Published by SHARECITY on the 20th July 2021.
This July marks the end of the ERC-funded phase of the SHARECITY project! Since 2016, our research has taken us from our home base in Dublin to cities across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, investigating contemporary urban food sharing practices and their impacts on society, the economy and the environment. In this blog post, we reflect on the highlights over the course of the project and look to the future for research, policy and action on food sharing across the world. SHARECITY Principal Investigator Prof. Anna Davies offers insights into the experience of leading an ERC-funded Horizon 2020 research project and draws attention to exciting new research agendas that have emerged from the SHARECITY project.
The idea behind SHARECITY was born out of a series of brainstorming events with policymakers, futurists, and academics as part of the CONSENSUS project, which identified the potential role of sharing in a sustainable food system. Driven by a curiosity to understand how, why and to what end people share food within cities in the 21st Century (read more in this early Q&A), SHARECITY established a structured process of mapping, ethnographies, comparative governance analysis, sustainability impact assessment and a futures-oriented analysis. The aim was to establish the significance and potential of food sharing economies to transform cities towards more sustainable pathways, identifying and examining city-based food sharing initiatives, and trying to understand the role of technology in their activities.
The global food system is unjust and unsustainable, responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the broken relationship between human societies and nature, and on global inequalities. It has also helped us to appreciate the importance of connecting with others over food, as restaurants and cafés shut down and communal meals were limited to the household.
However, grassroots food sharing initiatives offer hopeful alternatives, from community gardens and kitchens to the redistributive work of surplus food initiatives, and below you can see the highlights of our research on urban food sharing:
SHARECITY received funding from a European Research Council Consolidator Grant Scheme under Horizon 2020. PI Anna Davies shares her experience of leading a project of this scale, offers advice for other researchers and lets us in on her future plans:
Reflecting on your experience as PI of an ERC-funded Horizon 2020 research project over the past five years, what were the high points? What were the biggest hurdles you came across?
AD: There have been many great aspects to the SHARECITY experience, from the excellent early career researchers who participated across the five year programme, to working with the many inspiring food sharing initiatives around the globe focused on collaborative acts around food. The project set ambitious goals and I’m happy to say that we’ve been able to follow through on them all, but there’s much more to come and SHARECITY outputs will be forthcoming for many years. Of course, it’s not been all plain sailing; research never is. For example, there were challenges around supporting a team located around the globe during fieldwork, although it turns out this was good training for COVID! Other than that, my biggest challenge has been time; there’s never been enough hours in the day or days in the week to do everything I’d like to with SHARECITY.
What advice would you give to researchers applying for similar grants?
AD: I’d say take the time to really think about and plan for what you’d like to do for the next five years (and more) and go for it! Talk to people who’ve run projects and learn from their insights. Finally, build in time for communication and engagement of your research findings, even if that’s not a major focus of your scientific approach as it will reap rewards you’ve never even thought of!
If you had to sum up the overall learnings arising from the research in a couple of sentences, what would they be?
AD: Contemporary food sharing is not the holy grail for sustainability, but it is a vibrant space for prefigurative practices, many of which are directly aligned with diverse dimensions of sustainability. However, the impacts they create are rarely visible to people outside direct participants. More than this, food sharing’s impacts, and particularly the social impacts of sharing, are hardly ever valued in a system dominated by commercial exchange which treats food primarily as a commodity. Until this changes, many food sharing initiatives will continue to operate in a precarious liminal zone seeking to transition from a flawed but still dominant present towards a desirable sustainable food future.
What’s next – what are your hopes for new research agendas arising from this work?
AD: On a practical level, there’s much more to do with the data gathered within SHARECITY. There’s still a whole bunch of papers in the pipeline, with some stuck in a COVID-19-constrained publishing world. Beyond ensuring these outputs get to see the light of day, we’re going to explore further the novel processes around fair futuring for sustainable urban food systems that we’ve developed and over the next twelve months we’re piloting SHARE IT with smart districts in Dublin. We’re really looking forward to working with Dublin City Council and the SFI ENABLE spoke on this endeavour.
Given international commitment to achieving the SDGs, we are also keen to communicate the impacts of sustainable food sharing to governments at all levels, and explore with policy makers and shapers possibilities for developing a more supportive policy infrastructure for sustainable urban food that takes food sharing seriously.
Beyond SHARECITY, there’s considerable scope to dig deeper into the social innovations around urban food sustainability and resilience, particularly in terms of living well with and (hopefully) after COVID-19. Established business models need to be revisited and market (and non-market) conditions reconfigured with sustainability at the centre.
This infographic summarises our outputs over the course of the project, 2016-2021:
Thank you for joining us on this journey. You can continue to access all our research and content through the SHARECITY website and make sure to follow the latest developments on Instagram and Twitter,
The SHARECITY Team.
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