Linking Food Democracy and Sustainability on the Ground: Learnings from the Study of Three Alternative Food Networks in Brussels

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Linking Food Democracy and Sustainability on the Ground: Learnings from the Study of Three Alternative Food Networks in Brussels


  • François Lohest Institute for Environmental Management and Land-Use Planning, Center for Studies on Sustainable Development, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Tom Bauler Institute for Environmental Management and Land-Use Planning, Center for Studies on Sustainable Development, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Solène Sureau Institute for Environmental Management and Land-Use Planning, Environmental Management, Society and Territory, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Joris Van Mol Institute for Environmental Management and Land-Use Planning, Environmental Management, Society and Territory, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • Wouter M. J. Achten Institute for Environmental Management and Land-Use Planning, Environmental Management, Society and Territory, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium


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Abstract:  The article explores and discusses, both conceptually and empirically, the exercise of food democracy in the context of three alternative food networks (AFNs) in Brussels, Belgium. It demonstrates that food democracy can be described as a “vector of sustainability transition”. The argumentation is built on the results of a 3.5-year participatory-action research project that configured and applied a sustainability assessment framework with the three local AFNs under study. Firstly, the article presents a localized understanding of food democracy. Food democracy is defined as a process aiming to transform the current food system to a more sustainable one. This transformation process starts from a specific point: the people. Indeed, the three AFNs define and implement concrete processes of power-configuration to alter the political, economic, and social relationships between consumers and producers as well as between retailers and producers. Secondly, the article assesses and discusses how the three AFNs perform these practices of food democracy and what effects these have on the actors concerned. The assessment shows that the three AFNs distinguish themselves along a gradient of their transformative potential in terms of practices. However, this variation in their interpretation of food democracy does not translate into a gradient of performance.

Keywords:  alternative food networks; food democracy; sustainability assessment; sustainability transition

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v7i4.2023


© François Lohest, Tom Bauler, Solène Sureau, Joris Van Mol, Wouter M. J. Achten. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.