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New Narratives and their Impact on the Debate on Sustainable Food Systems

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War, famine, epidemics, inequality, climate change… The world is facing enormous challenges that need to be addressed urgently. Still, the strong polarisation of the social and political debates makes it extremely difficult to find and implement effective solutions. The struggles to articulate an inclusive and constructive debate are clearly noticeable in the field of global food security, according to the presentation on New Narratives organized by Re-Imagine Europa for the Steering and Expert Committees of the Task Force on Sustainable Food Systems and Innovation on November 16th 

The analysis, carried out by Andrzej Nowak, RIE’s Chief Narrative Scientist, and Marcin Napiórkowski, Contemporary Mythologies Scholar, showed the proliferation and development of narratives that build citizens’ beliefs and emotions, shaping highly polarised public opinions about food systems and sustainable agriculture. During his presentation, Professor Napiórkowski identified three dominant narratives in this field: the unavoidability of the end of humanity, the butterfly effect in global circulation, and a growing trend of “rational egoism” when it comes to food sovereignty. Since they are interconnected, these emerging narratives grow from the attention given to each other, increasing social and political division, and damaging the democratic processes to adopt regulations to address this important challenge. 

Nowak and Napiórkowski reinsured the importance of moderating the debate toward less extreme narratives to answer citizen’s concerns and find solutions to address short-term necessities while supporting long-term sustainability goals. According to the professors, reducing polarisation is a key step to building bridges and providing new insights or points of view about this crucial topic.  

The experts’ recommendation aligns with one of the main goals of RIE’s Task Force on Sustainable Food Systems and Innovation, which aims to leverage the momentum of prominent actors moving away from the old, polarised debate and trying to find a different way forward. Only by involving all stakeholders and creating bridges, will it be possible to achieve a common ground from which new perspectives and narratives can be built.