Dr Sonia Massari is my guest today on Inside Ideas. A multi-award winning researcher and designer in the fields of food sustainability, and innovative agri-food systems, Dr Massari is a senior consultant at the Barilla Foundation and the academic director of the Future Food Academy.

While teaching at universities around Europe Dr Massari has designed and coordinated more than 50 academic programs and 150 educational activities on food and sustainability for prestigious international institutes. And in 2015, she was co-director and co-founder of the first European Conference on Understanding Food Design: from user-centered to people-centered design.

You have to give the people the opportunity to become agents of change.

Dr Sonia Massari

“The misunderstanding about design is that it’s just what you eat, what is aesthetically good, and what makes you happy,” Dr Massari said. “No, design is the kind of approach and the kind of knowledge, competences and expertise that you need to redesign and see from complexity the potential solution.”

In her new book: Transdisciplinary Case Studies on Design for Food and Sustainability, she explores the holistic outcomes that can be achieved from taking a transdisciplinary approach.

“What we need is emergent design, we need something that really brings new things in, and the book looks at this across the entire supply chain: production, distribution, commercialisation and consumption, instead of only focussing on consumption.”

Dr Massari continued: “I really believe the two key words of the age, of the next ten years, will be transdisciplinarity and empathy, and these skills and competences were never included in any curriculum in which me, you or our generation were trained on. I think because of this gap, I believe we are now in the situation we are because we are not trained to use our empathy dynamics or competences, which I believe are paramount for the creation of a global sustainable perspective, but also local because many of us are completely disconnected from the community where we live.”

She added: “For many years we were focussing on interdisciplinarity, with this someone always wins. Transdisciplinarity is different, it is where you take the lens, the investigation lens of someone that has a different background than yours. You understand the problem by using their lens, their view, their perspective but then – you give the lens back and you continue with your own expertise. If all of us do the same process together we will have a win-win situation where everyone will have their priorities met. Everyone will be happy with the solution, there will not be someone getting more power than others.”

Dr Massari is an innovator within the field of academia, and her work has been recognised with several awards, including the the International Women Innovation Award Tecnovisionarie (2012), and the Food Studies ASFS Pedagogy Award (2020). Her expertise is highly sought after, and she is a member of the board of the Association for the Study of Food and Society, and the editorial board of the International Journal of Food Design. She is also a member of the advisory board of the International Food Studies Network.

And the message at the heart of her work is that with empathy and purpose real change can be achieved.

“If we all work for a purpose, this would be perfect. You have to give the people the opportunity to become agents of change” she said. “Look! What you see is only a little part. There is a big world around us in which you can design, you can create new markets as well. If it is sustainable why not? If there are new products that are sustainable and good for us and the planet, why not? Let’s do it. The issue is when you design unsustainable systems, you design unsustainable products and you preserve unsustainable environments, this is the problem.”

Ensuring there won’t be a return to business as usual post COVID, as many are promising, demands there is space for new thinking and approaches to long standing problems. Dr Massari is already working in this way and I am delighted to welcome her on to the show for a fresh perspective on how the world can shift the needle to achieve sustainable global food systems.

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