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Food Planning at Uppsala Health Summit

Published: 16 December 2022
Andrew presenting at a workshop. Photo.

Uppsala Health Summit on 25-26th October 2022 brought together thought-leaders and practitioners to facilitate a science-policy dialogue around evidence-based solutions for sustainable food systems supporting human and planetary health. Over the two days the summit hosted 10 keynote presentations from food systems actors, 9 workshops and a closing panel discussion for a diverse international audience.

The workshop on Food Planning for Sustainable Consumption and Healthier Living was coordinated by SLU representatives together with Food & Cities. It brought together an international audience of researchers, students and practitioners to explore the concept of food planning for creating sustainable foodscapes, discussing different tools within the food planning toolbox that can promote increased food awareness and healthier food consumption.

Uppsala Health Summit – Transforming food systems for human and planetary health 

Our food systems - how we produce, supply and consume food – is at the heart of ongoing food and climate. Evidence-based solutions are urgently needed to understand how to transition towards sustainable food systems that support human and planetary health. The keynote speakers and workshops explored a range of different challenges, opportunities and solutions for transforming food systems.

Food systems for health

The opening keynote by Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety in the World Health Organization, evidenced how food systems affect health and environment through multiple pathways of interaction. The dual burden of malnutrition and obesity is a central challenge that demonstrates how unhealthy diets impact food security. Foodborne diseases, environmental contamination, and climate change impacts are central challenges illustrating the complex interface between human, animals and the environment that require multiple interventions. Dr Branca stressed the need for actions to be taken across the whole food system, which requires a holistic view of the food system and the collaboration of diverse stakeholders to create necessary policy change.

Dr Patrizia Fracassi, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer, Food and Nutrition Division, FAO, explored how biodiversity and healthy diets are levers that can transform agri-food systems in the context of climate change. She highlighted that the complexity and high connectivity of the food system requires the identification of key entry points in transforming agri-food systems, which are ecosystems, the food supply chain, food environments, and consumer behavior. Dr. Fracassi argued that if these entry points are levered through biodiversity and health, they can trigger actions in other areas across the agri-food system.

Dr Namukolo Covic, ILRI Director General’s Representative to Ethiopia, International Livestock Research Institute, shared African perspectives on food systems challenges. She argued that Africa has multiple food system challenges that are specific to their contexts, such as malnutrition, poorly equipped health systems, dependency on food imports and vulnerability to climate change. She argued that Africa is in a unique position to transform its food systems by harnessing opportunities for change, generating synergies, and seizing upon the collective momentum for change. Creating visions for food system transformation could align efforts across Africa using the African experience, creating the opportunity to set a different development trajectory than developed countries and “hop over” the negative food system outcomes that are seen today.

Food system transformation: what does it mean?

The focus of the second plenary session explored the meaning of food system transformation and looking at how change happens. Dr Cass R. Sunstein, Founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School, discussed how  the concept of nudge theory, forms of choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in predictable ways when it comes to improving decisions about health, Wealth, and happiness.

Dr Marie Chantal Messier, Assistant Vice-President and Global Head of Food and Industry Affairs, Nestlé, gave a private sector perspective on transforming food systems that are good for people and the planet. She shared Nestle’s strategy, ‘Generation Regeneration’, which plans to support and accelerate the transition to a regenerative food system through the creation of incentives and investments that protect and restore the environment, improve the livelihoods of farmers and enhance the well-being of farming communities.

Dr Tara Garnett, Director of TABLE and researcher at the Food Climate Research Network, Environmental Change Institute and Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, discussed the meaning of transformation with regards to the food system. She emphasized that there are different approaches to understanding the food crisis, which all hold different notions of ‘the problem’, whether this is technological insufficiency, greed, or inequality present in socio-economic systems. All stakeholders have biases of what the problem is, which leads to different understandings of what transformation looks like (from what, to what). Tara argued that the urgency of the sustainability and food crisis requires immediate change; and this should happen through processes of experimentation because our systems are paralyzed due disagreement between decision-makers and food systems actors.

Transformations on the ground

The third plenary session looked at transformations on the ground: policy, participation and ethics. Professor Corinna Hawkes, Professor of Food Policy at the University of London, told a story of the sick food system. She argued that 4 toolboxes can facilitate food system transformation: 1) A food systems approach to decision making, which leverages benefits and risks for multiple food systems objectives and that manages power relations and conflicts within these agendas; 2) Creating connections, co-benefits and synergies to align food systems for health through place-based community co-creation; 3) Creating incentives for a healthy food system economy that talks to powerful actors to re-orient policies, governance, finance, trade, and regulations towards health and sustainability objectives; and 4) the inclusion of people in decision making through understanding the lived experience of food and ensuring that healthy and sustainable food has meaning in people’s lives.

Dr. Meena Daivadanam, Associate professor in Global Health at Uppsala University emphasized the need to operationalize ‘leaving no one behind from the SDGs. She presented the SHIFT framework, which is a tool to actively enable and equity focus throughout food transformation processes. She specifically highlighted her work in mapping cardiovascular disease and how it is tightly connected to socio-economic disadvantage. Dr. Daivadanam stressed the need to engage communities in food system transformation and ensuring that people have agency in co-design processes for change.

Ms. Antje Becker-Benton, Managing Director, Behavior Change & Community Health at Save the Children, gave insights into the worsening food security situation in Uganda and Cambodia created from a complex interaction of issues like climate change, conflict, disease and bias against nomadic populations. Antje reflected upon the nature of behavioural change in these settings when it comes to nutrition and sanitation for community health. The presentation demonstrated examples of interventions, arguing that change comes from both individual and community level interventions that are multi-sectoral and consider the complexity of socio-economic, environmental and cultural issues in the given context. Interventions cannot be imposed from top-down but must be co-designed and co-owned by communities in order to sufficiently understand and address the realities on the ground.

Workshop: Food Planning for Sustainable Consumption and Healthier Living

SLU Future Food hosted a workshop at the summit on Food Planning for Sustainable Consumption and Healthier Living, exploring how different tools in the planning toolbox can promote increased food awareness, healthier food consumption and support more targeted regulatory and planning measures to improve food environments. The workshop facilitated discussions on how the meeting of food strategies and spatial planning can open new opportunities to support healthy lifestyles and sustainable landscapes. The workshop heard from two inspirational speakers: Kevin Morgan, Professor of Governance and Development at Cardiff University; Chiara Tornaghi, Associate Professor in Urban Food Sovereignty and Resilience at Coventry University.

The rise of food planning for sustainable foodscapes

Professor Morgan’s presentation framed the debate on food planning, highlighting that food has historically been the forgotten basic essential for life in the planning domain. Only until recently have food issues been lifted within urban planning and policy domains. In order to understand how food planning can contribute to more sustainable consumption and healthier living, he argued it is first necessary to reframe the foodscape (that is how food and landscape interact); the true cost and price of food must be valued in ways that internalizes environment, social, economic and cultural issues. Broadly speaking, sustainable foodscapes have been characterized in two ways: 1) People-focused foodscapes and 2) planet-focused foodscapes, which captures the multi-dimensional landscapes that present a diversity of complex socio-ecological challenges across different contexts.

Food Planning occurs both top-down from government policy and bottom-up from grassroots and civil society action; and can be characterized as a movement among academics, local government and civil society that specifically connects place, people and food. Three examples of food planning were lifted in Professor Morgan’s presentation. The first zoomed in on New York where a 10-year food strategy has highlighted how the food planning movement must complete with powerful interest and actors that stymie change in food choice environments. Malmö municipality’s sustainable food strategy demonstrates the power of local government as a food systems actor, where aims to have all public food certified organic and to reduce GHG emissions from public food by 40%. The strategy has been a trailblazer in using public procurement as a policy lever to transition towards more sustainable purchasing and consumption. Sustain in London demonstrates the power of civil society and NGOs in holding the government to account. Through their work they make visible to residents what the local government is doing in their food environments aiming to facilitate a “race to the top” in food planning. The Milan Urban Food Policy Pace is an example of top-down food planning but the level of actionable sustainability outcomes has been questioned, highlighting that the meeting of top-down and bottom-up is where change happens.

Food Planning must be a democratic exercise that empowers citizens and facilitates processes of collaboration and deliberation. The reimaging of the food system and the transformation of food choice environments must be a process of co-creation between a diversity of stakeholders in the food system.

Grassroots perspectives on food systems change

Grassroots food planning was the focus of Chiara Tornaghi’s keynote address. She argued that grassroots food planning rests upon the democratic principle that everyone is able to contribute to the production of new knowledge and practices in their food environments. Locally-produced food has been largely a middle-class phenomenon because of the existing barriers to production and inequalities within current food system structures, therefore change through grassroots movements must be supported.

Chiara illustrated that grassroots food planning takes many forms in collaboration with a multitude of actors, including farmers’ organisations, food processors, community kitchens, food poverty organisations and mobilized food activists. The diversity of food system actors demonstrates the multiple forms of belonging tied to experiences with food; and knowledge must be shared between these different spheres to engender change.

The current forms of the capitalist economic system present obstacles to grassroots movements because it limits the ability of farmers to earn a living wage and therefore a live a dignified livelihood. It further makes it harder to live aligned to principles of locality, sustainability and fairness when access to land close to cities is limited; and therefore the time to build alternative world visions and do the on-the-ground community-building is limited. However, Chiara emphasized that despite policy barriers to change, many grassroots organisations ‘preconfigure’ alternative systems through experimentation, which can in turn influence new policy alternatives.

Chiara’s presentation emphasized that the main priority for creating sustainable food systems is to heal from historical and persistent socio-economic and cultural legacies (racism, colonialism, neoliberalism) that make food systems unequal and inequitable. She argues that to support change from the grassroots, there needs to be a 1) repositioning - setting the kind of worldview, values and paradigms for a sustainable food system; 2) resourcing – providing financial, labour, and material resources for community-led experimenting; 3) repairing – building principles of care (for environment, place and people) into processes of food system transformation.

Workshop discussions

The purpose of the workshop discussion was to reflect upon the concept of food planning and discuss how different tools and interventions within the food planning toolbox can help shape more sustainable and healthy foodscapes. In groups the participants discussed:

  • What are the challenges (hardest-to-solve issues) in the current food systems?
  • What are the wanted outcomes of food planning and why?
  • What tools, models, recommendations could be used?
  • Who should be part of the food planning, who is missing?

The discussions led to interesting debates about the challenges and solutions to address sustainability and health within the food system, which are captured in the workshops summary and have been developed into policy recommendations. To summarise the main recommendations, the workshop participants selected the following as the best instruments in the food planning toolbox:

  • Taxes, legislations and regulations
  • Various collaborations with the stakeholders
  • Empowerment
  • Transparency
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Youth engagement
  • Holistic planning approach including social science and public health


About Uppsala Health Summit

Uppsala Health Summit is a recurring international policy arena for dialogue on challenges for health and healthcare, and how we can overcome them.

Personally invited decision-makers, opinion-makers and experts participate in active dialogue in thoroughly prepared workshops and plenum sessions.

Initiators are Uppsala University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala County Council, Uppsala City Council, and World Class Uppsala.

The theme of Uppsala Health Summit 2022 (25-26 October) was "Healthy Lives from Sustainable Food Systems"