Professor Roberta Sonnino

Professor Roberta Sonnino

Professor of Sustainable Food Systems

Academic and research departments

Centre for Environment and Sustainability.


Research interests

Research projects



R. Sonnino, C. Callenius, L. Lahteenmaki, J. Breda, J. Cahill, P. Caron, Z. Damianova, M. A. Gurinovic, T. Lang, A. Laperriere, C. Mango, J. Ryder, G. Verburg, T. Achterbosch, A. C. L. den Boer, K. P. W. Kok, B. J. Regeer, J. E. W. Broerse, T. Cesuroglu Research and Innovation Supporting the Farm to Fork Strategy of the European Commission FIT4FOOD2030

The EU Think Tank (as part of the FIT4FOOD2030 Coordination and Support Action) strongly supports the development of the Farm to Fork Strategy as a key component of the European Green Deal, recognising the need to transform the food system as a whole. This policy brief calls for innovative approaches to the Farm to Fork Strategy to provide practical answersto two central questions: i) how can a shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets be facilitated?; and ii) how can all actors in the food system be empowered to adopt more sustainable practices? Answers to these questions raise the need for new transdisciplinary, multi-actor and participatory Research and Innovation (R&I) approaches that enable citizens, farmers, fishers, food processors, distributors, retailers and consumers to contribute to more coherent, cross policy-sector food initiatives that leverage on European food systems to deliver a balance of public goods (including food security and environmental integrity).

M. Gill, A. C. L. den Boer, K. P. W. Kok, A. Lapperrière, L. Lahteenmaki, Z. Damianova, J. Breda, J. Cahill, C. Callenius, P. Caron, M. A. Gurinovic, T. Lang, C. Mango, J. Ryder, R. Sonnino, G. Verburg, H. Westhoek, T. Cesuroglu, B. J. Regeer, J. E. W. Broerse (2019)Key research and innovation questions on engaging consumers in the delivery of FOOD 2030

Food system transformation requires major changes in food consumption practices. Consumers could play central roles to stimulate these changes, which needs to be fully recognized. Multi-stakeholder R&I efforts should focus more on the interactions between individual, contextual and policy factors influencing consumption patterns, with specific attention to the dynamic character of food environments. Consumers should be empowered and engaged in decision making, through co-design, co-creation, coimplementation and co-assessment.

M. Gill, A. C. L. de Boer, K. P. W. Kok, J. Breda, J. Cahill, C. Callenius, P. Caron, Z. Damianova, M. A. Gurinovic, L. Lahteenmaki, T. Lang, A. Laperriere, C. Mango, J. Ryder, R. Sonnino, G. Verburg, H. Westhoek, B. J. Regeer, J. E. W. Broerse (2018)A Systems Approach to Research and Innovation for Food System Transformation FIT4FOOD2030

A better understanding of key interactions between a multitude of actors, government levels and processes (production, consumption, distribution) and involving stakeholders is crucial to delivery of transformation. Our food systems face severe, urgent and persistent challenges, and so do we as humanity. Therefore, we need to strengthen the systems approach to Research and Innovation (R&I) in order to inform policy and decision makers to foster the transformation of EU food systems, in line with societies’ needs.

Krijn Poppe, Roberta Sonnino, Lilia Ahrné, Loraine Brennan, Nick Jacobs, Mango Carlo, Klaus Menrad, Katerina Moutou, Otto Schmid, Sébastian Treyer, Consuelo Varela Ortega, Henk Westhoek (2018)Recipe for change: An agenda for a climate-smart and sustainable food system for a healthy Europe Publications Office of the European Union

In this report, a group of European Commission (EC) appointed experts recommend orientations for food and nutrition security research and innovation in the years to come. The report calls for a Research, Innovation and Investment Strategy (RI&IS) in line with the EC FOOD2030 initiative to deliver on four priorities: nutrition for sustainable and healthy diets; climate smart and environmentally sustainable food systems; circularity and resource efficiency of food systems; innovation and empowerment of communities. Using food systems thinking, the experts have reworked and integrated these priorities to develop a mission-type approach.

Anja De Cunto, Cinzia Tegoni, Roberta Sonnino, Cécile Michel, Feyrouz Lajili-Djalaï (2017)Food in cities: study on innovation for a sustainable and healthy production, delivery, and consumption of food in cities, In: Publications on science & technology / Commission of the European Communities, Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Knowledge Unit Publications Office of the European Union

This study offers an overview and understanding of food innovation in cities and the role that EU projects for research and innovation can play in supporting sustainable food systems. While food has traditionally been considered beyond the competence of cities, several local authorities in Europe are now recognising the active role that they can play in supporting food strategies that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse. Cities act as brokers, bringing together civil society, business, and research organisations in a creative space, where innovative solutions can be designed and implemented for a more sustainable food system. This holistic approach aims to scale-out and scale-up new methods. Accordingly, the main type of policy instruments used by cities are citizen’s involvement and social innovation, new forms of governance across levels of government, public procurement, and collaboration with research. In order to support cities and to deliver the greatest impact, European projects need to be aligned with the local political priorities. Project research questions and project implementation should be done in cooperation with local authorities and other relevant actors. Projects have stronger impact where cities have the possibility to learn and exchange with each other on successful good practices.

First Report of the project “Food in Cities: A Study of Innovation for Sustainable and Healthy Production, Delivery and Consumption of Food in Cities”.

David Barling, Gunilla Andersson, B.B. Bettina Bock, Annemiek Canjels, Francesca Galli, Robin Gourlay, Femke Hoekstra, Francesco de Iacovo, Sandra Karner, Bent Egberg Mikkelsen, Anita Selunda, Julie Smith, Roberta Sonnino (2013)Revaluing Public Sector Food Procurement In Europe: An Action Plan for Sustainability Foodlinks

This report on Revaluing Public Sector Food Procurement is the result of a unique collaboration between policy-makers, practitioners and scientists working together during the Foodlinks project. The idea for the report emerged during the initial stages of experimenting with how we exchanged our knowledge on public sector food procurement that came from our work within municipal administrations, urban and national governments, European platforms, civil society and the wider academic community. We wanted to ‘make’ a report together that reflects not only the reality of devising and implementing innovative approaches to public sector food procurement throughout Europe, but also offers an Action Plan to help and encourage urban governments to take up the challenge of more sustainable purchasing practices.

Tim Crabtree, Kevin Morgan, Roberta Sonnino (2012)Prospects for the Future: Scaling Up the Community Food Sector Making Local Food Work
A. Morley, R. Sonnino, T. Marsden, K. Morgan, S. Morgan, K. Bailey, R. Lee (2010)Building Connections, Building Capacities: A Food Strategy for Wales Welsh Government
Roberta Sonnino, Kevin Morgan (2005)School Meals in Rome – The Quality Revolution, In: Peter Melchett (eds.), Double Dividend? Promoting Good Nutrition and Sustainable Consumption through Healthy School Mealspp. 42-47 Sustainable Consumption Roundtable

In the year 2000, a programme was begun to improve school meals across the city of Rome. Initially, organic fruit, vegetables, eggs, tinned tomatoes and cereals were introduced, followed by organic mozzarella cheese and yoghurt in 2003. By 2005, almost all of the food served in schools was organic, except bananas and chocolate, which are Fairtrade, and meat, which is sourced from mainly extensively-reared national breeds. The scheme covers the whole of Rome where 140,000 organic school meals are served every day, including special recipes for 4,000 children with dietary restrictions due to health and religion. Seasonality is incorporated into summer and winter menus, as well as weekly dishes, and fried, frozen and GM food are banned.

Roberta Sonnino, Kevin Morgan (2005)Catering for Sustainability. The Creative Procurement of School Meals in Italy and the UK The Regeneration Institute, Cardiff University
Roberta Sonnino (2020)Cibo e Citta’: Verso Una Nuova Cultural Politica Alimentare, In: National Geographic Italia (edizione speciale: "Le Citta’ del Futuro: Sistemi Alimentari Urbani e La Sfida dello Sviluppo Sostenibile")pp. 12-13 National Geographic Society
M. Gill, A. Laperriere, L. Lahteenmaki, Z. Damianova, J. Breda, J. Cahill, C. Callenius, P. Caron, M. A. Gurinovic, T. Lang, C. Mango, H. Muilvijk, R. Sonnino, G. Verburg, C. Brierley, C. Paca, K. P. W. Kok, A. C. L. den Boer, B. J. Regeer, J. E. W. Broerse (2018)Governance of Research to Accelerate Innovation, Deliver Transformation and Demonstrate Flexibility in the Time of Shocks

In order to tackle the challenges facing the food system and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement, it is essential to make food systems ‘future-proof’, meaning resilient, sustainable, responsible, diverse, competitive and inclusive. The food system, however, is complex; and to transform complex systems, one has to fully understand the technological, political, economic and social dynamics that shape the food system and to identify the leverage points where intervention will be most effective. The identification of these points necessitates a systemic approach in which multiple actors, governance levels and policy fields are taken into account. The current Policy Brief addresses the question to what extent R&I can be an effective leverage point and stimulate food system transformation, and presents a set of recommendations towards a R&I framework that is indeed ‘fit 4 food 2030’.

Patrick Webb, Roberta Sonnino (2021)Everyone at the Table: Co-creating Knowledge for Food Systems Transformation Directorate General for Research and Innovation, European Commission

The High-Level Expert Group (HLEG), assembled by the European Commission in 2021, is tasked to explore the needs, feasibility and options for enhancing science-policy interfaces (SPIs) that could kick start and substantially support the ambitious goal of food systems transformation in the coming decades. Based on their analysis of a sample of existing SPIs, the HLEG concludes that, while a number of them do exemplary work, an additional framework linking local, national, regional and international levels, as well as different facets of the food system, is required to sustain food system transformation. The HLEG will draw on the outcome of the UN Food System Summit and Pre-Summit to elaborate a more detailed proposal during the second phase of its work, due for completion in May 2022.

Terry Marsden, Roberta Sonnino (2005)Rural development and agri-food governance in Europe: tracing the development of alternatives, In: Agricultural Governance: Globalization and the New Politics of Regulationpp. 66-84 Routledge

In some ways, rural space within Europe has become a ‘battlefield’ of knowledge, authority and regulation fought around different definitions of agrifood. The outcome of this battle will shape not only the ‘quality’ of food, but also the rural space itself – its resource potentialities, its governing and its sustainability. Involved in this struggle are three different social, political, scientific and economic paradigms which combine and, at the same time, compete for primacy in the policy development process (Marsden 2003: 4). First, the agro-industrial paradigm, associated with the globalized production of standardized food commodities and with recent political attempts to ‘deregulate’ international markets. Informed by a neo-liberal ‘virtual’ logic of scale and specialization which ties agri-food into an industrial dynamic, and privileges national and international perspectives, this continues to be by far the most powerful development paradigm governing the production of agri-food in Europe. Second, the post-productivist paradigm, based on a perception of rural areas as consumption spaces to be exploited not by industrial capital but by the urban and ex-urban populations. Emerging in the past decade or so, the post-productivist model challenges the agro-industrial paradigm through an alternative emphasis on the local environment and environmental protection for its own sake. Yet it shares with it the marginalization of nature – which in the agro-industrial model takes place through the production process, but in the post-productivist model it occurs through urban consumption of the countryside and the marginalization of the agricultural economy. Third, the newly emerging (and more contentious) sustainable rural development paradigm, which redefines nature by emphasizing food production and agro-ecology in the context of a more multi-functional rural context. In contrast with the other two dynamics, this model emerges at the regional rather than national or local level, and it stresses the ‘embeddedness’ of food chains – or, more specifically, their association with highly contested notions of ‘place’, ‘nature’ and ‘quality’.

Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden (2006)Alternative Food Networks in the South West of England: Towards a New Agrarian Eco-Economy?, In: Between the Local and the Global: Confronting Complexity in the Contemporary Food Sector12pp. 299-322 Emerald

Reflecting on recent questions concerning the meaning and implications of food "re-localization", in this chapter we utilize the concept of "embeddedness" as an analytical tool to deepen and broaden the investigation of the relationships between food and territory. After pointing to some limitations inherent in the conventional use of the concept of the embeddedness, in the first part of the chapter we suggest a more holistic approach that takes into consideration its implications in the wider political, natural and socio-economic environments in which food networks develop and operate. In the second part of the chapter, we apply this holistic approach to the analysis of three alternative food networks in the South West of England: Cornish clotted cream, Steve Turton meats and West Country Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese. By focusing on the different dimensions of the territorial embeddedness of these networks, we attempt to show that their real distinctiveness comes from their variable ability to reconfigure ("re-localize") the time-space and the spatial relations around them. Through this actively constructed process of re-localization, we argue, alternative food networks in the South West are signalling the emergence of a new agrarian eco-economy that is vertically (i.e., politically and institutionally) disembedded and horizontally (i.e., spatially and ecologically) embedded. As we discuss in the conclusions, this further complicates the competitive relationships between the alternative and the conventional food sectors, while also providing new insights into the likely sustainability of these networks and their contribution to rural development. Adapted from the source document.

Roberta Sonnino (2007)Quality for All: School Meals in Rome, In: Healthy Eating in Schools: A Handbook of Practical Case Studiespp. 181-190 Verner Wheelock Associates Ltd
Roberta Sonnino, Kevin Morgan (2007)Localizing the Economy: The Untapped Potential of Green Procurement, In: Reclaiming the Economy: Alternatives to Market Fundamentalism in Scotland and Beyondpp. 127-140 Scottish Left Review Press
Terry Marsden, Roberta Sonnino (2007)Agriculture ou nouvelle économie agraire? Les Réseaux Alimentaires Locaux dans le Sud Ovest de l’Angleterre, In: Territoires et Enjeux du Développement Régionalpp. 177-194 Editions Quae

This text presents an analysis of empirical material from case studies of local and regional agri-food networks in the South West of England. Our analysis is based on two previous articles (Sonnino and Marsden, 2006; Marsden and Sonnino, 2005) which theoretically situate our work and apply our point of view to the comparative analysis of the governance of agrifood systems (in Wales and in the South West of England respectively). This work, so far, has postulated the need for a second phase of theorizing and problematizing the notion of the alternative food web after a plethora of recent, insufficiently theorized empirical research in Europe and North America (Goodman, 2002 and 2003). This new phase of work requires formulating key questions and issues about the agri-food resettlement process.

Terry Marsden, Roberta Sonnino, Kevin Morgan (2008)Alternative Food Networks in Comparative Perspective: Exploring their Contributions in Creating Sustainable Spaces, In: Sustainable Communities: New Spaces for Planning, Participation and Engagementpp. 255-274 Elsevier
Roberta Sonnino, J. D. Van der Ploeg, R. von Broekhuizen (2008)Towards a Framework for Understanding Regional Rural Development, In: Unfolding webs: the dynamics of regional rural developmentpp. 1-28 Van Gorcum

In the year 2000 a multidisciplinary team of social scientists from several European countries argued, in a joint article published in Sociologia Ruralis (2000), that rural development basically was practice without theory (van der Ploeg et al. 2000)2. Since then, rural development processes in Europe have gained considerable momentum and resulted in a dazzling array of new practices characterized by new dynamics and unanticipated impacts. Nevertheless, in 2006 the OECD again referred to the need for ‘a new research agenda in rural development’ (2006:19), implying that the nature, dynamics and heterogeneity of rural development processes, as they unfold in practice, were inadequately expressed in new theoretical frameworks. At the same time, rural development policies have continued to develop at supra-national, national, regional and local levels and, in the social sciences there have been some major shifts (away from earlier and, in retrospect, too limited and inflexible, models) that allow for a better understanding of a rapidly changing world.

Yoko Kanemasu, Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden, S. Schneider (2008)Testing the Web: A Comparative Analysis, In: Unfolding Webs: The Dynamics of Regional Rural Developmentpp. 175-208 Van Gorcum
Roberta Sonnino, Yoko Kanemasu, Terry Marsden (2008)Sustainability and Rural Development, In: Unfolding Webs: The Dynamics of Regional Rural Developmentpp. 29-52 Van Gorcum

The term 'sustainable development' has largely been promulgated by the industrialized nations in the context of global environmental processes and concerns, and it has catalyzed attention on the relationship between economic growth and the natural resource base on which this depends (Redclift 1987). Although the term has been used in a variety of ways since its early conceptualizations in the 1980s (see e.g. Murdoch et al. 1994:263; Langhelle 2000:306; Lockie et al. 2006:31), broadly speaking, the notion of sustainable development highlights the existence of the social and ecological conditions necessary to support human life at a certain level of well being through future generations (Earth Council 1994).

Roberta Sonnino, Kevin Morgan (2010)Rethinking School Food: The Power of the Public Plate, In: State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainabilitypp. 69-74 Routledge
R. Sonnino (2010)Food and Sustainable City-Regions: Lessons from around the World, In: We Can Change the Weather: 100 Cases in Energy Efficacy to Start Doing So Vubpress: Brussels University Press
R. Sonnino, Y. Kanemasu (2010)Rural Development in Devon: Exploring the Dynamics of an Emerging Web, In: Networking the Rural: The Future of Green Regions in Europe Royal Van Gorcum
Adrian Morley, Roberta Sonnino, Alastair Smith (2012)Leading by Procuring: The Power of the Public Sector Purchasing, In: Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbookpp. 113-121 SAGE Publications
Roberta Sonnino, Jessica Jane Spayde (2014)The 'new frontier'? Urban strategies for food security and sustainability, In: Sustainable Food Systemspp. 186-205 Routledge

With more than half of the world’s population urbanized, cities find themselves in the forefront of the food sustainability challenge (involving both food security and environmental sustainability). Under the ‘New Food Equation’ – shaped by food price hikes, dwindling natural resources, social unrest and looming climate change (Morgan and Sonnino, 2010), it is becoming increasingly clear that food insecurity is not simply a problem of insufficient production. Rather, it relates to a complex interaction of structural factors that encompass the entire ecology of the food system (Lang, 2010) and that raise important questions about spatial, economic and cultural access to food (Sonnino, 2009a). Addressing these questions has become an especially urgent priority in cities, where consumers are largely separate from the productive landscape and depend on the market for food (Yngve et al., 2009). In Europe and North America, pioneering urban governments are devising a new policy and planning approach that aims to address the new food security challenges in a more structural and systemic fashion. As exemplified by the emergence of urban food policy councils and the recent proliferation of urban food strategies, central to this approach is an attention to the complex and interrelated dimensions of the food system that effectively build (or fail to build) opportunities for food security (Ashe and Sonnino, 2013). The worlds of theory, policy and practice have begun to recognize that there is significant scope for change associated with these urban innovations. As Morgan and Sonnino (2010, p. 210) acknowledge, cities are acquiring a new role – ‘namely, to drive the ecological survival of the human species by showing that large concentrations of people can find more sustainable ways of co-evolving with nature and that urban governance is key to creating sustainability changes’. By forging new alliances between food consumers and producers, it has been argued, systemic urban food strategies are creating new forms of connectivity across urban and rural landscapes (Marsden and Sonnino, 2012) that challenge conventional development theories and planning models. Indeed, a recent publication by the FAO on food, agriculture and cities has acknowledged: [A] new paradigm is emerging for eco-system based, territorial food system planning [that] seeks … not to replace the global food supply chains that contribute to food security for many countries, but to improve the local management of food systems that are both local and global.

R. Sonnino, B. Beynon (2015)Rethinking Food Governance: The Urban Innovations, In: The Governance of City Food Systems Fondazione Feltrinelli
Roberta Sonnino, T. Bassinello, C. Lozano Torres (2016)School Feeding Programs: Addressing the Challenges of Sustainable Development, In: Alimentação Escolar no Brasil: Ampliando Perspectivas e Construindo Interfaces ao Longo de su Trajetória Históricapp. 35-64 Unochapeco
Roberta Sonnino, Jessica Spayde, Leah Ashe (2016)Políticas Públicas e a Construção de Mercados: Percepções a Partir de Iniciativas de Merenda Escolar, In: Construção de Mercados Para a Agricultura Familiar: Desafios para o Desenvolvimento Ruralpp. 311-330 Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – UFRGS
Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden (2017)Além da Linha Divisória: Repensando Relações entre Redes Alimentares Alternativas e Convencionais na Europa, In: Cadeias Curtas e Redes Agroalimentares Alternativas: Negocios e Mercados da Agricoltura Familiarpp. 105-128 UFRGS - Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Proliferaram‑se, nos últimos anos, os estudos de caso sobre o desenvolvimento de redes agroalimentares “alternativas”. Essas redes emergentes, definidas de diversas formas e de modo impreciso em termos de “qualidade”, “transparência” e “localidade”, estão (de forma um tanto polêmica) sinalizando um afastamento do setor de alimentação industrializado e convencional em direção a um regime alimentar e agrícola relocalizado.

Wendy Mendes, Roberta Sonnino (2018)Urban Food Governance in the Global North, In: The SAGE Handbook of Naturepp. 543-560
Roberta Sonnino, Ana Moragues-Faus (2018)Introduction to Part Six: Feeding Hungry and Thirsty Cities: An Introduction, In: The SAGE Handbook of Naturepp. 535-542 SAGE Publications
Roberta Sonnino (2018)How Universities and Research Institutions Can Support Design Thinking in Food Policy Definition, In: Food and Cities: The Role of Cities for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals BCFN
Roberta Sonnino (2019)Feeding Urban Areas: Challenges and Opportunities, In: Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainabilitypp. 110-113 Elsevier

This chapter explores the challenges related to feeding ever-expanding urban areas, paying special attention to the innovations introduced by city governments: systems thinking, participatory food governance, sustainable urban-rural linkages and trans-local collaborations. Such innovations are providing the basis for the emergence of a New Urban Food Agenda that can provide a significant contribution to global efforts to address the grand challenges of food security and sustainable development.

Gianluca Brunori, Tessa Avermaete, Fabio Bartolini, Natalia Brzezina, Terry Marsden, Erik Mathijs, Ana Moragues-Faus, Roberta Sonnino (2020)The Vulnerability of Food Systems, In: Innovation for Sustainabilitypp. 69-105 Emerald

This chapter focuses on food systems' vulnerability. In a rapidly and unpredictably changing world, vulnerability of farming and food systems becomes a key issue. The conceptual bases for food vulnerability analysis and food vulnerability assessment are discussed in a systemic perspective with an eye to the transition approach (Geels, 2004) as a perspective capable to analyze how novelties can develop and influence the system capability to fulfil societal functions, and food and nutrition security in particular. A framework for assessing people's food vulnerability is presented together with a simple vulnerability model based on the three dimensions of exposure (the degree to which a system is likely to experience environmental or sociopolitical stress), sensitivity (the degree to which a system is modified or affected by perturbations) and adaptive capacity (the ability to evolve in order to accommodate environmental hazards or change) (Adger, 2006). Then, other sections are dedicated to discuss the general questions that should be answered by a vulnerability assessment exercise, and the specific challenges emerging when the assessment concerns a food system. These elements are then used in the Annex to this chapter as a base for the development of a detailed method based on seven distinct steps for conducting participatory assessments of the vulnerability of food systems.

Gianluca Brunori, Tessa Avermaete, Fabio Bartolini, Natalia Brzezina, Stefano Grando, Terry Marsden, Erik Mathijs, Ana Moragues-Faus, Roberta Sonnino (2020)Small Farming and Food and Nutrition Security, In: Innovation for Sustainabilitypp. 19-38 Emerald

Among the food system's outcomes, food and nutrition security remains a key concern also in developed countries. This chapter analyzes food and nutrition security issues, unpacking the four dimensions in which the concept is articulated: availability, access, utilization and stability. Then the concept is explored, beyond the official definitions, through a description of the various frames that shape the public debate on food and nutrition security. These frames are: the classical productivist view emerged in the early post-war period; the neoproductivism, promoting a sustainable intensification aimed at producing more food while reducing negative environmental impacts, the entitlement approach based on Sen's reflections on people's capability to access food; the food sovereignty (Via Campesina, 1996) which regards food insecurity as an outcome of unequal power relations: the livelihood approach focused on the assets that determine the living gained by the individual or household; the right to food (De Schutter, 2014) based on the status of each individual as a rights-holder; the similar but less individualistic food democracy and food citizenship perspective which focusses on the collective dimension of those rights; the community food security, again close to the food citizenship but with stronger emphasis on communities and localization. Finally, the main contributions given by small farms to food and nutrition security are described, as identified on the base of the SALSA project outcomes.

Gianluca Brunori, Tessa Avermaete, Fabio Bartolini, Natalia Brzezina, Terry Marsden, Erik Mathijs, Ana Moragues-Faus, Roberta Sonnino (2020)Unpacking Food Systems, In: Innovation for sustainability: Small farmers facing new challenges in the evolving food systemspp. 39-67 Emerald

To analyze more deeply and in a systemic perspective food system outcomes, and the contribution that small farming can give to the achievement of those outcomes, a detailed analysis of food systems is required, which highlights its components, activities and dynamics. Thus, this chapter deepens the analysis of the food system. We first reflect on the complexity of the concept of food system, discussing the abundance of different conceptualizations proposed in the scientific and political debate on the base of different disciplines and perspectives. Then, a comprehensive representation is shown, which is then unpacked. The food system actors, assets and functions are explored, with an eye on power relations among actors and on the main drivers of change. Governance (that also includes actors external to the food systems) is called ‘reflexive’, as long as it characterizes a system that is able to reflect upon the conditions and the forms of its own functioning, to detect and analyze threats and to change accordingly, with the involvement of actors external to the food systems. This analysis, which represents the focus of this section, provides the base for the description of the food system vulnerability developed in Chapter 4. Drivers of change and governance emerge as key categories to consider.

Roberta Sonnino (2021)Public Procurement as a Food and Nutrition Security Strategy, In: L. Swensson, D. Hunter, S. Schneider, F. Tartanac (eds.), Public Procurement for Sustainable Food Systems and Healthy Diets, Vol.1pp. 26-34 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Biodiversity International and Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul

Sustainable Public Food Procurement (PFP) represents a key game changer for food systems transformation. It can influence both food consumption and food production patterns. It can deliver multiple social, economic, and environmental benefits towards sustainable food systems for healthy diets. This publication aims to contribute to the improved understanding, dissemination, and use of PFP as a development tool in particular in the case of school meals programmes. In Volume 1, researchers, policymakers, and development partners can find evidence on how PFP can be used as a development tool and deliver multiple benefits for multiple beneficiaries. It argues that PFP can provide a market for local and smallholder farmers, promote the conservation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity, and improve the nutrition and health of children and communities. Volume 2 of this publication, available at presents further analysis of the instruments, enablers and barriers for PFP implementation. It also provides case studies with local, regional and national experiences from Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.

Roberta Sonnino (2013)Local foodscapes: place and power in the agri-food system, In: cta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section B - Soil and Plant Science63(1)pp. 2-7 Taylor & Francis

This article summarizes a decade of research engagement with local food systems, highlighting some key changes in the scholarly perception of their nature and potential. Based on a synthesis of case studies from different countries, the article identifies three key stages that have shaped the research agenda on food re-localizations: (1) an early enthusiasm for the potential of local food networks, which were deemed to embody the environmental and socio-economic objectives of sustainable development; (2) a growing awareness of the fragility of these initiatives, which was followed by the emergence of a powerful critique known as 'the local trap'; and (3) the recent re-scaling of food policy at the local level, where cities are taking the lead in responding to the current food insecurity crisis. As the article concludes, there is a new research agenda emerging around the role of the multi-level state, the planning system and sustainability research in scaling up and out these governance innovations.

Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden (2005)Beyond the Divide: Rethinking Relationships between Alternative and Conventional Food Networks in Europe, In: Journal of economic geography6(2)pp. 181-199

In this paper, we develop the burgeoning research agenda on alternative food networks in Europe. Through the concept of "embeddedness", we argue for a much more nuanced and complex understanding of the relationships between conventional and alternative food chains--and, by extension, of their implications for rural development. Rather than viewing alternative and conventional food networks as separate spheres, we see them as highly competitive and as relational to one another and argue for the need to examine the links more critically. In particular, we highlight the need to explore the competitive relationships that alternative food networks have with the conventional sector to expose power imbalances and the effect these may have on wider rural development processes.

Kevin Morgan, Roberta Sonnino (2006)Empowering consumers: the creative procurement of school meals in Italy and the UK, In: International journal of consumer studies31(1)pp. 19-25 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Roberta Sonnino (2006)Embeddedness in action: Saffron and the making of the local in southern Tuscany, In: Agriculture and human values24(1)pp. 61-74 Springer Nature

Despite the widespread use of the concept of embeddedness in the literature on agri-food networks, not much has been written on the process through which a food economy becomes embedded. To explore this dynamic and contribute to a more critical perspective on the meanings and implications of embeddedness in the context of food, this paper analyzes the emergence of saffron as a local food network in southern Tuscany. By adopting a constructivist approach, the analysis shows that embeddedness assumes simultaneously a social, spatial, and temporal dimension that are dynamically created by participants in the saffron economy as a response to specific market requirements. The paper concludes that a focus on how embeddedness is achieved in the context of food has both theoretical and empirical implications. Theoretically, it supports the need for a more holistic and actor-oriented approach that takes into consideration the tensions inherent in the process of embedding and also its ramifications outside of the social realm. Practically, a focus on how a food network comes to be embedded complicates the notion of food relocalization - an issue that raises empirical questions about the sustainability of local food networks and their contribution to rural development.

Terry Marsden, Roberta Sonnino (2008)Rural development and the regional state: Denying multifunctional agriculture in the UK, In: Journal of rural studies24(4)pp. 422-431 Elsevier

Under the emerging rural development paradigm, we argue that to be multifunctional an activity must add income to agriculture, it must contribute to the construction of a new agricultural sector that corresponds to the needs of the wider society and it must reconfigure rural resources in ways that lead to wider rural development benefits. By evaluating UK rural policies on the basis of whether or not they attempt to meet these conditions, this paper shows that an implicit recognition of agriculture's multifunctional character has occurred recently through the shift from a sectoral to a regional and territorial perspective that reintegrates farming into rural development. However, in practice, and especially in England, the UK government has been unable to turn Multifunctional activities into a real rural development option. in fact, by continuing to support agri-industrial/retailer interests on the one hand, and post-productivist-environmental and amenity- interests on the other, the State is governing mostly by setting up competitively organized 'projects' and schemes that continue to justify the concentration (and limitation) of resources allocated to agriculture. Based upon a critique of policy developments over the past decade, this paper emphasizes the need for more innovative forms of state innovation that provide opportunities for new, creative and more spatially embedded forms of supply and demand management in agri-food. In the conclusions, the paper also argues that more critical research is needed to uncover the existing and potential role of both governments and producer networks in progressing sustainable rural development through agricultural multifunctionality. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Roberta Sonnino (2009)Quality Food, Public Procurement, and Sustainable Development: The School Meal Revolution in Rome, In: Environment and planning. A41(2)pp. 425-440 SAGE Publications

In the last decade the concept of quality has been widely used to describe the dynamics that have been shaping the agrifood system. Despite differences in research focus and approach, scholars agree that quality is the outcome of a contingent and so far underresearched process of negotiation that entails and determines relations of power in the food chain. To understand the nature and implications of the relationship between quality and power in the food sector, this paper focuses on the recent ‘quality revolution’ implemented in the school meals system in Rome. Based on the analysis of documentary material and qualitative data collected through formal and informal interviews, the paper examines the process through which city authorities have integrated different (and at times contrasting) quality conventions. The analysis shows that procurement policies such as those implemented in Rome have the power to create an ‘economy of quality’ that can deliver the economic, environmental, and social benefits of sustainable development.

Yoko Kanemasu, Roberta Sonnino (2009)Dynamics of Power and Cooperation in Rural Development: The Case of Chianina Beef Production in Italy, In: International journal of sociology of agriculture and food16(2)pp. 36-53

This article contributes to the theorization of the much-debated 'paradigm shift' from conventional agri-industrialism towards sustainable rural development through the adoption of an actor-oriented approach that focuses on the practices, initiatives and experiences of rural actors themselves. Building on existing conceptualizations of rural actors as active agents, we analyze cooperative relations amongst quality meat producers in central Italy to shed light onto the dynamics of their collective interventions. Our case study demonstrates that seemingly 'alternative' rural development processes do not necessarily represent a smooth transition towards a new paradigm. Whilst producers have the capacity to collectively negotiate the pressures of the conventional agri-food system, their agency encompasses also conscious attempts to maneuver a highly ambiguous relationship with conventional markets to their advantage. Such 'empowerment' is also far from unproblematic. Collective actions provide producers with a degree of power, which, however, is subject to an asymmetrical distribution that seems to parallel that of agri-industrialism. In other words, producers' collective action against the dominant forces of agro-industrial globalization is a contested process of allocation of power over productive relations and the market. Our analysis hence problematizes the notion of 'paradigm shift' and calls for further research that critically examines the power differentials that reside in different dimensions of rural development practices. Adapted from the source document.

Roberta Sonnino (2010)Feeding the City: Towards a New Research and Planning Agenda, In: International planning studies14(4)pp. 425-435 Routledge

In an era when, for the first time in history, more than half of the human population is urbanized, cities in both developed and developing countries are facing enormous challenges in terms of food security. In this context, municipal governments in New York, Rome, Belo Horizonte, Toronto, London, Amsterdam and Dar es Salaam are devising integrated food policies and strategies that move beyond the traditional focus on urban agriculture. A brief analysis of these emerging initiatives highlights the need for a new research agenda on public food provisioning and policy-making at the urban level. Practically, the paper argues, this broadened research agenda is crucial to facilitate much needed processes of knowledge-building and knowledge-exchange within and between cities. Theoretically, as this paper concludes, more comparative and comprehensive studies of the emerging urban food strategies are necessary to fully capture the potential of fast-growing cities in creating or recreating more sustainable social, economic and environmental linkages with their surrounding regions.

Kevin Morgan, Roberta Sonnino (2010)The urban foodscape: world cities and the new food equation, In: Cambridge journal of regions, economy and society3(2)pp. 209-224 Oxford Univ Press

A new food equation is taking shape in response to burgeoning prices for basic foodstuffs and growing concerns about the security and sustainability of the agri-food system. Far from being confined to the countries of the global south, food security is now a major issue for the global north, where cities are most exposed to the new pressures on account of their ecological and political sensitivities. This article examines the evolution of urban food strategies in two world cities, London and New York, to explore (i) the meanings of a 'sustainable food strategy' and (ii) the scope and limits of food system localization, which is not a surrogate for a sustainable food strategy.

Roberta Sonnino (2009)Escaping the Local Trap: Insights on Re-localization from School Food Reform, In: Journal of environmental policy & planning12(1)pp. 23-40 Routledge

Building on the stimulating critique of normative views of scale provided by the literature on the 'local trap', some agri-food researchers have recently argued that local food initiatives (including, for example, American Farm-to-School programs) reproduce neo-liberal values and forms of governance. By focusing on school food reform in two devolved sites of the UK, this paper aims to show that, even when embedded in the power dynamics and values of neo-liberalism, the local can produce sustainable development outcomes. This raises the need for an inductive research approach that assesses the merits (or lack of) of localism in the concrete-while also taking into account the role of the State as a new powerful actor on the agri-food scene.

Roberta Sonnino, Susannah McWilliam (2011)Food waste, catering practices and public procurement: A case study of hospital food systems in Wales, In: Food policy36(6)pp. 823-829 Elsevier

This article aims to address the need for more comprehensive studies on sustainable food systems through a case study of hospital food waste in Wales, UK. Based on a mixed-method research approach that focused on the links between hospital food waste, catering practices and public procurement strategies, the article shows that the hospital meal system, in the case studied, is responsible for overall levels of food waste that greatly exceed the official percentages provided by the Health Board. In addition to showing the theoretical benefits of research that accounts for the complex interrelations between different stages of the food chain, the study raises the need for a more integrated political approach that mobilizes all actors in the food system around a shared vision for sustainable development. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Although agro-food researchers have been calling for studies that uncover the tensions inherent in the process of construction of alternative food networks, the literature has mostly focused on individual initiatives, which make it difficult to address the implications of these processes in the wider territorial context where they operate. To overcome this fragmentation and begin to draw theoretical generalizations, we compare the different strategies used by three cooperatives of olive oil producers in the Alto Palancia County (Spain). Based on a set of in-depth interviews with key food chain actors, the analysis uses the concept of embeddedness to examine the interplay between the social (trust and collective action) and the spatial (relationship with place) dimensions that characterise the olive oil networks. As we argue, this interplay plays a crucial role in shaping governance arrangements that are in turn responsible for constructing the quality attributes of the product. In addition to generating new insights into the nature of the relationship between food quality, power and place, the paper highlights the potential of both embeddedness and dis-embeddedness processes in delivering rural development benefits, as well as the importance of supporting collective place-making strategies that contribute to the creation of regional economic spaces.

Terry Marsden, Roberta Sonnino (2012)Human health and wellbeing and the sustainability of urban–regional food systems, In: Current opinion in environmental sustainability4(4)pp. 427-430 Elsevier B.V

► Food systems under capitalist development have always had to confront the twin problems of food security and long-term sustainability. ► This resulted in a series of ‘spatial fixes’ which are now currently being progressively dismantled as the current food crisis deepens. ► The current crisis provides an opportunity to re-integrate human health and security concerns with those of sustainability, both at national and international levels.

Leah M. Ashe, Roberta Sonnino (2013)At the crossroads: new paradigms of food security, public health nutrition and school food, In: Public health nutrition16(6)pp. 1020-1027 Cambridge Univ Press

Public health nutrition sits at the nexus of a global crisis in food, environmental and health systems that has generated - along with numerous other problems an urgent and changing problem of food insecurity. The 'new' food insecurity, however, is different from the old: it is bimodal, encompassing issues of both under- and over-consumption, hunger and obesity, quantity and quality; it has assumed a decidedly urban dimension; and it implicates rich and poor countries alike. The complexity of the expressions of this challenge requires new approaches to public health nutrition and food policy that privilege systemic, structural and environmental factors over individual and mechanistic ones. In this context, the current paper argues that school food systems rise with buoyant potential as promising intervention sites: they are poised to address both modes of the food security crisis; integrate systemic, structural and environmental with behavioural approaches; and comprise far-reaching, system-wide efforts that influence the wider functioning of the food system. Based on a discussion of Bogota and other pioneering policies that explicitly aim to create a broader food system with long-term foundations for good public health and food security, the paper suggests a new research and action agenda that gives special attention to school food in urban contexts.

Leah M. Ashe, Roberta Sonnino (2013)Convergence in Diversity: New York City School Food and the Future of the Food Movement, In: International planning studies18(1)pp. 61-77 Routledge

In the context of a global food system that has given rise to widespread concerns for food security and sustainability, reformative efforts have emerged, expanded and multiplied worldwide. To enhance understanding of the multi-faceted nature of this food movement and its scope for convergence and consolidation, in this article we propose frame alignment and alliance-building as a theoretical and analytical framework. Using New York City as a case study, we explore how school food reform may act as a particularly powerful platform for coalescing the interests and goals of diverse food system actors. We conclude with a call to interrogate school food and other reform activities with specific attention to the opportunities they pose for finding 'convergence in diversity' - in other words, for aligning the diverse and often fragmented efforts of the 'food movement' around an integrated and shared agenda with heightened potential for impact.

Roberta Sonnino, Christopher Griggs-Trevarthen (2013)A resilient social economy? Insights from the community food sector in the UK, In: Entrepreneurship and regional development25(3-4)pp. 272-292 Taylor & Francis

At a time of global economic and environmental crisis, academic and policy debates are re-emphasizing the potential of the social economy in providing an alternative development model that reconnects communities with their resource-base and enhances their resilience'. The goal of this paper is to explore this potential through a focus on the practices and values of those who are concretely involved in the social economy. Based on data collected on five community food enterprises in Oxfordshire, UK, the analysis focuses on the perceptions of social entrepreneurs in relation to the alternativeness' of the social economy, its potential for expansion and its resilience. The research highlights the capacity of social entrepreneurs to empower local communities through a process of collective mobilization of local resources. Theoretically, this study generates new insights into the nature and meanings of resilience as a process of creation of more self-reliant communities of people, places, tools, skills and knowledge. From a policy and practice perspective, the paper raises the need for regional development strategies that capture the gains of these isolated initiatives, particularly in relation to their innovative capacity to create a shared vision that fosters synergies between local ecological, social and economic resources.

Roberta Sonnino, Ana Moragues Faus (2014)Sostenibilita’ e Sicurezza Alimentare: Gli Anelli Mancanti, In: Agriregionieuropa10(36)pp. 62-65 Alessandro Bartola Association

L’impennata nei prezzi di cibo, energia e carburanti che si è verificata nel 2008 ha rafforzato la percezione dell’esistenza di un deficit alimentare a livello globale, in un momento storico in cui la rapida espansione di problemi di malnutrizione sta cambiando la geografia globale dell’insicurezza alimentare (Ashe e Sonnino, 2013). A complicare ulteriormente il quadro, gli ultimi anni hanno anche visto l’insorgere di una grave crisi finanziaria e fenomeni di accaparramento di terra nei Paesi in via di sviluppo. Nel contesto di incertezza creato da questa “Nuova Equazione Alimentare” (Morgan e Sonnino, 2010), il concetto di sicurezza alimentare sta rapidamente arricchendosi di nuovi e complessi significati che lo pongono in relazione sempre più stretta con un altro importante concetto: la sostenibilità. Basandoci sulla recensione critica di una letteratura ancora molto frammentata, in questo articolo metteremo in evidenza l’esistenza di una serie di problemi socio-economici e ambientali, fra loro spesso collegati, che richiedono un superamento del dibattito tradizionale sulla sicurezza alimentare, troppo spesso polarizzato fra teorie collegate alla produzione e teorie sulle dinamiche di consumo del cibo. Come tenteremo di dimostrare, è infatti nelle fasi centrali della filiera agro-alimentare globale che il problema della sicurezza alimentare si pone in tutta la sua complessità, sollevando questioni che delineano i contorni di una nuova agenda di ricerca e di intervento strutturale.

Roberta Sonnino, Ana Moragues Faus, Albino Maggio (2014)Sustainable Food Security: An Emerging Research and Policy Agenda, In: The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food21(1)pp. 173-188 Research Committee on Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC-40) of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

As a response to emerging calls for the adoption of a systemic approach to food security, in this article we identify and discuss inextricably linked barriers to ‘sustainable food security’. Based on an extensive analysis of recent academic and policy literatures on the economic, social and ecological effects of global environmental change at different stages of the food system, we highlight a series of cross-cutting issues and areas of disconnection between food production and consumption that call for a renovated focus on the different nodal points of the food system. As we suggest, a sustainable food security framework should move away from the conventional focus on individual components of the food system (e.g., supply and demand) and address more holistically the complex relationships between its different stages and actors.

Roberta Sonnino, Camilo Lozano Torres, Sergio Schneider (2014)Reflexive governance for food security: The example of school feeding in Brazil, In: Journal of Rural Studies36pp. 1-12 Elsevier

In the last decade, the unfolding of a “new food equation” has raised the need to address food security more structurally and systemically. This paper aims to progress this debate through a focus on Brazil, where food security policies are embedded into a “reflexive governance” framework that facilitates learning, adaptation and collaboration between actors at different scales and stages of the food system. Based on key legislation and policy documents, the analysis of school feeding as an example of food security intervention context provides two insights. First, it highlights the importance of broadening participation in the governance system to actors who have been neglected by discourses on food security, with their narrow focus on the two ends of the food system. Second, it emphasizes the need to foster social learning not just across governance scales (vertically) but also between communities (horizontally) to ensure that alternative practices coalesce into a more coherent platform that can address an increasingly uneven geography of food security.

Julie Smith, Gunilla Andersson, Robin Gourlay, Sandra Karner, Bent Egberg Mikkelsen, Roberta Sonnino, David Barling (2016)Balancing competing policy demands: the case of sustainable public sector food procurement, In: Journal of Cleaner Production112(P1)pp. 249-256 Elsevier

A focus on market-based green growth strategies to pursue sustainability goals neglects the pursuit of understanding how human health is interwoven with the health of eco-systems to deliver sustainability goals. The article argues that clarifying the difference between green and sustainable public sector food procurement, with political continuity that supports and enables policymakers and practitioners to take an incremental approach to change, makes an important contribution to delivering more sustainable food systems and better public health nutrition. Five European case studies demonstrate the reality of devising and implementing innovative approaches to sustainable public sector food procurement and the effects of cultural and political framings. How legislation is enacted at the national level and interpreted at the local level is a key driver for sustainable procurement. Transition is dependent on political will and leadership and an infrastructure that can balance the economic, environmental and social drivers to effect change. The development of systems and indicators to measure change, reforms to EU directives on procurement, and the relationship between green growth strategies and sustainable diets are also discussed. The findings show the need to explore how consistent definitions for green public procurement and sustainable public procurement can be refined and standardized in order to support governments at all levels in reviewing and analyzing their current food procurement strategies and practices to improve sustainability. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Alison Blay-Palmer, Roberta Sonnino, Julien Custot (2016)A food politics of the possible? Growing sustainable food systems through networks of knowledge, In: Agriculture and Human Values33pp. 27-43 Springer Nature

There is increased recognition of a common suite of global challenges that hamper food system sustainability at the community scale. Food price volatility, shortages of basic commodities, increased global rates of obesity and non-communicable food-related diseases, and land grabbing are among the impediments to socially just, economically robust, ecologically regenerative and politically inclusive food systems. While international political initiatives taken in response to these challenges (e.g. Via Campesina) and the groundswell of local alternatives emerging in response to challenges are well documented, more attention is needed to the analysis of similarities between community approaches to global pressures. While we are not suggesting the application of a template set of good practices, the research reported in this paper point to the benefits of both sharing good practices and enabling communities to adopt good practices that are suited to their place-based capacities. The work also suggests that sharing community-derived good practices can support and reinforce global networks of sustainable community food systems, foster knowledge co-creation and ultimately cement collective action to global pressures. In turn these networks could enhance the sustainability and resilience of community food systems and facilitate wide scale food system transformation.

Roberta Sonnino (2016)The new geography of food security: exploring the potential of urban food strategies, In: The Geographical Journal182(2)pp. 190-200 Wiley

Food insecurity is increasingly 'bimodal', encompassing issues of quantity and quality, under-and overconsumption, in developed and developing countries alike. At a time when most of the world's population lives in cities, food security has also assumed a strong urban dimension, raising new issues of physical and financial access to food. Finally, the recent emergence of a 'New Food Equation', marked by food price hikes, dwindling natural resources, land grabbing activities, social unrest, and the effects of climate change, is bringing onto the global food security agenda a range of often interrelated sustainability concerns. Responses to this new geography of food security are increasingly emerging at the local level, particularly in industrialised countries, where municipal governments are recasting themselves as food system innovators. Based on the documentary analysis of 15 urban food strategies from Canada, the USA and the UK, the paper addresses three main questions: What type of 'foodscape' do these documents envision, and why? Does the rescaling of food governance coincide with the emergence of a new localistic approach to food security? What type of priorities and concrete measures do city governments identify to deal with the new geography of food security? By highlighting the centrality of the relationships between urban and rural areas and actors as targeted intervention areas, the analysis raises the need for a tighter scholarly and policy focus on 'connectivities' - i.e. the role of food exchange nodes and of governance coordination in the design and implementation of more effective food security strategies.

Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden, Ana Moragues-Faus (2016)Relationalities and convergences in food security narratives: towards a place-based approach, In: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers41(4)pp. 477-489 Wiley

This paper addresses emerging calls for an enhanced relationality and convergence across different food security discourses. Based on a critical analysis of different narratives and concepts that have, over time, been deployed to address the food security problem, this paper asks: How, and to what extent, can the different narratives on food security and their different postulates be integrated to create a context that fosters closer connections between food system activities and more empowered relations between its actors? To address this question, the paper focuses on the governance frameworks embedded in different narratives on food security - i.e. the role attributed to different food system actors, their diverse views of rights and responsibility, and the types of interactions that are prioritised to achieve collective goals. The analysis exposes the limitations of conceptual frameworks as diverse as productivism, food sovereignty, livelihood security, the right-to-food, food democracy, food citizenship and community food security, which, we argue, tend to be locked into fixed levels of scale and generalised as well as oppositional assumptions. As the paper concludes, efforts to refine the food security agenda should start with a recognition of place as key and active meso-level mediator - that is, as a progressive canvass for reassembling resources around more effective food production-consumption relations and as a multiscalar theoretical lens that offers the conceptual advantage of building far more complexity and diversity into aggregated food security debates.

ROBERTA SONNINO (2017)Geografie Alimentari Urbane nel Nord Globalizzato, In: Bollettino della Società Geografica italiana13(10)pp. 39-47 Firenze University Press
Ana Moragues-Faus, Roberta Sonnino, Terry Marsden (2017)Exploring European food system vulnerabilities: Towards integrated food security governance, In: Environmental Science and Policy75pp. 184-215 Elsevier

Studies on vulnerabilities and drivers of change in the food system have largely failed to address holistic but also the competing interpretations of "food security". In general, they tend to focus on specific sectors and dimensions of the food system as well as on outcomes, rather than unpacking root causes of vulnerability. To contribute to overcoming these limitations, a Delphi survey with 45 European experts on food security was conducted to identify the main drivers of change, threats and weaknesses of the EU food system and to uncover their root causes. Linking empirical data with theoretical discussions on vulnerability and governance, we identify five food system governance deficiencies that impinge upon food security in Europe: a failure to deal with cross-scale dynamics; the inability to address issues related to persistent inequalities in food rights and entitlements; increasing geopolitical and sectorial interdependencies; power imbalances and low institutional capacities; and conflicting values and interpretations of "food security". These five dimensions, we conclude, need to be addressed in an integrated fashion to progress the current polarised academic and policy debates and begin to build a more democratic, sustainable and secure European food system.

Leslie G. Firbank, Simon Attwood, Vera Eory, Yiorgos Gadanakis, John Michael Lynch, Roberta Sonnino, Taro Takahashi (2018)Grand Challenges in Sustainable Intensification and Ecosystem Services, In: Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems2

Arguably the greatest grand challenge for humankind is to keep the biosphere within its safe and just operating space, providing sufficient resources to meet people’s needs without exceeding the Earth’s capacity to supply them (Raworth, 2012). “Safe” is defined in terms of keeping planetary environmental processes, through mechanisms such as climate regulation and improved nutrient cycles, within limits over the long term (Rockstrom et al., 2009). “Just” is increasingly being interpreted in terms of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with targets addressing various forms of equity as well as biophysical needs (Griggs et al., 2013). Keeping the biosphere within the operating space requires that we produce the food we need, along with the ecosystem and socioeconomic goods and services we require (Garnett et al., 2013). By definition, achieving this challenge also means achieving the sustainable intensification (SI) of agriculture, whereby more food is produced from the same area of land (or water), with reduced or reversed negative environmental impacts accompanied by a range of positive societal and environmental co-benefits. SI is variously considered as a goal (Royal Society, 2009), a process (Firbank et al., 2013), a trade-off between economic production activity and ecological performance (Gadanakis et al., 2015), or a suite of interventions (Godfray and Garnett, 2014).

Ana Moragues-Faus, Roberta Sonnino (2019)Re-assembling sustainable food cities: An exploration of translocal governance and its multiple agencies, In: Urban Studies56(4)pp. 778-794 Sage

Cities have begun to develop a more place-based approach' to food policy that emphasises translocal alliances. To understand how such alliances develop distinct capacities to act, in this paper we integrate key theoretical contributions from governance networks, social movements and translocal assemblages. Our analysis focuses on the activities and tools used by the UK's Sustainable Food Cities Network to assemble local experiences, create common imaginaries and perform collective action. Through these processes, we argue, the network creates cross-scalar, collective and distributive agencies that are modifying incumbent governance dynamics. As we conclude, this raises the need to further explore how translocal configurations can develop forms of power that contest, break or reassemble the relations in the food system that are actively preventing the emergence of more sustainable foodscapes.

Terry Marsden, Ana Moragues Faus, Roberta Sonnino (2019)Reproducing vulnerabilities in agri‐food systems: Tracing the links between governance, financialization, and vulnerability in Europe post 2007–2008, In: Journal of Agrarian Change19(1)pp. 82-100

Interconnected sets of vulnerabilities have emerged in the European food system since 2007–2008, raising concerns about food security in a region with arguably some of the most advanced and prosperous economies and environmental governance frameworks. Historically, this is suggesting the current “double jeopardy” problem in food system vulnerability—with systemic declines both in sustainability (the ability of the food system to ecologically renew itself) and food security (the ability of a population to access sufficient nutritional foods and feed itself). By focusing on both drivers and impacts of food system vulnerabilities in the European Union and United Kingdom, this paper explores a grounded and relational approach to financialization—recognized as a key expression of recent growing vulnerabilities. Through the prism of the current socio‐economic pressures facing food producers, and the emergence of potentially “stranded assets” in the agri‐food system more generally, the analysis seeks to show how the combined relationships between neo‐liberalized governance and the market volatilities encouraged by new rounds of financialization are creating “nested” vulnerabilities. As we conclude, a critical, grounded, and systemic understanding of food system vulnerabilities thus becomes a key feature and precursor for potentially developing more resilient agri‐food systems—both regionally and globally.

Helen Coulson, Roberta Sonnino (2019)Re-scaling the politics of food: Place-based urban food governance in the UK, In: Geoforum98pp. 170-179 Elsevier

Drawing upon Urban Political Ecology and recent developments around place-based approaches to food security, this article examines how various urban food coalitions in the United Kingdom (UK) are acting to influence their local food environment and forge more sustainable socio-ecological relations within a highly unequal, contested and multi-scalar governance and policy context. An exploratory qualitative case study approach was utilised, drawing on fifteen semi-structured interviews with food partnership coordinators and on secondary data, to examine the differential priorities, internal contestations and capacity of socio-spatial assemblages to reconfigure socioecological relations. Our analysis uncovers an emerging (uneven) geography of urban food governance in the UK, pointing to the role of micropolitics in constraining the transformative and emancipatory potential of food partnerships. On this basis, we argue for a critical geography of urban food governance that highlights the importance of the political and economic context and spatial imaginary in shaping the contingent and relational character of place-based food partnerships and their capacity to engender systemic change.

Roberta Sonnino (2019)Translating sustainable diets into practice: the potential of public food procurement, In: Revista do Desenvolvimento Regional24(1)pp. 14-29

Com base em apelos generalizados por políticas e estratégias de desenvolvimento que alinhem objetivos humanos e ecológicos, um número crescente de estudiosos e profissionais está recorrendo ao conceito de “dieta sustentável” como um princípio orientador para abordar as implicações multidimensionais da produção de alimentos na sociedade, no meio ambiente e na economia. Depois de discutir os princípios fundamentais deste conceito e fornecer alguns exemplos da sua aplicação prática, este artigo explora o potencial da aquisição de alimentos no desenvolvimento de dietas sustentáveis em compras públicas de alimentos. Uma revisão crítica da literatura mostra que há três barreiras principais que precisam ser superadas para incorporar os princípios da “dieta sustentável” nas compras públicas: a primazia de um ethos rígido, “value for money”, que reforça uma cultura avessa ao risco em torno da provisão de alimentos públicos que inibe indivíduos e organizações de impulsionar a mudança; a tendência dos governos de promover abordagens "silenciadas" para mudar a liderança em questões como as compras públicas, que inibem os níveis de compartilhamento de conhecimento e esforço coletivo entre os departamentos necessários para sustentar a reforma sustentável de aquisições; e falta de conhecimento técnico relacionado a compras sustentáveis e fornecimento sustentável de alimentos.

Roberta Sonnino, Cinzia L.S Tegoni, Anja De Cunto (2019)The challenge of systemic food change: Insights from cities, In: Cities85pp. 110-116 Elsevier

An emerging literature recognizes cities as the optimal scale for food policy innovation, pointing to their pervasive emphasis on the adoption of a systemic approach to address the complex socio-ecological issues that have disrupted the internal metabolism of the food system. To date, however, no empirical effort has been made to identify the meanings and goals attributed to such an approach by municipal actors who are concretely involved with its implementation. To begin to fill this gap, this paper analyzes data (collected through a semi-structured questionnaire and a focus group) from 33 cities across the globe as part of a project that aimed to understand how a systemic approach to food is interpreted and applied in different urban contexts and, more broadly, whether there is a gap between food systems theory and practice. The analysis highlights a widespread emphasis on food policy integration and on the creation of an inclusive governance context but it also uncovers low levels of engagement by city governments with key food system actors operating at higher governance scales. As the paper concludes, there are substantial knowledge gaps that raise the need for a new research and policy agenda focused on the dialectical relationships between ordinary food practices and infrastructural transformations to enhance understanding of the role of food in place-making processes and to meet the challenge of systemic food change. •Adds empirical weight to ongoing theorizations of systemic approaches to food policy•Identifies tendency by cities to connect food with other complex systems and policy priorities•Examines the nature and functioning of multi-actor urban food governance contexts•Highlights lack of understanding by city food policy actors of the relational character of scale and place-making processes•Raises the need for a new interdisciplinary research agenda that engages planners, urban designers and social scientists

Roberta Sonnino (2019)The cultural dynamics of urban food governance, In: City, Culture and Society16pp. 12-17 Elsevier

In the context of an ongoing crisis of the global food system, research has recently emphasized the transformative potential of emerging urban food policies, particularly in relation to new strategies and mechanisms utilized at the implementation stage. This paper aims to expand this debate through a focus on the cultural dimension of urban food governance --- that is, the values and meanings that inform municipal food policies. Based on the analysis of 19 documents produced by 17 cities in Canada, the UK and the USA and by formalized city networks, the paper identifies four core values that inform the narratives of urban food policies: a systemic approach to food, which is viewed as a multifunctional public good; an emphasis on civil society participation in the governance of the food system; a flexible and inclusive approach to re-localization; and a new focus on the trans-local scale. As the paper concludes, these values are creating an important platform to build the social and cultural capacities needed to meet a wide range of contemporary joined-up sustainability challenges – in the food system and beyond.

John Lever, Roberta Sonnino, Fiona Cheetham (2019)Reconfiguring local food governance in an age of austerity: towards a place-based approach?, In: Journal of Rural Studies69pp. 97-105 Elsevier

In this paper we examine the dynamic nature of local food governance by considering the potential for (and barriers to) developing a more robust approach that can enhance the socio-ecological resilience of the food system. Fusing insights from Eliasian sociology with the literature on local food governance, we focus on a region of northern England to explore understandings of “local food” and the problems local food actors encounter while working within and across the territorial boundaries of “the local”. This is underpinned by an examination of the pressures local governments face as a result of financial austerity and competing neoliberal policy priorities that, we argue, undermine attempts to create synergies between diverse food system actors. We conclude by outlining the potential for developing a more relational approach to (and understanding of) place-based food governance.

A.C.L den Boer, K.P.W Kok, M Gill, J Breda, J Cahill, C Callenius, P Caron, Z Damianova, M Gurinovic, L Lähteenmäki, T Lang, R Sonnino, G Verburg, H Westhoek, T Cesuroglu, B.J Regeer, J.E.W Broerse (2021)Research and innovation as a catalyst for food system transformation, In: Trends in Food Science and Technology107pp. 150-156 Elsevier

Background Food systems are associated with severe and persistent problems worldwide. Governance approaches aiming to foster sustainable transformation of food systems face several challenges due to the complex nature of food systems. Scope and approach In this commentary we argue that addressing these governance challenges requires the development and adoption of novel research and innovation (R&I) approaches that will provide evidence to inform food system transformation and will serve as catalysts for change. We first elaborate on the complexity of food systems (transformation) and stress the need to move beyond traditional linear R&I approaches to be able to respond to persistent problems that affect food systems. Though integrated transdisciplinary approaches are promising, current R&I systems do not sufficiently support such endeavors. As such, we argue, we need strategies that trigger a double transformation – of food systems and of their R&I systems. Key Findings and Conclusions Seizing the opportunities to transform R&I systems has implications for how research is done – pointing to the need for competence development among researchers, policy makers and society in general – and requires specific governance interventions that stimulate a systemic approach. Such interventions should foster transdisciplinary and transformative research agendas that stimulate portfolios of projects that will reinforce one another, and stimulate innovative experiments to shape conditions for systemic change. In short, a thorough rethinking of the role of R&I as well as how it is funded is a crucial step towards the development of the integrative policies that are necessary to engender systemic change – in the food system and beyond.

Roberta Sonnino, Helen Coulson (2021)Unpacking the new urban food agenda: The changing dynamics of global governance in the urban age, In: Urban Studies58(5)pp. 1032-1049

Moving beyond the methodological ‘cityism’ of urban food scholarship, in this paper we focus on the ways in which the ‘urban’ is conceptualised, utilised and implicated in post-Quito development discourse. The analysis of international policy documents and data collected through interviews with stakeholders from prominent global organisations highlights the pervasiveness of globally orientated narratives of interconnected, multiscalar food governance that draw upon socio-technical agendas of ‘smart’, ‘territorially integrated’ and ‘resilient’ ideology of capitalised urbanisation. To counteract the tendency of these narratives to reduce complex metabolic processes to mere indicators and targets there is a need for a new research and policy agenda that takes account of urban agencies, inequities of power and the politics of knowledge that permeate multilevel food governance. As we conclude, the problematisation of the ‘urban’ and the contested emergence of smart (food) urbanisms require urgent attention to explicate strategies for a more polycentric and plurivocal food system governance.

Marta López Cifuentes, Bernhard Freyer, Roberta Sonnino, Valentin Fiala (2021)Embedding sustainable diets into urban food strategies: A multi-actor approach, In: Geoforum122pp. 11-21 Elsevier

Urbanization processes have been accompanied by a shift towards diets that have placed increased pressures on the environment and human health. City governments are increasingly striving to address these challenges through a policy focus on “sustainable diets”. Using the example of the city of Vienna (Austria), this paper adopts an innovative multi-actor approach to unpack the complexities involved in the implementation of the core principles of sustainable diets. The analysis of data collected through semi-structured interviews and focus groups with key urban food system actors identifies place-based peculiarities and drivers of change that are not yet discussed within debates on urban food. As we conclude, there are important methodological implications emerging from our findings for both policy-makers and researchers interested in the design, implementation and evaluation of urban food strategies that contribute to democratizing the food system.

Brajesh K. Singh, Tom Arnold, Patricia Biermayr-Jenzano, Jacqueline Broerse, Gianluca Brunori, Patrick Caron, Olivier De Schutter, Shenggen Fan, Jessica Frazo, Evan Fraser, Mirjana Gurinovic, Marta Hugas, Jacqueline McGlade, Christine Nellemann, Jemimah Njuki, Roberta Sonnino, Hanna L. Tuomisto, Seta Tutundjian, Patrick Webb, Justus Wesseler (2021)Enhancing science-policy interfaces for food systems transformation, In: Nature Food2pp. 838-842 Nature Research

The anticipated failure of many countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 necessitates the assessment of science-policy engagement mechanisms for food systems transformation. We explore options for enhancing existing partnerships, mandates and resources - or reimagining a new mission - for science-policy interfaces.

Calls for food system transformation to strengthen synergies between socio-economic and environmental goals have been growing in recent years. As yet, however, insights from theoretical debates have not been tested against the actions and perceptions of food system actors. To add empirical weight to this debate, we focus on a region in the north of England where the Covid-19 crisis has challenged the embeddedness of linear thinking and siloed policy approaches. Based on an exploration of the potential of 'circular food economies', the analysis provides insights into the capacity of 'city-regions' to reorientate food system dynamics towards sustainability objectives.

School food suddenly finds itself at the forefront of contemporary debates about healthy eating, social inclusion, ecological sustainability and local economic development. All around the world it is becoming clear - to experts, parents, educators, practitioners and policy-makers - that the school food service has the potential to deliver multiple dividends that would significantly advance the sustainable development agenda at global, national and local levels. Drawing on new empirical data collected in urban and rural areas of Europe, North America and Africa, this book offers a timely and original contribution to the school food debate by highlighting the potential of creative public procurement - the power of purchase. The book takes a critical look at the alleged benefits of school food reform, such as lower food miles, the creation of markets for local producers and new food education initiatives that empower consumers by nurturing their capacity to eat healthily. To assess the potential of these claims, the book compares a variety of sites involved in the school food revolution - from rural communities committed to the values of 'the local' to global cities such as London, New York and Rome that feed millions of ethnically diverse young people daily. The book also examines the UN's new school feeding programme - the Home Grown Programme - which sees nutritious food as an end in itself as well as a means to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Overall, the book examines the theory, policy and practice of public food provisioning, offering a comparative perspective on the design and delivery of sustainable school food systems.

Under global conditions that threaten the viability of rural economies and the farm sector, Italian national legislation supports both through agritourism, a sustainable development strategy that aims to balance rural economic growth with natural and cultural resource conservation. This book compares the local applications of the ideals of sustainability embedded in the legislation on agritourism in two sites of Southern Tuscany: an inland area that has been strongly affected by rural outmigration, and a coastal mass tourism site that has experienced a significant population increase. The analysis shows that there is a significant variation in farmers’ interpretations of sustainable development. Factors mediating their differing views include preexisting historic, ecological, and socioeconomic conditions as well as their differing perceptions of the notions of development and conservation. In addition to raising the need for integrating agritourism with other livelihood strategies that reflect alternative views and values, this study emphasizes the role of social science research in identifying sustainable solutions to economic and environmental problems.

Roberta Sonnino, Paul Milbourne (2022)Food System Transformation: A Progressive Place-Based Approach, In: Local Environment Taylor and Francis

Responding to growing calls for research that engages with the complexity of food system transformation, in this paper we focus on place as an “active meso-level mediator” between the multiple tensions and contestations that surround processes of change. Drawing on Massey’s notion of a “progressive sense of place”, we identify, through a critical review of the literature, four main features of this concept that, taken together, have a unique contribution to make to ongoing efforts to conceptualise and tackle the interwoven socio-ecological issues that affect the food system, and to position justice at the centre of its transformation. These include: (i) the socio-natural composition of place; (ii) the positive interactions and connections that underpin spatial identity; (iii) the social processes (including power dynamics) that shape everyday spatial practices; and (iv) the flows of ideas, materials, people and resources that cut across space. With special attention given to their interdependence and their implications for the functioning of food systems, these four features provide the basis for the development of an innovative and socio-spatially inclusive place-based framework for food system transformation that integrates ideas of sustainability co-benefits, spatial linkages, social inclusion and sectoral connectivities. This framework, we argue, provides a broader and more critical academic understanding of food system transformation at both the macro- and the micro-levels. It also enables the formulation of legislative frameworks, policies and practices to deliver such transformation.

Dalia Mattioni, Paul Milbourne, Roberta Sonnino (2022)Destabilizing the food regime “from within”: Tools and strategies used by urban food policy actors, In: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions44pp. 48-59 Elsevier

In the context of food transition studies scant attention has been given to the role of state authorities (be they local or national) in destabilizing the dominant food regime. Specifically, little is known about how state-based regime actors use the power at their disposal to bring about change “from within”. Using a political economy approach and data from qualitative research with local government actors in 10 European cities, this paper explores the different power instruments utilized by (local) government authorities to undermine the material, organizational and discursive base of the (conventional) agri-food regime. What emerges from our research is that local authorities have used a mix of discursive, material and organizational tools to alter the dominant narrative around food and have reoriented material resources towards activities that support a new approach to food. Obstacles in this transition pathway lie in ensuring internal coordination within cities and vertical alliances with higher administrative levels.