In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.
Read on for an interview with Daniel Fischer, Senior Global Futures Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory & Associate Professor for Consumer Communication and Sustainability, Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.
How did you get interested in food systems issues?
My interest in food systems issues started immediately after school. I went to school in Germany, but I spent a year abroad in Australia on an organic biodynamic farm. I didn’t want to become a farmer, but I wanted to travel and spend time in Australia. The farm exposed me to a range of different practices related to sustainability, and it was located in a small community where disabled people worked on the farm and I assisted them. I learned that there is so much more to food than just purchasing it in the grocery store. Food production and consumption can serve multiple needs at the same time and have vast implications in a multitude of domains. That is what sparked my interest and I kept this interest throughout my entire studies. I wrote my thesis on education for sustainable food consumption, and then I became a primary school teacher. Eventually I did a masters degree in educational management and wrote another thesis on the culture of sustainable consumption. Food systems has definitely become a prominent topic of my academic research.
Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.
I’m currently wrapping up a project called FoodLabHome which is connecting three different fields: climate change education, domestic food waste research, and citizen science. The goal of bringing these fields together is to tackle the issue of food waste. The research team and I realized there is a big research gap when it comes to food waste because it’s really hard to measure domestic food waste. We thought that this was actually a great opportunity for citizen science research. We developed a project where students were not just recipients, but producers of knowledge by collecting data on food waste volumes in their households. Then we analyzed the data and calculated the climate impact of those volumes of food waste. Next, the students selected intervention approaches that were tailored to their specific household. They implemented interventions, collected more data, and came back to class to analyze the data. This approach is actually exemplary of my work on the intersection of education, communication interventions, and sustainable consumption.
What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about?
My main interest is in social innovation. These can be little life hacks like the Too Good to Go app which allows grocery stores to list their products that are close to their expiration date so that shoppers can make a point of buying food before it goes bad. This is just one example of many innovations that use crowd intelligence to organize solutions for food waste problems. Another thing I’m excited about is the slow food movement and the rediscovery of the cultural dimensions of food such as family meals, seasonal foods, culinary traditions, etc. I see that there is a renewed interest in that.
More broadly, another innovation I’m working on and excited about is the protein transition away from animal-based protein. There are a lot of new start-ups and interests forming around meat substitutes. There is quite a bit of work to do in the social-cultural space, though. For example, there are a lot of negative connotations associated with eating insects. There are also a lot of gender norms surrounding food such as the act of not eating meat being seen as not masculine. There is a lot happening in this space of protein transition, and social sciences have a big contribution to make.
What’s your go-to weeknight meal?
Something I’ve recently experimented with is an Ethiopian dish called Injera. Injera is made with teff, a nutritious and rich grain. It’s a wonderful, tasty, and healthy dish. I enjoy eating it with my hands and it’s sort of an aesthetic experience. I came across it when I did a teacher training in Ethiopia several years ago. I spent two weeks there forming teacher networks that want to work toward sustainability. The taste of Injera brings back very good memories of this collaboration.