OpenSpace Seminar: Post-Brexit Sustainable Food Systems


The Open University, Milton Keynes

Michael Young building, room 2

13:00-14:00 – Lunch, coffee, mince pies

14:00-16:00 – Seminar

If you have any special dietary requirements, please email:

Using food-related struggles to heal the crisis of civilisation

Parliament's 2018 Food Security Inquiry highlighted the risk of "significant price rises for consumers" in the wake of Brexit, a development likely to adversely affect the greater part of the UK's population, exacerbating issues of unequal distribution and access to food. This seminar will explore the tensions and potential synergies between food security, food sovereignty, sustainability and resilience, in our shifting geopolitical context, with implications for our political economy, as well as possible solutions and alternative approaches in a broader sense.

Guest speaker Dr Robert Biel (Associate Professor at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL) will be drawing upon his recent work on the sustainability transition, which he argues is necessarily not just about physical systems but about a transformation in the social, political and moral order.  In relation to food, he maintains that the physical aspect is the revolution in production practices, i.e. towards agroecology.  However, he suggests that the wider issue is about the decadence of the ruling system at every level. The old cosmopolitanism is threatened with destruction amid the shipwreck of neo-liberal globalisation, hence the need to rebuild a new form of cosmopolitanism, which at the same time restores our sense of identity with land and place in a way totally opposed to reactionary nationalism.  The solution is a re-connection with indigenous practices, commons as a caring structure embracing both people and nature, while connecting with contemporary sharing economy and open-source practices. Dr Robert Biel considers how all of these elements are encapsulated in food sovereignty-related movements.

Respondent Dr Petr Jehlička (Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography at the Open University) will be sharing insights on East European informal food economies as future-oriented and transformation-enabling practices. Fifty per cent of Croats, 38 per cent of Czechs, 36 per cent of Hungarians and 54 per cent of Poles produce food at home. East European food self-provisioning (FSP) is common among both urban and rural dwellers. At the same time, however, rather than being the preserve of the well-educated and the well-off, as is the case in most alternative food networks in the West, East European FSP is a socially diverse and inclusive practice that people from all educational, class, and occupational backgrounds engage in. It is an altruistic and generous activity as between 50 and 70 per cent of growers share their produce with other people. This ‘actually existing sharing economy’ is viewed by practitioners as constituting valuable domains of socially and culturally motivated human interactions, driven by the desire for fresh and healthy food, fulfilling personal hobbies, and the development of enjoyable social ties. Dr Petr Jehlička's presentation will argue that rather than a coping strategy of the poor, East European FSP should be understood as a voluntary activity imbued with deep social and cultural meanings. It is associated with feelings of exuberance, joy and a sense of achievement rather than with constraints, necessity and a sense of obligation. To understand and extend these practices requires engagement with the underlying norms such as the stigmatisation of selfishness and the extolling of mutual help and cooperation. This allows the conceptualisation of East European FPS as a form of proactive, preventative, future-oriented and transformation-enabling resilience.

The seminar will be chaired by Dr Shonil Bhagwat (Head of Discipline, OU Geography), whose research engages critically with discussions on a variety of key environmental concerns: agriculture and food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change, ecosystem services, and sustainability.

The Eventbrite link to register to attend this event is available above. The seminar will also be broadcast live via the Geography Matters Facebook page.