FoodSHIFT2023: Young people’s vision of the food system in Brașov in 2040

Are young people in Brașov thinking about their food source? What criteria determine their food choices? What is their vision of the state of the food system in 2040, when they will be adults? 

These are the questions we asked ourselves in the process of writing Brașov County’s food strategy. Thus, we organised a meeting with about 20 young people from Brașov to find out their perception of the local food system. The young people we talked to had studied and had experience in fields related to the food system: economic high school – specialization in tourism and food, faculty of economics and business administration – specialization in tourism and the American hotel academy. 

We started the discussion with a question that took us through the streets and courtyards of our grandparents: what is the first taste we remember? Thus, we could observe small differences between generations (e.g.: while young people over 20 remember the taste of biscuits with apple, 15–18-year-olds remember the taste of biscuits with banana), the taste from childhood is often shaped by the grandparents, and the recipes are similar, which underlines a gastronomic unity. 

After presenting the FoodSHIFT2030 project and the innovations supported by the project, we moved on to teamwork. The participants were divided into three groups, with each group taking turns to tackle three table-topics: the source of food in 2040, the type of producer in 2040 and what the plate will look like in 2040. 

In terms of food source (where they will buy food in 2040), the groups considered the favourites in 2040 to be the market, where consumers can meet directly with producers and interact and socialise with them (the market offers organic and pesticide-free produce); the community garden, where communities can work together and recreate, but are also a source of food for locals; restaurants continue to be a place to socialise and a place to experiment, where consumers can try new tastes. One idea that has emerged is the creation of a multi-purpose centre, containing the above, but also a supermarket where all the products a household needs can be found, a cooking space where cooking classes for children and adults can be held and a nutritionist’s office for educational support. 

In terms of production, the top two options chosen by the young people who took part in the exercise (who will be around 40 years old in 2040) are small-scale producer and home garden. The small producer will still exist in 2040 but must be part of an association to be able to meet the demand for products. The relationship between consumer and producer is direct. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed to improve the position of the small producer: re-branding of the concept of “peasant” (to make farming more attractive and more appreciated by consumers), more transparency and online presence on the part of the producer, and consumer education. 

Home gardens are common and of interest to the community. They are found in rural areas in the traditional form (plots of land attached to houses), but also in urban areas in the vertical form on the roofs of blocks of flats and the green space between them. At the same time, community gardens are much more common in the outskirts of Brașov. The varieties grown in these are hybrids, with the benefits of local varieties, adapted to the area’s climate and with a higher nutritional value. There is a diversity of varieties and tastes. The demand for such products is high, so the ‘resident-producers’ barter their produce. Gardens are also attached to restaurants, facilitating the farm-to-fork concept. With fewer resources, food waste is reduced. 

Participants’ parents are more open about their children’s (adults in 2040) food choices, including dietary choices or feeding routines. Also, considering the age of the parents, they return to rural areas, from where they send produce to their children and grandchildren in the city. 

Imports are decreasing and the source of their origin is changing: food is coming from closer to home to reduce the carbon footprint. Important fruits and vegetables are also being improved for better nutrition and taste. Because of the demand for food, industrial farms continue to exist on the market, but their activity is much more regulated (considering past experiences with outbreaks/pandemics). Some of the industrial farms are divided into smaller farms. 

Robots and artificial intelligence are involved in the adaptation and improvement of plant varieties which will ensure greater adaptability of fruit and vegetables to new climatic conditions, but also increased nutritional value. At the same time, robots and artificial intelligence will also be present in farming (making the work of small producers easier) and in personal and restaurant kitchens, where they support the cooking process. Production in protected systems means that vertical or hydroponic farms will be more common and available on store shelves.

The plate in 2040 will be tasty, diverse and nutritious, but also affordable. Vegetables and fruit will come from home-grown or community gardens and taste authentic. Some foods will have enriched nutritional value and globalisation will result in the introduction of new spices and recipes. At the same time, artificial intelligence will be increasingly present (e.g. nutritional value will be calculated by smart watches), but new methods of preservation and cooking will also be found.

The meeting with young people was an eye-opener and confirmed the importance of talking to consumers in the process of developing the food strategy. At the same time, we are energized, and we are planning the next activity with young people in Brașov, which will contribute to raising awareness on the importance of a sustainable local food system. We are also preparing to meet with seniors in Brașov to discover their perception of the local food system.