A quick look at the collection of examples of social innovation in the SIMRA database makes you realise that food is a central element in most of them. Food production is traditionally connected to rural areas shaping landscapes, diets, and even cultural heritage (local cuisines, traditions, etc.).
SIMRA was invited to participate in early March in a forum exploring the social aspects of food production, preparation and consumption and the connections among and between people and places that are developed through food, organised within the activities programmed under Matera City of Culture 2019. This Social Food Forum gathered over 15 representatives from different types of activities involved in a variety of social food projects –including one of our cases studies, the Italian VàZapp’’- to discuss how food catalyses social projects around Europe. One of our SIMRA researchers, Diana Valero (Perth College –UHI) participated in this inaugural meeting of the Social Food Forum with examples of social innovation involving food recorded in the SIMRA research database.
Resulting from the discussions, the forum produced a Green Paper to give visibility and recognition to the topic. This Social Food Green Paper highlights the many ways in which social food projects enrich community life (from community festivals building on ancient traditions and food hubs and community projects focused on solidarity and reducing waste, to sustainable conservation and restoration of landscapes and spaces and creation of networks) and thus contribute to enhancing social cohesion, public health, local development, biodiversity, and other public goods.
Social Food arises as a means, an asset, even an excuse, to improve the societal wellbeing through citizens’ participation in food production (social farming, community supported agriculture, etc.), food processing and elaboration of meals, even food consumption. For instance, sharing food, or exchanging knowledge about its production or cooking can be a good catalyser for bridging the gap between different groups and enhance social integration of migrants in rural areas.
The role of social food curators –the leading actors of the projects, those who identify the opportunities in the community and make them happen- was highly discussed and valued. The forum agreed on the need to give visibility to those social food curators and producers and help them to further their projects, share their experiences, and collaborate with other initiatives. Therefore the organisers of the Forum –branded under the umbrella of the social food project Mammamiaaa– have created an online Social Food Atlas which, resonating with the SIMRA database, aims to gather a variety of different social food projects across Europe, and opened the Forum to new members, ideas and collaborations, including engagement with policy-makers and research institutions.
Still, what is social food? While the forum participants intentionally decided not to provide a definition of the concept in the Green Paper and so leave it open to further exploration, the overlaps with social innovation are clear. Can we talk about social food as a type of social innovation and as food as a driver of social innovation in rural areas? These are some questions towards which SIMRA’s work will probably contribute.
To find out more about the Social Food Forum watch the video and visit Mammamiaa website to read and make contributions to the Green Paper.