Slow Food’s Recipe for Good, Clean and Fair Food Systems

As the European Commission is gearing up for the release of its legislative proposal on a “Sustainable Food Systems Law” (expected next September), Slow Food released a new position paper to share its vision on how to swiftly create resilient systems for sustainable and healthy food. We sum it up for you in this article.

The bottom line is quite simple, yet challenging: sustainable food systems must enable all people to enjoy sustainable and healthy diets. There are large overlaps between the usual three criteria of sustainability (economic, social, and environmental) and the three core values of the Slow Food philosophy (good, clean and fair). They cover six dimensions that are deeply interrelated. .




Sustainable food systems take a One Health approach and contribute to improving health and wellbeing by recognizing that food systems promote health.

How? — By shaping easier access to, and clear information about healthy diets and food quality while providing educational opportunities for children and adults, but also by promoting sustainable food production methods which protect the health of the planet and of animals.

But what do we mean by healthy diets? — Slow Food defines a healthy diet as one that promotes human health and respects that of the planet, favoring a wide variety of foods of plant origin, whole foods, and minimally processed foods, produced locally using sustainable methods. An additional key component for a healthy diet is the pleasure provided by the rediscovery of the five senses and by the conviviality of common meals, which are important opportunities for building social connections and exchanges.


Socially and culturally appropriate

Sustainable food systems provide access to food that adequately satisfies the sociocultural needs of all.

Simpler words, please? — They should prevent and oppose the creation of inequalities within the food system, including those based on gender, race or class. They should also improve the social fabric of urban and rural communities.

It all starts at school — Early childhood care and schools play a critical role in giving all children access to good, clean and fair food and thus help reduce inequalities between children of different socio-economic status, providing food education to children whose eating habits are shaped in their early years and will persist into adulthood.

Let’s repair the link between people and their food — Culture remains a paramount underlying factor influencing citizens’ food choices, as well as an important link to traditions and cultural representations. However, in an era where global supply chains are standardizing the food that is most easily accessible to consumers, the link between citizens and their food culture deserves to be restored and better protected. Sustainable food systems must promote access to healthy and sustainable diets that are also culturally appropriate and culturally diverse.


Environmentally friendly

Sustainable food systems contribute to the health of the planet by respecting planetary boundaries, i.e. respecting the planetary environment, the climate and biological and cultural diversity, all of which are fundamental to our capacity to produce food.

We need agroecology, now — The key to sustainable food production lies in the transition from industrial farming to agroecology. An agroecological Europe is possible, and is necessary to achieve long-term food security.

Less meat, more beans — In order to keep within planetary boundaries, a sustainable food system will also require a drastic reduction in industrial animal farming and food waste. This requires shifting towards low impact, mostly plant-based diets with reduced animal proteins that only come from sustainable food and farming systems. The animals raised in these systems should be included in extensive, circular, and mixed farming models with a higher potential for animal welfare, generating healthier ecosystems and lower CO2 emissions.


Sustainable food systems are resilient, meaning they are capable of adapting to change, recovering quickly after any disruption and reorienting towards more sustainable outcomes.

Bulding a rock solid food system — As public health crises, climate change, plant diseases, price shocks, and geopolitical challenges multiply, resilient food systems are critical. By focusing on biodiversity and the knowledge of local farmers, agroecology can be a systemic solution for building resilience.

The shorter the supply chain, the better — Likewise, local food systems based on short supply chains can bring many benefits to farmers, citizens and the environment. For example, by cutting out some, or all, of the intermediate stages between producers and consumers – such as wholesaling and distribution, food producers can regain an active role in the food system, working in food supply chains that are ‘independent’ of the wider system, and more adaptable to change.

One stone, multiple birds — Short supply chains also allow a more direct exchange between consumers and producers, fairer prices for all, and the reduction of both food waste and the environmental footprint associated with long supply chains.


Ethically sound

Sustainable food systems should reflect the values of the societies they serve, such as democracy, transparency, solidarity, equality, human rights, inclusiveness, intergenerational justice and animal welfare.

Bringing respect back, from farm to fork — Food systems must ensure food justice, i.e., ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable and healthy food. They must create working conditions that respect human beings and their rights, recognize the vital role that food producers play from farm to fork, and promote farming systems that respect animal welfare. They should empower marginalized or economically vulnerable consumer groups.

No double-standards allowed — Attention must be focused on ensuring that the sustainability of local food systems is not achieved at the expense of food systems in other regions, whether at national or international level, but that a global fair transition is promoted. Food systems should produce food that is ethically-sound while promoting responsibility among producers and consumers by requiring comprehensive consumer information, for example through transparent labeling and responsible advertising that empower consumers to make sustainable choices.

Economically viable

Sustainable food systems are based on a fair playing field for all and have legal and financial framework conditions to incentivize the production of healthy and sustainable food.

Rewarding the righteous –They ensure that food-related business is economically viable and contributes to healthy economies by creating jobs that provide sufficient income, increasing farm- and food-worker revenues and providing safe labor conditions. Small scale food producers, often neglected, must receive adequate support.

Breaking farmers’ chains — In many regions of Europe, centralization, and the loss of regional supply chain infrastructures (e.g., processing hubs, slaughter facilities) has made farmers ever more reliant on large buyers and has undermined the viability of smallscale farms and food businesses.

That’s not fair! — Meanwhile, small-scale farmers face de facto exclusion from potentially lucrative public procurement contracts for reasons of volume, price, and process: small-scale producers struggle to compete with traders and large-scale economic players in terms of established processes, experience with tenders, working capital and access to finance.

Think local — In order to strengthen sustainability and diversity within food systems, short food distribution chains involving a limited number of operators committed to local economic development and social relationships should prevail, and small businesses should be given preference over “big food”, e.g. by facilitating their market access. Regional circuits keep added value within the region and allow true and fair prices for both (small-scale) farmers and consumers.

To learn more, read our position paper :

“A Slow Food Approach to Good, Clean and Fair Food Systems in the EU”.

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