Foodscapes in times of uncertainty – blog 3

Food related initiatives that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. By Fenne Oppers and Thirza Andriessen

Due to the pandemic and its associated measures, a number of food needs are challenged. Access to sufficient food has become more difficult for certain groups in several ways; e.g. due to the risk of getting infected when going to a supermarket (especially for elderly people), because of stockpiling behavior which made it difficult for care workers to get sufficient products in supermarkets at the end of the day, and because of financial shortcomings due to income drops as a consequence of the economic impacts of the pandemic (CBS, n.d.). But also food related needs, such as the social aspect of eating together in elderly homes, have become restricted due to the pandemic. So, in several ways people are challenged to fulfil their food (related) needs. This has partly been reflected in an increased number of households experiencing food insecurity in the Netherlands since the corona pandemic. People who experience food insecurity are often supported by food banks. However, the food distribution by food banks has also been challenged due to consequences of the pandemic, for example by means of an increased number of clients, reduced food supplies, and a drop of volunteers.

In response to both these difficulties to fulfill food (related) needs and a challenged food aid system, several (bottom-up) initiatives originated in the beginning of COVID-19 to help people who struggle to get sufficient food on the table. But what exactly triggered the origin of these initiatives? What are their aims? How do they interact with recipients? And what do these initiatives show us about food (related) needs of citizens during this crisis?

To create a better understanding of food related initiatives that arose in times of COVID-19, I used Social Innovation Theory – a theory that looks at new solutions to social problems, with the benefits of these solutions shared beyond the confines of the innovators (Tracey & Stott, 2007). Social innovation is about an idea or initiative, driven and organized by citizens, that is different than the contemporary way to handle a social problem (Anheier, Krlev & Mildenberger, 2018; Cativelli & Rusciano, 2020; Moulaert et al, 2013), in this case food insecurity and other food (related) needs that arose during the corona pandemic. This made me formulate my research question as: What characterizes local food related initiatives that originated during the corona pandemic as social innovations?

In order to grasp innovative food related initiatives originated during the pandemic, I conducted both online research and interviews with initiators of several initiatives. The online research consisted of analyzing websites of initiatives, websites of newspapers and social media platforms, which enabled me to map out initiatives and to acquire a first understanding of the motives and way of working behind them. Semi-structured interviews with initiators helped me to acquire more detailed information about four initiatives.

This research has shown that food related initiatives in the Netherlands during the corona pandemic originated in response to new or increased food (related) needs. The initiatives studied in this research vary in the societal issue they mainly focus on, reflected by four categories:

  1. Some maintain a predominant focus on poverty relief – e.g. “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money”;
  2. Others on reducing social isolation – e.g. “The idea that the outside world is still there for you and that you can call for help or for a listening ear makes you feel less alone.’’;
  3. Supporting safety – e.g. ‘’How can I help the older generation who can’t have young people do shopping for them, come into their house, you know, pick up things for them, give it to them. What can be like the most… the safest way for, to help them.’’;
  4. Or limiting food waste – e.g. ‘’The initiative is truly meant to help out producers and suppliers in the food service”.

While varying in their main focus, initiatives in this research often combine multiple aims. For example, an initiator of one initiative explained about his organization that it is intended to “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money” – reflecting an aim for poverty relief on the short term – but also to use “a meal as a tool to come into contact with the target group that is hard to reach’’ – reflecting a focus on reducing social isolation.

Additionally, two recurring logics were noticed throughout their origin, aim and way of working: solidarity and charity. First, a logic of solidarity has been noticed in relation to aims as contributing to the common good, and ways of supporting social interaction and a sense of community. One initiator stated on the Instagram page of the initiative: “I believe in solidarity. In Amsterdam-Oost we take good care of each other.’’ Secondly, a logic of charity is reflected by origins of initiatives based on feelings of empathic concern responded by strong motivations to help vulnerable or disadvantaged people by means of a charitable gift. Accordingly, initiatives holding a charitable logic aim for offering direct relief on the short term.

This research has investigated the origin, aim and way of working of various food related initiatives that started in times of COVID-19, based on the perspectives of initiators. Yet, experiences of their recipients remain unknown. Further research could investigate these experiences and how these align with the aims behind the food related initiatives.

References

Anheier, H., Krlev G. & Mildenberger, G. (2018). Social Innovation: Comparative Perspectives. New York: Routledge. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.wur.nl/10.4324/9781315158020

Cattivelli, V. & Rusciano, V. (2020). Social Innovation and Food Provisioning during Covid-19: The Case of Urban-Rural Initiatives in the Province of Napels. Sustainability (12-4444). https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114444

CBS. (n.d.). COVID-19 impact on labour and income. Retrieved from https://www.cbs.nl/engb/dossier/coronavirus-crisis-cbs-figures/covid-19-impact-on-labour-and-income

Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D. & Hillier, J. (2013). Social innovation: intuition, percept, concept, theory and practice. In Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D., Mehmood, A. & Hamdouch, A. The International Handbook on Social Innovation: Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research (1st ed., pp. 13-24). Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Tracey, P. & Stott, N. (2017). Social Innovation: A Window on Alternative Ways of Organizing and Innovating. Innovation, Organization & Management (19-1) 51-60.