Food is fundamental to life

Circles of Food builds vibrant food systems across all the domains of social life — ecological, economic, political and cultural (Profile Circles)

Food is central to cultural vitality

Circles of Food offers a practical method for sensitively defining, measuring and communicating responses to the critical issues (Process Circles)

Food is deeply political

Circles of Food provides a way of bringing together different constituents in integrated partnerships (Engagement Circles)

Food is basic to economic prosperity

Circles of Food guides a city creatively through the processes of understanding the inevitable tensions and contradictions in any complex system (Knowledge Circles)

Sustain: The Australian Food Network

Sustain is a network of municipalities, organizations and other networks. It works alongside government, business and community stakeholders to be a national voice supporting the transition to a healthy sustainable food system. It collaborates with networks and organizations nationally and globally as part of an emerging food moment.

Sustain was formed out of the Food Alliance, which was founded in 2009. Using the Circles of Food methodology and through extensive consultation across 2014 and 2015, the network developed Urban and Regional Food Declaration. It is now the central guiding expression of Sustain's activities as it seeks to embed a food systems approach into the work of local communities and local councils.

Through this approach, Sustain works for the vitality and wellbeing of all Australians.

Circles of Food

Circles of Food is an approach that guides engaged and collaborative practice in making our food systems more sustainable, resilient, adaptable and liveable. It is part of a broader approach called Circles of Social Life. Like its sister project Circles of Sustainability, it provides practical tools for creating sustainable cities and communities. For example, instead of designating a pre-given set of indicators, the approach sets out a process for deciding upon indicators and analysing the relationship between them.

How does the 'Circles' Approach Work?

The Circles approach provides tools for responding to four key questions. Each of these questions is associated with four related circles. Why circles? Because they provide us with the best way of thinking about and depicting the recursive nature of social life. Social life is rarely enacted as a straight line of cause and effect.

Profile Circles

How can we best depict the sustainability, resilience, adaptability and liveability of our food systems? That is, how can we best understand, describe and assess the way in which we approach food in all its complexity — economic, ecological, political and cultural? Profile Circles provide a direct way of showing the strengths and weaknesses of a city or region with disarming simplicity. Below the surface, Profile Circles are based on a series of deepening and evermore comprehensive appraisals of the various critical aspects of a city or region. The resulting profiles remain simple on the surface, even as they encourage deep research.

Process Circles

What possible practical pathways should we take in the process of developing a positive response to issues of food sustainability, resilience, adaptability and liveability? Process Circles guide practitioners through logical pathways for carrying out a project — large or small. The pathways are organized around a seven-stage model of project management: commitment, engagement, assessment, definition, implementation, measurement, and communication. Process Circles offer a deliberative method for negotiating different ways through contested or contradictory critical issues towards chosen objectives.

Engagement Circles

How can we work closely with others on food issues, including the major constituents affected in any city or region? Engagement Circles point to the range of constituent groups and individuals who might be involved in making our food systems more vibrant.

Knowledge Circles

How can we best seek to understand and interpret the world in which we live? Knowledge Circles are ways of thinking about how we know things and how this knowledge impacts upon social life. The cognate concept of a ‘hermeneutic circle’ has a long history. One writer described it as ‘the art of interpretation as transformation’. In this sense, all of our work is connected through a continuous circle of feeling, pragmatics, reflection and reflexivity. No fixed or ready answers are given. Rather, we see all four Circles as ways to enhance reflexive learning while continuing to honour the strengths of both felt and pragmatic experience.

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