Last week was the sustainability week, which did not pass silently at KU Leuven. Many initiatives have been undertaken, among which also the foodprint debate. The Ecoteam of the Social Science Department invited some experts on food and agriculture. Vice Rector Gerard Govers opened the evening, pointing on the importance of a foodprint debate during a sustainability week. Tessa Avermaete gave an overview of key points for the debate. Why do we focus on agriculture? What is sustainable farming? Why do we so often bring meat to the discussion table when talking about sustainable food systems? And, can we feed 10 billion people? The key message for consumers, all of us, is clear: start with eating healthy. Don’t eat more than you need. Looking at the health statistics in Belgium, as well as in most other Western countries, show that there is still a very long way to achieve this challenge. The message for key stakeholders is as straightforward: don’t use reports and publications to demonize others, but use them to start a dialogue.

The debate brought stakeholders from various perspectives together: Jannes Maes (president of CEJA), Jelle Goossens (Rikolto), Daniel Lips (Alma),  Elodie d’Halluweyn (vice-president of Végétik), Eric Claeys (ABS) and Professor Stefaan De Smet (BAMST). More details on their biographies can be found here.

Several issues were discussed including the challenge of making the food system more sustainable, sustainable farming, the common agriculture policy, global versus local chains, … Although it is hard to find one take-home message in such a rich debate, there are some points that deserve a special notice.

From the consumption side, Daniel Lips emphasized that changing the supply as such won’t change consumption behavior. Nudging, making the sustainable choice the easiest, is a way to increase healthy food consumption. However, we should not forget the importance of intrinsic motivation which implies behavior driven by internal rewards. There is a lot of research on this topic, also at KU Leuven.

Furthermore, moving towards sustainability requires times and means. Jelle Goossens shared examples from Rikolto, where sometimes less sustainable choices need to be made on the way to setting up a sustainable chain. Both Eric Claeys and Jannes Maes confirmed this with examples in farming. Increasing the sustainability at the farm level requires time and investment.

A final note concerns the importance of bringing farmers in the debate. Jannes is a young farmer, who chooses to take over a family farm in dairy. No one in the audience was farming, and given the statistics on farming in Flanders, chances are real that many of the attending students don’t know a farmer themselves. If we want to bridge the gap between consumers and producers, and increase citizens’ respect for food and for farmers, it is worth to give farmers a voice in food debates.