Ways How Europe is Changing the View of Food as a Commodity
As individuals struggle to deal with the greatest cost-of-living crisis in a generation, the affordability of food is becoming a concern for an increasing number of households globally. Food insecurity is on the rise globally as some people are compelled to reduce their food intake to cover other necessary expenses.
It may seem odd to consider social security as a source of food. Yet, through newly started initiatives in Montpellier, France, and Brussels, Belgium, including the collectives of NGOs, farmers, researchers, and citizens are experimenting with the idea that high-quality, nutrient-dense, organic food should be available to everyone - regardless of income.
Civil society groups have suggested creating a new branch of social security where each citizen would receive a monthly allowance allowing them to purchase food meeting certain environmental and ethical criteria. This idea was inspired by universal healthcare systems like those in France and Belgium.
A thorough makeover of the agro-industrial food system based on the right to food is necessary, according to the idea's central tenet, that is, shifting away from the perception of food as a commodity.
Monthly Fixed Sum for Food Expenditure
Each person (or parent for minors) would regularly get a fixed sum each month through, instance, a designated card under the proposed system for France and Belgium. Between €100-150 ($106-159/£88-133) monthly has been proposed for adults, and between €50-75 ($53-80/£44-67) for children.
The system would be funded by contributions from each citizen based on their income, similar to how healthcare is funded. In Belgium, Fian has recommended that those making €3,000 ($3,190/£2,650) gross monthly donate €150 ($159/£133) each month, with higher contributions for those making more and lower contributions for those making less. Nonetheless, everyone would get €150 each month, effectively helping to transfer wealth from those with the most resources to those who have the least.
An additional contribution from the government may be generated, for instance, by charging the food industry's multinational companies' earnings or by raising excise taxes on foods that are nutrient-poor such as alcohol and tobacco.
How the Initiatives Turned Out
The 12-month trials in France and Belgium, which started earlier this year and last year, seem promising from the preliminary data.
People from roughly 60 low-income households receive €150 each month for a year as part of the Brussels study, which is supported by the nation's social welfare center, to spend at just one grocery store: BEES Coop. The study says that participants have mostly been buying food necessities, with only a small portion going towards non-food products like soap and toilet paper. Further, it indicated that the intervention improved diet and reduced stress.
The Montpellier initiative moves closer to its objective of having wealthier members contribute more toward their food costs thanks to more public and private grants. Each of the 400 participants, half of whom live in poverty, is obliged to make a voluntary monthly contribution of between €1 and €150 ($1.1 to €159/£0.9 to €133) and will receive €100 ($10/8£90) regardless of their contribution over the course of the year. The project's citizens' committee issues the monies in a local currency that may be used at five stores located throughout the city to prevent abuse of the allowance.
But People are of Mixed Opinion
Some people regard this idea as utopic, whereas, some say that it’s a chance for society to say that its trying to increase its contribution and that it intends to invest its money there.
For some, the intervention is a great way of dealing with structural obstacles like cost and accessibility. There is strong evidence to support the idea that working structurally is more successful than simply informing individuals.
Access may still be a problem if the money can only be used in specific stores.
You need to include regular supermarkets and make this available to everyone if you want to have a big impact. Instead, you'd only be helping those who can already afford to make extra excursions to specialized stores. You wouldn't reach out to the larger population section that requires assistance.
The state does at times tell its population that there is no food shortage in the nation thanks to food aid. But when looking at the economically backward segment, some say that food aid does not grant the poor a right to food. It only offers a specific amount, and users have little control over the quality.
Citizens concur that it is crucial for people to have the right to choose their own diet and for interventions to be created with respect for human dignity.
Since the Point is to Include Quantity and Quality
Only food products that meet particular criteria, such as those for organic certification, fair compensation for farmers and employees, and short supply chains, would be eligible for purchase with the allowance, which could be applied anywhere those items are sold. These standards are meant to aid in a more comprehensive transformation of the food system toward one that is just and sustainable.
Despite not having more nutrients, organic foods expose consumers to less chemicals linked to human disease and antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, according to studies. According to meta-analyses, incomparison, organic farming has less of an impact on the environment than conventional farming and can improve biodiversity, boosting species richness by 30 percent and the number of organisms by 50 percent.
Are the Initiatives Making Impact?
Calls for its transformation have gotten louder as the costs of the current, globalized industrial food system - including disease, food waste, biodiversity loss, and labor exploitation - have become more obvious. Social security for food fills the need for a systemic strategy needed to address these problems effectively.
The ongoing trials in France and Belgium may only make a minor difference in these enormous problems. Nonetheless, they could at least assist academics in addressing fundamental concerns regarding the viability of such a program on a larger scale, such as whether the monthly stipend is adequate, whether participants are content, and what they choose to purchase with the money (in these trials, participants are free to select whichever foods they prefer).
In Europe, momentum is growing beyond these two trials. Within the following two years, two comparable trials are anticipated to begin in France's Toulouse and Bordeaux. Peuch believes that in Belgium, where 67 organizations are already working together to advance social security for food, the idea will continue to gain popularity.