Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Beating Unsustainability with Eating: Four Alternative Food-Consumption Scenarios

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Beating Unsustainability with Eating: Four Alternative Food-Consumption Scenarios

Article excerpt

Introduction

Global driving forces such as climate change and population growth affect the international food system, as do trends such as the growing consumption of meat and the use of grain in biofuel production. Numerous scholars have identified these developments as possible future causes of major changes and even crises (von Braun, 2007; Nelson et al. 2010; Brown, 2011). Analyzing relevant environmental, social, and cultural changes allows researchers to form alternative scenarios for the future and helps to understand the consequences and links among possible futures for food consumption. Futures thinking, and the use of long-term visioning exercises, has become part of strategic forecasting in many companies and organizations (see e.g., Sedlacko & Gjotski, 2010; Lakkala & Vehmas, 2011; Reisch et al. 2011).

This article uses a scenario process conducted between 2006 and 2008 as a starting point and then analyzes the scenarios from the perspective of sustainable food consumption in everyday life (Kirveennummi et al. 2008a). The methodological aim is to demonstrate how the scenarios can be used as flexible tools to evaluate, and even re-evaluate, the perspectives and ideas of different actors. The four scenarios were originally developed during a multi-actor research process, set up to enhance the competitiveness of the Finnish food sector. We subsequently describe the methodological approach and the background of the overall process and characterize both the scenarios of future food consumption and the different aspects of sustainability present in each of them. Finally, we discuss ways to handle these different forms, contents, and meanings of sustainability, which could also consider consumer aspects and local solutions.

Designing the Scenarios

Scenarios are ways of organizing our knowledge and understanding of possible futures. Scenario methods produce information for strategic use, such as problem solving and policy making, by simply enabling us to ask better questions. Scenarios can also work as tools for simulating and exploring emerging issues by highlighting trends and major changes for creative innovation processes and identifying alternative pathways to different futures (see Schwartz, 1991; Godet, 2001; van Notten et al. 2003).

Our scenario process for food consumption in Finland in 2030 worked originally as a tool for identifying the alternative consumption patterns that were then being discussed among actors in the food system (e.g., experts, consumers, company representatives, policy makers). In our case, it meant creating a toolbox for futures thinking using environmental scanning and consumer studies as well as scenario tools for collecting food-consumption insights in Finland. Our aim was to develop a flexible scenario method, simulating screenplays or scripts to collect and interpret partly overlapping information and to design scenarios for further uses (e.g., increasing future awareness and product development). The goal was thus not to predict but to analyze the intertwining relationships among the many trends and aspects of food consumption. The scenarios offer a method of dealing with the complexities of the future and its uncertainties by providing context for seeing the effects of planning or not doing anything and allowing markets and individual choices to ultimately render an outcome. This approach provides a unique way of clarifying the many potential futures and thus even opening eyes to present possibilities and challenges (Másini, 1993).

The main parts of the scenarios were published in "Star Maps of Future Food Consumption" (Kirveennummi et al. 2008a) and actively discussed in the media. They were also used for further research and to provide information about the various consumer perspectives when designing Finnish food consumption policies (see e.g., MAF, 2010). We also offered some observations about the uses of the outcomes as tools for strategic thinking or product development by the food companies. …

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