The agro-industrial (or conventional) food system, which originated in the past century, presents hard environmental, healthcare, social and economic costs that are externalized on local communities.
New trends on food quality and safety emerging over the last twenty years are labelled by the international literature as Alternative Food Networks (AFNs). AFNs are based on smaller, more environmentally aware producers and retailers placing their products on local markets with the support of individuals, groups of citizens or movements of political consumerism. These networks are based on trust relationships between consumers and producers (proximity, transparency, traceability), an emphasis on food quality and sometimes a “moral economy perspective” (Morgan, Marsden, Murdoch, 2006).
As scientific evidence is demonstrating (Sage, 2015), sustainable food systems could be one powerful tool to facilitate a shift towards a more sustainable form of development.
In Europe and in the USA some local governments have been increasingly focusing their attention on spontaneous initiatives such as short supply chain markets, urban community gardens, small, local and organic producers and organized groups of consumers, fair trade and specialty food initiatives. However, these good practices risk remaining only a weakly politicized expression of middle and upper-class angst (Goodman and Goodman, 2009), unless the attention of the political power helps to improve accessibility to quality and local food for all citizens, including the poorest or the less informed about the value of sustainable food. In fact, driven by critical consumption, some city governments have been trying over recent years to reorganize their local food systems by supporting these initiatives and/or by creating local “food policy councils” to engage local actors and to support existing alternative practices.
These forms of support could democratize these practices, which would otherwise risk remaining only accessible for a little niche of consumers with a higher cultural capital. Enhancing local food systems could potentially (re)create synergies between local economies and education, social and environmental policies.
The contribution will reflect on the various results of CORES researches at local scale of Bergamo province, starting from the mapping of the actors of AFNs (groups of critical consumers like the Solidarity Purchase Groups and the fair trade, producers and associations of producer of the short supply chain, the markets with local products) and of projects toward sustainability in which consumers, producers and local institutions are involved.
With tools as semi-structured interview, questionnaire and our participation in diverse working groups we are searching for what are the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats of the local food system and what are the enabling factors or the limits for developing a more sustainable food system. If the main problem seems to be a lack of collaboration among actors, it is interesting to analyse the role of local government and what policy could effective enhance the participation and the sustainability into the local food system.

Goodman D., Goodman M.K., (2009), “Food Networks, Alternative”, in Kitchin R., Thrift N., International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Elsevier, pp. 208-220
Morgan K., Marsden T., Murdoch J. (2006), Worlds of Food : Place, Power, and Provenance in the Food Chain, Oxford University Press
Sage C. (2015), Food and Sustainable Development: How should we feed the world?, in Redclift M., Springett D. (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Sustainable Development, Routledge