Food system transformation: integrating a political–economy and social–ecological approach to regime shifts


Sustainably achieving the goal of global food security is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. The current food system is failing to meet the needs of people, and at the same time, is having far-reaching impacts on the environment and undermining human well-being in other important ways. It is increasingly apparent that a deep transformation in the way we produce and consume food is needed in order to ensure a more just and sustainable future.

This paper uses the concept of regime shifts to understand key drivers and innovations underlying past disruptions in the food system and to explore how they may help us think about desirable future changes and how we might leverage them. We combine two perspectives on regime shifts—one derived from natural sciences and the other from social sciences—to propose an interpretation of food regimes that draws on innovation theory. We use this conceptualization to discuss three examples of innovations that we argue helped enable critical regime shifts in the global food system in the past: the Haber-Bosch process of nitrogen fixation, the rise of the supermarket, and the call for more transparency in the food system to reconnect consumers with their food.

This paper concludes with an exploration of why this combination of conceptual understandings is important across the Global North/ Global South divide, and proposes a new sustainability regime where transformative change is spearheaded by a variety of social–ecological innovations.


Link to centre authors: Biggs, Oonsie, Pereira, Laura
Publication info: Pereira, L., Drimie, S., Maciejewski, K., Bon Tonissen, P., Biggs. R. 2020. Food System Transformation: Integrating a Political–Economy and Social–Ecological Approach to Regime Shifts. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(4), 1313;

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