Setting the table: a story of food policy innovation

We all have the power to change systems. And it takes brave people to take the lead, take action and transform our food systems. This is the Nordic Food Policy Lab’s essential guide to creating policy playgrounds and pushing the climate agenda.

Everyday across the world, food policy experiments take place. Big and small, these policies address new frontiers and attempt to influence food systems. While what we often discuss is the front-end — the policy itself — we often forget to share what it takes to initiate impactful policies and actions, and the process behind it.

In 2017, the Nordic Food Policy Lab (NFPL) of the Nordic Council of Ministers was born. It was part of a larger vision, the Nordic prime ministerial initiative “Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges”. The lab was one of six flagships addressing the calls to action laid out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Although the scene was set, the content was emergent, adaptable and demand-led by design. The NFPL’s inaugural lab at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP23) was one of the first to put food policy solutions at the heart of the Nordic climate change agenda. Together with other movers and shakers, we brought the debate into the Nordic Pavilion. A lot — and we mean a lot — has changed since then.

As the lab’s network, agenda and activities evolved, we began documenting the diverse ways in which food policy can change society for the better. Standing on the shoulders of the co-operation on Nordic Nutrition Recommendations and the New Nordic Food Programme, the Solutions menu: A Nordic guide to sustainable food policy became the first ever exploration of 24 innovative food policies that have had important societal, cultural and environmental knock-on effects in the Nordic Region. This was no navel gazing exercise; the point was to stimulate conversation, share ideas and actions with other solutionists and innovators, and improve on the home front.

Since then, the understanding and acceptance of the impact of food systems on human and planetary health has grown significantly. There has also been increased outcry to radically augment our paradigms and an acknowledgement of the untapped role of policy in achieving this. Despite this progress, we still live in a tumultuous period, where a changing climate threatens our very existence, where multiple aspects of society are highly polarised, where pandemics disrupt food supply chains and where our modern eating habits compromise our health.

The Nordic prime ministerial initiative — and so too the NFPL — came to a close in 2021. As we — the team members of the NFPL — shift to new endeavors, we’re taking the opportunity to share some of the secret ingredients for building momentum through a policy lab approach. This is a reflection of the Nordic Food Policy Lab’s experiences and methods, paying tribute to what we learned and changed along the way, and to the people who dedicated their visions, knowledge and energy. 

In the 21st century, disruption is on many people’s minds. In this guide, you will learn more about the Nordic Food Policy Lab’s journey and that of others working to ignite new conversations moving us closer to a tastier, healthier and more sustainable future for our food. This collection of reflections and approaches opens the door to new policy playgrounds and investigates some of the inner workings of innovative policy development. Whether in a programme setting or during pop-up events, “lab thinking” can be an important policy asset. Creating spaces to engage new and familiar voices and paving the way for unconventional ways of addressing multifaceted challenges are the new black.

Check out the guide here.


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