The Future of Food Systems: Four Themes to Pay Attention to

Our world’s food systems aren’t broken; they’re functioning how they were designed. The world needs food systems that are designed to be more equitable and sustainable. Here are 4 themes from the Food System Vision Prize—as discussed in a recent episode of the Design Is Everywhere podcast—to help guide us toward a better food future.

The challenges surrounding the global food system seem ominous: a world population approaching 10 billion, greenhouse gasses changing our climate, along with pollution poisoning our soil, air, and water. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the fragility of regional food systems and their ability to produce and distribute food in equitable, sustainable ways. Yet, there are opportunities to address them if we act together to transform our food system.

The Food System Vision Prize was launched in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, SecondMuse, and OpenIDEO in October of 2019 as an invitation for organizations across the globe to develop a Vision of the regenerative and nourishing food system that they aspire to create by the year 2050. Ten Finalist Visions—chosen from a pool of 1,300 applications from 110 countries—were selected based on their potential to inspire real, positive, and bold transformation of a specific food system. We're thrilled to introduce them to you.

Matt Ridenour, a Senior Portfolio Lead at OpenIDEO who has helped lead the Prize, recently joined the Design Museum Everywhere’s Design is Everywhere podcast in a conversation around the future of global food systems, how they might be re-envisioned to better serve the planet and its people, and key themes from the Prize. Take a listen to this short snippet from the episode, and hear the full conversation.


Here are four emergent themes that were explored in the conversation, providing a peek into what a more positive food future might look like:

1. Traditional Wisdom and Practices — How might we center on traditional wisdom and practices to guide us toward healthier, more sustainable, and more culturally and spiritually connected food systems?

From sustainable farming approaches to seasonal harvesting, it turns out that the past might hold the key to building more regenerative food systems. Involving indigenous communities to re-center on tradition will be critical for the future. “Despite the Food Prize being designed around the year 2050, many submissions touched on going back to indigenous ways and regenerative practices—focusing on things that we, in our industrialized culture, might have missed,” notes Matt.

Example: 7Gen Food System
  • Led by the Sicangu Lakota people, this Vision for the Rosebud Indian Reservation of South Dakota, USA outlines a regenerative agricultural system that creates economic opportunities for tribal members, increases the accessibility of locally produced, nutrient-dense foods, and re-establishes the Lakota as primary stewards of the lands. Learn more about this Vision.

2. Community-Informed Policy — How might we design policies to be more informed and influenced by the people? 

From field to family, there are many stakeholders in the food system. We must solve for all of them in order to create a Vision that’s credible and enduring. "The more than 1,300 Visions were submitted by a total of about 5,000 teams that paired up with each other...governments with entrepreneurs, and research institutions with funders," says Matt.

Throughout the Prize, we also saw the importance of a more bottom- up approach that leads to the design of community-informed policies. Policy makers can gain invaluable insights from stakeholders on the ground and incorporate their hopes for the future into regional policies.

Example: Eat Right India
  • This Vision from New Delhi, India looks to create a national movement towards healthier diets through a systems-based approach of reducing food waste, improving hygiene and sanitation across the value chain, and increasing access to and affordability of healthy foods. Learn more about this Vision. Learn more about this Vision.

3. Hyper-localization — How might we increase food system localization, put communities at the center, and increase access and connection to food production?

Local challenges are often most effectively addressed by context-specific and localized solutions. The pandemic has further made evident how a decentralized food system can be more agile and resilient than a centralized one. "Design thrives within constraints," Matt says, in explaining the Prize’s regional focus. "When we put up frameworks and boundaries, we can get better, more specific outcomes. With food systems, there are so many factors that are regional and hyperlocal.”

Example: Lima 2035
  • This Vision for Lima, Peru imagines a regenerative and nourishing food oasis by 2035, with the aim of securing climate-resilient running water for all in Lima's fragile desert environment. Learn more about this Vision.

4. Human-First Technology — How might future technologies contribute to human flourishing?

Technology is an amplifier that can be used to both empower and dismantle human communities, but new technologies are often introduced without enough thought about their long-term impact—particularly for future generations. What if, instead, technology could be developed in service of helping humans thrive? As the largest industry in the world, it's crucial that the food and agriculture industry harnesses the power of technology while considering its impact on society and the environment.

Example: Food Innovation Nervecenter
  • This Vision from Lagos, Nigeria identifies six key food challenges for the region, from food waste to aging farmers, and outlines a multi-faceted plan to build a more regenerative and nourishing food system. Learn more about this Vision.

At OpenIDEO, we envision a world transformed by the limitless creative power of people everywhere. Together, we seek to design better systems of education, circular economy, health, food, and more. Over the course of the past year, we've been incredibly energized by the movement brought forth by the Food System Vision Prize to bring about more regenerative and nourishing food systems in every corner of the globe. We hope you're as inspired by this initiative as we are. Explore the rest of the Finalists' Visions to find out how each team envisions life in 2050, and stay tuned as they take part in a virtual Accelerator to further refine their submissions.

Curious to learn more about food?

  • FSVP Resources: see a list of resources, including the Prize Toolkit, which will support you in developing a Vision for your future food system. View Resources here.
  • IDEO Food X Design Podcast: IDEO introduces its new narrative podcast focused on dialogue, collaboration, creative inquiry, and talking to the people who are building the food systems we'll need in the future. Listen here.
  • Future Food Systems Report: The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition published a significant new report entitled Future Food Systems: For people, our planet and prosperity. Download here.
  • United Nations Cookbook Recipe Challenge: The UN is compiling a cookbook featuring recipes from around the world! To have your recipe considered, fill out the questionnaire. Fill in here.