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Towards sustainable food security: issues, initiatives and guiding principles

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1. Introduction and background

In its most recent report Revenus et patrimoine des ménages (Household income and wealth), the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), estimates that in 2018, around 10 million people were living below the monetary poverty line in mainland France, and almost one million more in the overseas departments[1]. The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on living standards had not yet been quantified at the time of publication of this report, but the available data indicates that the number of Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA)  (Earned Income Supplement) recipients has risen steadily since the start of the health crisis to reach an additional 165,000 in September 2020, corresponding to an increase of 8.7% compared to September 2019. In line with this order of magnitude, on 6 October 2020, Le Monde ran the headline, “The health crisis has pushed a million French people into poverty” (Rey-Lefebvre et al. 2020). There was some reduction in 2021, but there is still considerable uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve, and therefore about its consequences for employment[2].

By increasing social inequalities, the health crisis has deepened health inequalities, particularly in relation to food access and dietary intakes. For many reasons, the combination of the pandemic and lockdowns has hit the inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods much harder due to factors such as jobs that do not lend themselves to remote working, cramped and dilapidated housing, high prevalence of co-morbidities (diabetes, obesity, asthma, etc.), reduced or non-existent supply of services (health, transport, administration, food, etc.), reduced access to rights, care not being sought for financial, administrative reasons, or because the neighbourhood is isolated, etc. (Alessandrin and Meidani, 2021). Within poor households, it is women (who are mentally and physically overburdened) (Trostiansky and Joseph, 2021) and children (Stettinger and Danet, 2021) who have been the most affected, as the crisis has exacerbated tensions and inequalities within families. Box 1 summarizes the findings of the recent CNA Opinion (No. 89), which shows how the health crisis has highlighted and increased the difficulties of both economic and physical access to food in France (CNA, 2021).

One of the tangible consequences of this health crisis in terms of access to food was an increase in the volumes of food aid distributed in 2020 (up an estimated 10.6% compared to 2019) and in registrations (up 7.3%), reflecting both the arrival of new recipients and an increase in the needs of previous recipients (Drees/Insee, 2021). In response to this crisis, exceptional measures to strengthen the state’s financial support for the food aid sector were brought in from April 2020 for the purchase of food products, the financing of food vouchers and the reconstitution of food aid stocks[3]. These measures were reinforced in 2021, with an “exceptional additional reinforcement” of 12 million euros allocated to food aid by the state for the year 2021, and a doubling of European funding for the period 2021–2027[4].

Box 1:

Health crisis and food insecurity in France

(summary of the findings of the CNA (National Food Council) Opinion No. 89, 2021)

According to the CNA opinion N° 89 (July 2021), the Covid-19 health crisis has highlighted and increased food insecurity in France. It revealed significant territorial and socio-economic inequalities in access to “food compatible with a sustainable food system”. All levels of the food system have been affected[5], and the food divide has widened between consumers who have adopted consumption patterns considered to be more sustainable (home-made, more fruit and vegetables, more local and organic, less processed products, etc.) and others who have been forced to reduce the quality and diversity of their diets (less fruit and vegetables in particular), or the amount of food they consume. The CNA mentions “an explosion of food insecurity” during the first lockdown, due to decreased or lost income (partial unemployment, loss of employment, disappearance of student jobs, etc.), the closure of collective catering facilities, difficulties in accessing shops, and unprecedented conditions of isolation.

Social services and food aid charities have had to deal with an increase in demand for emergency aid, partly linked to the appearance of new categories of people needing aid (particularly students, people on short-time working, self-employed people and pensioners) and to numerous difficulties in dealing with the increased activity (regular volunteers unable to help because of their age, premises unsuitable for the health situation, reduced donations, particularly from supermarkets, leading to a reduction in the diversity and quality of products). Moreover, partly because of the need to apply Covid-related barrier measures, but also because of the scale of the crisis, charities have had to limit themselves to providing in-kind food aid (mainly in the form of parcels) without being able to carry out the accompaniment and support activities for social cohesion that they usually also provide.

In response to this crisis situation, a multitude of initiatives emerged, spontaneously and sometimes very local, based on various types of network (professional, volunteer, etc.) often via social media: solidarity between neighbours, an influx of new volunteers for food aid charities, charities not previously specialized in food aid changing their priorities, new sources of donations (private individuals, restaurant owners, local shops, etc.), new distribution methods such as drive-throughs, implementation of food vouchers, distribution of fruit and vegetable baskets, and the development and/or creation of websites to facilitate donations. One point considered positive by food aid professionals is that dialogue between actors has become necessary, obliging them to come up appropriate responses, often in the context of new partnerships (between charitable associations, with producers, with public authorities, etc.).

Food insecurity and food precarity

The terms food security and food insecurity are derived from the fields of nutrition and public health. Food insecurity is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (Anonymous, 1990). Conversely, food security “is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life”[6]. Nevertheless, in France, the term précarité alimentaire (dietary precarity) is more readily used than insécurité alimentaire (food insecurity), particularly by charitable organizations and, as a result, by policies that “combat dietary precarity”. The notion of precarity integrates the issue of social cohesion, as in the social policies implemented in the mid-1980s, characterized by the creation of the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (minimum welfare payment or income support) (Wresinski, 1987). In this framework, dietary precarity is understood as a conjunction “of economic poverty and a series of socio-cultural and political impediments in accessing sustainable diets” (Paturel, 2017). In the French version of this report, we use the term précarité alimentaire because it is used in charitable association and institutional reports and legal texts in France. However, we also use the terms “food security” and “food insecurity” because they have an official existence at the international level, and recognized measurement methods have been developed to assess their prevalence.

Food insecurity is not solely an income poverty issue

In France, food insecurity was first measured and studied at the national level in 2006–2007 in the INCA2 survey using the Food Sufficiency Indicator (Afssa, 2009; Bocquier et al., 2015), then in the Baromètre Santé Nutrition (BSN) in 2008 (Darmon et al., 2009) and more recently, in the INCA3 survey in 2014–2015 using a short version of the Household Food Security Scale Module (Anses, 2017; Caillavet et al., 2019). The results are in line with the known characteristics of food insecurity in other Western countries, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries, namely that food insecurity is a multidimensional phenomenon, associated with many socio-demographic, economic and lifestyle factors (Caillavet et al., 2014). Thus, in France, food insecurity more often affects young people and women, particularly single-parents, people with low socio-professional status, and people with low incomes (or average incomes but with high living expenses, particularly relating to accommodation). It is associated with unstable living conditions (not owning a home, not owning a car, poor quality accommodation) and lifestyles that are less conducive to health, particularly with regard to smoking, screen use and food consumption (see below). Food-insecure people are more likely than others to forego care for financial reasons. They are not all poor (according to the definition of income poverty), but they are in difficult economic situations, with significant costs that they often have to bear unaided.

Beyond food insecurity, social inequalities in nutrition exist throughout society and contribute to social inequalities in health

Food insecurity is associated with lower nutritional quality diets, and in particular with intakes of fibre, vitamins and minerals that fall below nutrient intake recommendations. The main dietary factor that may explain these nutritional differences is the consumption of fewer fruit and vegetables. An analysis based on the INCA3 survey found that food-insecure adults consumed an average of only 228g/day of fruit and vegetables (including juices and soups) compared to 475g/day for the rest of the sample, who were considered to be food secure (Caillavet et al., 2019). For the other food groups, the differences in consumption between food-insecure and non-food-insecure people vary depending on the studies and indicators used, and these differences, when they exist, are of a much lower order of magnitude than that observed for fruit and vegetables. The study also found that food-insecure women was the most likely category to be overweight or obese, and food-insecure men were most likely to be thin.

Research, in particular that based on the 2008 BSN data (Darmon et al., 2009), shows that dietary imbalances are more pronounced when analysed in terms of food insecurity than in terms of income poverty, it also reveals (research based on INCA2, Bocquier et al, 2015), that even within the population considered food secure (all people who are not food insecure), there is a gradient in the nutritional quality of the diet, largely explained by a social gradient in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. Economic determinants partly explain the existence of this social gradient in fruit and vegetable consumption (Darmon, 2014). Pricing structures are generally not conducive to a balanced diet: foods that for which increased consumption is recommended, such as fruit and vegetables, are expensive sources of calories, while fatty and sugary foods provide relatively cheap calories, as do refined starches (such as white pasta and white rice, which are depleted of fibre and essential nutrients). This is one of the reasons why it is more difficult to eat a balanced diet on a low budget: when money is tight, the price of food is legitimately perceived as a barrier to adopting a healthier diet.

The ABENA2 study, conducted in 2011–2012 within food aid structures in mainland France, described a worrying state of health among users of these structures, with particularly high prevalence of nutrition-related pathologies (obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies) compared to the general population (Grange et al., 2013). But beyond the specific situation of food aid users, the prevalence of obesity and associated pathologies is higher in poor and/or food-insecure populations than in the rest of the population. Obesity, and associated diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes, affect the whole of society, but these diseases all follow a social gradient, which is almost linear in terms of the relationship between obesity and income, ranging from 28% of obese people in the first income decile (the poorest) to 7% in the last decile (the richest) (ObEpi, 2012)[7]. This gradient reflects an accumulation of unfavourable factors throughout life (starting in utero, Cameron et al., 2015) and suggests a causal relationship between having a low income and being at greater risk of obesity (Darmon, 2010). These social inequalities in health linked to social inequalities in diet thus occur throughout society, prompting support for a prevention approach based on proportionate universalism, which consists of promoting policies and interventions whose intensity is proportionate to the needs of groups in the population (Inserm, 2014) (Marmot, 2010)[8].

In France, the number of food-insecure people is much higher than the number of food aid users

The prevalence of food insecurity in France was estimated in the INCA3 national study on individual food consumption, carried out in metropolitan France in 2014–2015 by ANSES (2017) using an internationally validated questionnaire to measure food insecurity (consisting of six questions)[9]. The results indicate that 12% of the sample of children and 11% of the adult sample, corresponding to about 8 million people in France, were food insecure at the time of the survey. It should be noted that this figure is probably underestimated because people experiencing insecurity or social exclusion are difficult to reach in surveys carried out on the general population, even when they are designed, like the INCA3 survey, to be « representative » of this population. In another study, carried out in 2021 (with a sample also designed to be representative of the French population) by IPSOS for the Secours Populaire charity organization[10], 12% of respondents answered “yes, very” to the question: “Do you find it difficult to afford a healthy diet that allows you to eat three meals a day?” This is in line with the results of the INCA3 study on the prevalence of food insecurity in France.

Furthermore, farmers are present among food aid users, although it is not possible to assess their numbers due to the lack of studies and data from charitable associations (which are the main source of information on the number of people accessing food aid distributions) (Marajo-Petitzon et al., 2015). In its 2019 report (MSA, 2020), the Mutualité Sociale Agricole (the compulsory welfare scheme for agricultural professions), gives a figure of around 180,000 employees or farmers receiving the prime d’activité (“activity bonus”) or RSA (Earned Income Supplement). Since they are key stakeholders in the food system, their presence in food aid distributions is somewhat surprising. Moreover, farmers as a whole, who are often called upon by food aid organizations, are just as unfamiliar as the general population with the functioning of the food aid sector, the charity organization intermediaries involved and the users of this aid (see Annex 1).

Since policies “combating food insecurity” are based on the existing food aid system (see Part 2), it is common to consider that food-insecure people are those who use food aid. However, the available figures suggest that the number of food aid users, while significant, is much smaller than the number of people who experience difficulties with obtaining food for financial reasons. Thus, based on data collected by the DGCS from food aid distribution structures (including CCAS/CIASs), the Inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS, General Inspectorate of Social Affairs) established the number of food aid users at 5.5 million in 2018 (Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019). The ANSES has also taken an interest in the subject, asking a question about the use of food aid in the INCA3 study conducted in 2014–2015 (Anses, 2017)). In total, 3.3%[11] of people belonged to a household that had used food aid (food donations or help with purchases via vouchers or access to a social or solidarity grocery store where food is sold at a lower price) in the previous month, corresponding to 2.2 million people.

The difference between the figure from the INCA3 study (2.2 million) and that quoted in the IGAS report (5.5 million) (Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019) is attributable to the different methods used. It should be noted, in particular, that people experiencing insecurity, and even more so those experiencing exclusion, are under-represented in the so-called « representative » surveys conducted on the general population, such as the INCA3 survey. Moreover, both estimates were made before the COVID health crisis, during which the use of food aid increased (CNA report). In addition to inconsistencies on the number of food aid users in France, it is impossible to have reliable, consolidated information on the duration and frequency of use of aid recorded by these different sources. This underlines the major interest in having reliable means of measurement. It was also with a view “to better understanding the changes in beneficiaries and volumes distributed, as well as territorial disparities, with a reduced time lag” that a system for monitoring food aid in France was set up at the beginning of 2021[12]. This system is based on the feedback of quantitative data on food aid, transmitted by the main networks on a quarterly basis and at departmental (county) level.

In any case, one thing is certain: there are far more people in financial difficulty with regard to their food than there are people who receive food aid. If we consider just the INCA3 study, which has the twin advantage of having estimated both situations in a single representative sample of the population and of having used an internationally validated method for assessing food insecurity, there are almost four times fewer food aid users than food-insecure people (3.3% vs. 12% of the adult population). The fact that the vast majority of food-insecure people do not use food aid schemes highlights the inadequacy of a policy response entirely based on food distribution.

Semantic remarks

* The terms “food insecurity” and “food security” have been used throughout the English translation of the Terra Nova report because they are the one used internationally. However, in the French language, the terms currently used are “insécurité alimentaire” and “sécurité alimentaire” which may better be traduced by “diet insecurity” and “diet security”, implying that all the dimensions of diet, including dietary practices and representations are included in those concepts.

* To designate people who use food assistance, we choose to talk about users and non-users of food aid, not about beneficiaries. Most food aid associations no longer use the term beneficiary either. This term can have a positive connotation, as if providing the food aid solved the person’s problem (in the same way providing a healthcare treatment); in reality, the benefit is “imposed” because it participates in the functioning of the food system (in particular the disposal of stocks, and price regulation). The term beneficiary can also have a negative connotation, as it implies the person is considered to be assisted, not as a person with a right to food.

* Regarding the terms precariousness and precarity, we choose to use precarity which better reflects the idea of process; whereas precariouness is often understood as a given state.

The causes of non-recourse to food aid are multiple and well known to volunteers and professionals involved with vulnerable groups (Boussaguet et al., 2019). Their analysis has been the subject of specific studies (Badia et al, 2014; AREAS, 2016), which highlight the lack of information, the feeling of non-legitimacy (“others need it more than I do”) and the unsuitability of the aid to people’s situations and requirements: administrative criteria that are too strict, complex administrative procedures, overly long processing times, practical difficulties with access (remoteness, restricted opening times and periods, inappropriate locations, etc.), inadequacy of the content of aid in terms of quantity and/or cultural habits, health requirements, dietary preferences; not to mention those who consider that they have to resist the social control associated with aid. A likely major reason is simply the sense of shame, failure and humiliation at having to “call for help” for something as vital as feeding oneself and one’s family, even though the help is not long term, not always free, and difficult to obtain. It should also be noted that, even for users of the system, food aid only covers (in the periods when they use it) an average of 40% of calorie requirements (Darmon et al., 2008). By comparison, school canteens provide 30% of children’s calorie requirements on school days (ANSES, 2021), which explains why their sudden closure during the first COVID-related lockdown in 2020 impacted food insecurity in France.

In addition to non-recourse, the current food aid system has many limitations. We made this observation in an article published after the first lockdown (Darmon et al., 2020). This system is mainly based on food donations with strong financial support from the state, and its operational component (collection, storage, distribution, reception of users, etc.) is massively delegated to charitable associations. While recognizing the indispensable nature of the food aid currently provided by charitable associations, we listed numerous structural flaws in the system, in economic, nutritional, social, ethical and organizational terms. Food aid does not reach all food-insecure people, is lacking in fresh products, offers a limited choice to the user (or no choice at all), is unequal in terms of access, creates an asymmetrical relationship that undermines self-esteem, and paradoxically, is dependent on waste. Moreover, the charitable associations that provide this in-kind aid are overburdened with logistical and administrative tasks, and lack the time and resources to support the users. All of these elements constitute factors of fragility in the existing system and call into question its long-term maintenance and more importantly, its overall relevance.

The emergence of the health crisis and the difficulty in mitigating its effects on the poorest, despite the intervention of the government (on a “whatever it costs” basis) and its decentralized services, the charitable sector and numerous local solidarity initiatives, have demonstrated the system’s lack of resilience and its inability to ensure food security for the general population (Paturel, 2020).

Food insecurity is a reality in France. It concerns 12 % of the population. It is not solely a matter of income poverty or the use of food aid. Beyond food insecurity, social inequalities also affect food choices and contribute to social inequalities in health. To prevent them, it is therefore important to engage in actions and policies to promote food security that are not limited to the food aid network and the most vulnerable groups.

2. Structural limitations of the current food aid system to combat food insecurity in France

2.1. The organization of food aid in France

In France, the prevention of food insecurity is the subject of public policies dedicated  “to fight against food insecurity”. They  rely on the food aid sector – and support it financially. Since the “EGAlim” law of 30 October 2018, food aid has been explicitly included in the legislation as a means of fighting food insecurity: “food aid consists of providing foodstuffs and support to people in situations of economic or social vulnerability”.

Also, Article 266 –1 of the Code de l’action sociale et des familles (Family and Social Action Code) states: “The fight against food insecurity aims to promote access to safe, diversified, good quality food in sufficient quantities for people who are in situations of economic or social vulnerability. It adheres to the principle of preserving individuals’ dignity. It contributes to the recognition and development of people’s capacities to act for themselves and in their environment. Food aid contributes to the fight against food insecurity.” And Article 266–2 stipulates that, “The purpose of food aid is to provide foodstuffs for persons in situations of economic or social vulnerability, together with the offer of support. This aid is provided by the European Union, the member state or any other legal entity”. Such specific programmes as The Programme national alimentation (National Food Programme) and the Programme national nutrition santé (PNNS) (National Nutrition and Health Programme) follow this orientation[13].

Food aid in its contemporary form (Paturel, 2013) was established in France since the creation of Fédération Française des Banques Alimentaires (FFBA) (French Federation of Food Banks) in 1984[14] following the American food bank model. In September 1985, the French comedian and actor Coluche launched the Restos du Cœur (charity providing food for the homeless during the winter). The FFBA and the Restos du Cœur, joined by the Secours Populaire (charity) and the Red Cross, have been recognized as interlocutors with the public authorities, in particular through dialogue with Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission. At that time (late 80’s), agricultural surpluses appeared as a source of supply for what gradually became organized as an agri-food sector[15].

FranceAgriMer[16], a public organism dedicated to  agricultural and fisheries sectors and placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, has the task of supporting and carrying out certain actions in the service of the agricultural sectors. In the French food aid supply chain, FranceAgriMer has a purchasing role for food aid and the management of public contracts. The purchased foodstuffs are distributed among the four associations (Restos du Cœur, the FFBA, the Secours Populaire and the Red Cross). These four incumbent operators which are organized differently (see Annex 2), have both complementary and competing modes of operation :

  • Food Banks are first and foremost a logistical system that collects flows of goods and redistributes them
  • the Restos du Cœur and Secours Populaire are centralized purchasing offices based on the large-scale distribution model and provide logistics to their local distribution antennas
  • the Red Cross is mainly dedicated to local distribution activity through its network of social grocery shops and emergency interventions alongside other operators.

The French government recognizes the need for this sector and includes it in its social policy objectives by subsidizing it and supporting recognition of the sector at the European level. The distinctive feature of France’s approach lies in a form of subcontracting to the charity sector, in line with the way charitable associations have set themselves up as interlocutors with the public authorities (and accepted as such by the Ministry of Social Affairs) since 1981. Furthermore, the choice has been made to distribute foodstuffs. The inclusion (or confirmation) of this choice in the body of regulations has its origins in the Coluche amendment, which allows tax exemption of donations from individuals to food aid associations. Since then the Aiguillon (2003 sponsorship law), Garot and Egalim laws strongly encouraged (the term “obligation” is often used) these same tax-exempt donations from economic players (farmers, food companies, distributors, restaurants), in keeping with the spirit of Article 238 bis of the Code Général des Impôts (CGI) (General Tax Code) in force since 1979[17].

This food aid sector has developed various schemes and gone through several phases of modernization. For example, from 1990 onwards, social grocery stores appeared as an evolution in the distribution proposals. Furthermore, the creation of “social inclusion through economic activities” projects in the wholesale markets (so called MIN for Marchés d’Intérêts Nationaux) to recover fruit and vegetables or Paniers de la Mer (“Sea baskets”)[18] are emblematic of this notion of a supply chain. For example, the “Sea Baskets” collect unsold fish from auctions, process them (cutting, freezing, packaging) in integration projects and then distribute these products to food aid associations.

While it originates in a philanthropic approach, finally, this sector is integrated into the general food system with state intervention, and then it is not disconnected from the other market activities in this system.

An analysis of the functioning of the current food aid system shows that it has many limitations, some of which are a direct consequence of public policy choices. Recently, these policies have been based on two pillars enshrined in several legal texts: the distribution of food aid (Article L. 230–6 of the Code rural et de la pêche maritime (Rural and Maritime Fishing Code) of 2010 and the fight against food waste (Garot law of 2016 then the EGAlim law of 2018).

Figure 1 gives an overview of the intertwining between the French and the EU public policies dedicated to combat food insecurity. This relationship is explained in the remainder of this report. As we shall see, this structuring has had effects that call into question the system’s ability  to really solve the problem of food insecurity in France. Finally, these policies only address, in a superficial manner, the symptoms of food insecurity and never the root causes. Furthermore, they promote the idea that this sector is “sustainable” because it avoids waste, one of the major causes of the negative environmental impact of our food system[19].

Figure 1. Food aid and public policies to combat food insecurity in France and EU

Food aid in France relies on 3 kinds of actors (detailed in Annex 2) that play complementary and highly interdependent roles:

  • Public actors (Europe, the French state, local authorities, etc.) regulate the system and provide framework and provide schemes through public policies relating to poverty, health and food, and allocate budgets that finance part of the existing system
  • Private actors (companies, corporate foundations, and individuals) play a role by through donations (financial donations, sponsorship/volunteers and donations in kind)
  • Finally, a myriad of associations of different sizes and with different missions carry out almost all the activity in the field (stock management, logistics, distribution, reception of users, etc.). They are the foundation on which the whole food aid edifice rests.

In 2018, the Senate report (Bazin and Bocquet, 2018) on the financing of food aid estimated its resources in France at €1.5 billion, distributed between:

  • 31% public funds (FEAD[20], budgetary expenditure by the state and local authorities, tax expenditure)
  • 36% private resources (donations in kind and cash from individuals, businesses, farmers, foundations, sponsorship)
  • 33% corresponding to the value of voluntary work (200,000 volunteers)

This distribution calls several comments:

  • It is not easy to put an accurate figure on food aid in France because the system is so prone to errors due to the absence or excess of declarations, the risks of double counting linked to the existence of flows between associations, and the lack of human and material resources dedicated to reporting, etc.
  • The contribution of the voluntary work is substantial. It is one of the many characteristics of this sector, of which the associations are the linchpin and whose roles and missions are constantly increasing (for the record, the estimate made by the Cour des Comptes report in 2008[21] put the number of volunteers at 120,000)
  • The private funding element may be overestimated because the compensation through tax deductions (tax expenditures from the state’s point of view) is apparently not taken into account. This would bring the share of public funding to 50% and private funding to 15% (Le Morvan and Wanecq (2019) p.31)
  • Public expenditure is further underestimated as the amounts given do not take into account various public policies linked to the fight against poverty that include measures concerning food insecurity[22] or support for the integration through economic activity sector which provides a substantial part of the labour force for activities such as fruit and vegetable or fish collection.

This funding structure leads, as shown in Table 1 below, to the high proportion of food from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), on average 27% of food distributed by charitable associations (FEAD, 2019, p. 22) and from donations in kind. Thus, of the various possible forms of distribution (see Annex 3), the distribution of aid in the form of food predominates in France. Financial assistance is mainly provided by the CCAS/CIASs[23]. This food is used to make up parcels for distribution, to supply social grocery stores and to prepare ready-to-eat meals. Field surveys have shown that ready-to-eat meals concern only 4.5% of food aid users (Alberola et al., 2015, p.55; ABENA2, 2013, p.68), so foodstuffs donations are by far the majority. Purchases can facilitate the nutritional rebalancing of the food collected. Nevertheless, they remain a very small minority, except for the Restos du cœur for which they represent one third of the food tonnage (see Table 1).

While the forms of distribution have evolved, the choice to distribute food, rather than providing direct financial assistance to individuals for example, has remained constant and signifies a policy determination for the majority form of aid. The creation of food aid associations coincided with the implementation of social policies initiated in the 1980s, such as the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (RMI) (minimum welfare payment or income support). These associations were built on the distribution of food, not financial aid, which helped to structure the food aid activity as a sector in its own right. Since 1984, their efforts have focused on structurally improving their resources, their supply and distribution methods, and respecting hygiene and nutrition rules. It is therefore understandable that their trajectory has led them to strengthen their organization and their role in the distribution of food. These operators wonder if that the monetization of aid will lead to a loss of proximity and make it more difficult for them to provide support to the recipients of these distributions (CNA, 2021).

Table 1. Distribution of food, by origin, in 2018, for the 4 incumbent operators in the food aid sector

(data recalculated from information in the IGAS report)

(Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019).

Historical associations

Tonnage collected

Food purchased

Food collected

Food provided by other associations


(+ CNES[24])


Collection (super-markets)

Collection (individual donations)

farmer donations

Restos du Cœur

10,8532 (35%)**







French Federation of Food Banks (FFBA)

10,2317 (33%)







Secours Populaire

 62,594 (20%)







French Red Cross

28,036  (9%)







*who redistribute to other authorized associations

**relative weight of associations in relation to tonnages

2.2. Negative effects of the current food aid system based on food distribution

2.2.1. A paradoxical association between food aid and the fight against waste

Food aid has long been associated with the fight against waste. In Europe, the construction of the European Programme for Aid to the Most Deprived (PEAD), which preceded the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), originated in the need to absorb the agricultural surpluses of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (see Annex 4).

In France, “collection products” (unsold products from supermarkets), donations from industry and from the catering sector are also closely linked to the national strategy to combat food waste. Thus, the main measure of the law relating to the fight against food waste (of 11 February 2016, known as the Garot law) consisted of obliging each retailer with a commercial area of more than 400 m² to form a partnership with a food aid association in order to give it unsold food free of charge via the implementation of an agreement. This law introduced a hierarchy of prevention and recovery actions to fight against food waste: the obligation to donate to associations comes in second place after the obligation to prevent waste. Retailers are encouraged to turn unsold but still edibale goods into donations to charities in return for a tax benefit of 60% of the value of the donation (capped at 0.5% of turnover). The EGalim law (2018) extended this obligation to agri-food companies and the catering industry (see Figure 1 above).

Despite the pragmatic nature of these public policies, and beyond the positive effects experienced by the charitable associations, since they generate food deposits on a daily basis, this establishes unequal access to food. The idea seems to be that it would be wasteful to throw away the surplus generated by the high-production oriented system and that a “noble” use of these surpluses would be to distribute them to the poorest. Thus, the issue of food for the poorest is used and presented as one of the means of engaging in a “circular economy”.

When CAP incentives led to a significant reduction in agricultural surpluses in Europe, European food aid was reduced and the EU decided to allocate funds for the purchase of food and subsequently created the FEAD (Annex 4). As the same causes produce the same effects, it seems that we are witnessing a similar situation in France concerning collection products. All the actions carried out by the public authorities, the economic sector and the new actors of the Social and Solidarity Economy to avoid food waste[25] have the effect of reducing, in quantity and quality, the food available to give to associations.

The Garot Law (2016) was the subject of an assessment, published in 2019 (Ministry of Agriculture and Food, 2019), which showed that it had helped to accelerate the process and structure partnerships between distributors and associations, in particular by providing a legal framework for partnerships and professionalizing the donation system (sorting and collection process, logistical organization, monitoring of foods, etc.). This assessment is interesting in that it makes visible difficulties that were already well known. In particular, it mentions that a significant number of foodstuffs cannot be distributed because the use-by date is too short, and are therefore thrown away by the associations. Sorting and handling activities are at the heart of the volunteers work. These issues cannot be properly carried out by the associations and therefore constitute a transfer of waste treatment costs from the donating companies to local authorities.

Thus, food waste and food aid function as communicating vessels and, paradoxically, the desired reduction in the former puts the latter in difficulty.

2.2.2. Nutritionally unbalanced food aid

Data available for the 2019 assessment of the Garot law (Ministry of Agriculture and Food, 2019) do not allow analysis of the precise composition, particularly in terms of food groups, of the food aid that is collected and distributed by food aid associations. Only one piece of information included in the assessment report (provided by the FFBA in the form of a graph comparing the proportion of different food groups with the recommended proportions in a balanced reference parcel[26]) indicated that the aid distributed by the associations affiliated to this network contained, in 2018, too many fatty and sugary products and not enough fruit and vegetables. According to this graph, the proportion of starchy foods was in line with that recommended, but it should be noted that it is the nature of these starchy foods that is usually the issue (not only in food aid but also in the general population’s diet), with a preponderance of refined cereal products (white pasta and white rice) instead of the wholegrain and semi-wholegrain cereal products recommended in a healthy diet. The results concerning the aid delivered in 2018 by the FFBA network thus confirm the results of the only study carried out on the content of food aid in France (the E3A, survey of Food Aid Associations). This study, which is already more than 15 years old, highlighted the inadequate nutritional quality of the parcels or baskets distributed, and explained this inadequacy by the presence of a large quantity of storable foods, such as refined starches (rice, pasta, couscous), added fats, biscuits and other sweet products, which are poor sources of vitamins and minerals compared to their high calorie content (low nutritional density, high calorific density) (Darmon et al., 2008a; Darmon et al.,  2008b).

However, the point about the imbalances in food aid must be qualified. First of all, on average, French people’s food consumption also lacks fruit and vegetables and includes too many fatty and sugary products. Moreover, if the aid provided too often has the same imbalances as those observed in the diets of the people “aided” (notably a lack of fresh produce), it is largely because the associations are faced with the same difficulties as the recipients of this aid: low budgets and lack of equipment for transporting, processing/cooking and storing. However, it is well known that when budget constraints are high and equipment is inadequate, it makes sense to turn to dry, energy-rich foods (pasta, crisps, biscuits, etc.), as they are cheap sources of calories, convenient to use, easy to transport and store, and unlikely to go out of date and therefore have to be thrown away (Darmon, 2014). Moreover, in the Garot law assessment report, the FFBA indicated that the share of fruit and vegetables had risen over five years from 18% to 26% of the total distributed by the food bank network (33% being the recommended percentage), suggesting that the constant efforts made by food aid associations to diversify and improve their supplies for nearly 20 years are finally bearing fruit, at least in part.

2.2.3. The logistical complexity inherent in managing the flow of food from supply sources to the associations and then to the users

The current food distribution system has many organizational effects that impact the complexity of the associated logistics. We analyse some of these in this report. These effects have also been highlighted by various studies and publications (IGAS report, Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019).

Food from the FEAD: a long supply chain involving a series of actors.

In France, FranceAgriMer is the public body responsible for implementing the FEAD budget (Annex 4). On the “demand” side, FranceAgriMer works with the four associations at the top of the network, which submit their needs on the basis of a predefined list of products that is the subject of annual discussions between FranceAgriMer and the associations (27 products in recent programmes). The FraneAgrimer launches the calls for tender. Mainly following the rational of economies of scale to manufacturing and logistical costs (the calls for tender relate to products and their delivery to the warehouses of the four main associations with 17,000 deliveries to 389 logistics sites in 2019), a massification logic and annual purchases are preferred. The main associations then distribute these products among their local partners responsible for aid distribution (their local branches, other associations, CCASs, etc.).

Thus, in this organization, flows into the food aid supply chains are controlled upstream, on an annual forecast basis. This approach of grouped, intensive flows has numerous negative consequences on the organization of food aid:

  • It requires significant human resources and logistical infrastructure to store food on an annual basis.
  • Because of the obligation to provide free food from the FEAD, it often obliges associations to maintain « double logistics processes » to ensure strict compliance with this fundamental requirement[27].
  • It reduces the capacity to carry out effective reception checks, which, added to the objective of obtaining the lowest prices in tenders, tends to drag down the quality of the products purchased.
  • It leads to a preference for long-life products over fresh products. This results in a structural nutritional imbalance in the food supplied.
  • These long-life products, especially cooked dishes and some of the canned vegetables, do not always meet the dietary preferences of users. They are sometimes refused, or even thrown away after distribution[28].

Collected products: “pushed flow”[29]s and hurried logistics management

The other important source of supply for the associations are the donations from economic actors, i.e. the collection of unsold goods from supermarkets, donations from manufacturers and donations from farmers. Among these, collected products, especially since the Garot law, constitute the most important source. Their value, beyond the quantitative aspect, is that qualitatively they complete the associations’ supply with  fresh products (non-existent in the food from the FEAD).

We use the case of the FFBA to illustrate the consequences on the associations’ logistical organization. Almost 60% of the food received by the FFBA comes from donations, 40% of which is unsold supermarket goods. In total, an average of five tons of food enter and leave a food bank every day (there are 79 food banks in the FFBA network and nearly 3,000 collection points). The goods are then checked, sorted, recorded and stored. The next stage is “order preparation” for partner associations. It takes just two to three hours from collection to preparation of the pallets for the associations, and five to six hours before these products are made available to the associations (FFBA, 2019). The latter then provide the “last mile logistics”: sorting and distributing the products to the users of the ford aid.

This supply chain  process is  a daily challenge that large associations seem to be able to manage due to their size, the know how they developed and their resources. The situation for small associations is much more challenging, particularly for those who are responsible for both collection and distribution to users. It is not difficult to imagine the energy required to carry out all these logistical activities in a very short time.

Even if this source, as already mentioned, is a useful fresh addition to the FEAD supply, a closer look at the associations’ operation reveals the negative effects on their logistics:

  • These intense flows from supermarkets to associations, unlike FEAD food, are not planned or predictable in terms of volume, composition or quality. The associations only know what they have for distribution after the sorting stage. And, as the system is currently organized, it is not possible to take into account associations’ requirements, in any way at all.
  • They are therefore confronted, for most of their resources, with highly fluctuating supplies of variable quality (composition of fresh produce, use-by date of the products, etc.) and whose quantities per collection point are gradually decreasing (as mentioned above).
  • As a result, and in order to maintain an acceptable level of service to users, associations tend to increase the number of collection points, which results in a race and competition for collection, and increases logistical costs.

2.2.4. Excessive bureaucracy due to the need to control public funding

The inevitable counterpart of the public funding (EU, government, local authorities) involved in the food aid system is the need for public administration of the systems implemented and strict control of the execution of the budgets allocated. In recent years bureaucracy has increased, for example in the cumbersome authorization procedure for associations and in the control systems imposed by the EU on the use of FEAD funds.

The recognition of food distribution as a tool for combating food insecurity by the law on the modernization of agriculture and fisheries in 2010 (see Figure 1) was accompanied by the creation of an authorization system for food aid associations. It allows associations to receive public funding and aid in-kind, to benefit from food from the FEAD and CNES (see Annex 4) and to benefit from foodstuffs for which the donors have received tax deductions  (directly by the association or via an intermediary such as the food banks). To be authorized, associations must provide the administration with data to assess their ability to comply with food safety rules (including physical and accounting traceability). They are required to report on their activities (food distributed, statistics on users). In addition, the creation of an institutional system for monitoring food aid obliges authorized associations to report their data at the departmental (county) level every quarter, whereas this obligation used to be annual[30]. This administrative procedure is cumbersome both for the administrative authorities (the Ministry, the DRIHL and DRIAAF) and for associations because it requires a high level of administrative competences.

Another manifestation of the bureaucratization of the food aid system concerns European funding. The granting of aid from the FEAD is subject to a complex procedure for the release of funds which, with numerous checking criteria, reveals discrepancies between the different worlds of the European administration, which dictates the rules, and the associations, who are in contact with the field and subject to its constraints.

For France, FranceAgriMer plays an important role as an interface between these two worlds. FranceAgriMer advances the necessary funds (on a sliding three-year basis) because until all the checks are carried out and compliance is certified, the FEAD allocations are not released.

The obligation of very strict and almost exhaustive controls on the execution of budgets concerns the detailed examination of the supporting documents for deliveries, physical and accounting traceability for food and penalties associated with modifications of the contract. For the period 2014–2018, a million check points were identified (Bazin and Bocquet, 2018). Non-compliance leads to the rejection of the request for reimbursement by the European Union of the funds advanced by FranceAgriMer, or even, in the case of serious non-compliance, the suspension of credits for a given period. The rigour of these controls leads to correction rates of 20% on average[31]. This administrative burden is a further explanation of why FranceAgriMer limits the list of products purchased by the FEAD.

The analysis of the reasons for non-compliance presented in the IGAS report (Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019, pp. 18–20) shows that they are mainly linked to logistical aspects and, once again, to this pushed flows approach from the supply of foods to the associations. As an example, the IGAS report cites the reasons for non-compliance listed in Table 2 below for the year 2016.

Table 2. Reasons for non-compliance in the implementation of FEAD budgets

(adapted from the IGAS report, Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019)




Changes to the date and place of delivery of food

The fact that the association is managed by volunteers means that they are not always available on the date and at the place planned for delivery, which is managed by FranceAgriMer’s call for tender.


Late detection of quality issues

Grouped orders and the arrival of large volumes prevent reception checks at the warehouses where food is delivered. Quality issues are detected at the time of distribution by the associations, sometimes with a delay of several months.


Contract modifications made by FranceAgriMer after their award.

The monitoring authorities consider any modification of specifications during the campaign (even if this means improving quality, following feedback from the associations), as a “fraudulent” manoeuvre.


Of course, a significant part of these monitoring tasks is required to ensure that public funds are used appropriately. However, they must also be analysed in terms of their added value for food aid and especially for the fight against food insecurity. It is obvious that they do not directly add value as they consume resources and energy for all the stakeholders in the system. In particular, for associations, they generate an ever-increasing need for a highly professional approach, and therefore adaptation costs that have an impact on the budgets allocated to food aid, which are reduced (in the event of penalties) but also made more cumbersome by these administrative procedures.

All of these hidden costs (logistics, waste, monitoring and administrative management, etc.) are not fully taken into account when the cost price of food distributed for food aid is calculated. The cost of FEAD products is said to be up to 50% cheaper than the “same products” found in the market. But this is only the cost of purchase and delivery to the first delivery point. A full costing approach would take all these elements into account and compare the cost of a tonne of product (from FEAD or collection) with the same quantity purchased commercially. This proposal made by the ReVivre association[33] was included in the IGAS report’s recommendations (Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019).

2.3. Food aid in France and its limitations in terms of respect for human rights

During[34] the fourth periodic review of France under the ICESCR[35] in 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) asked France to “indicate the measures taken to effectively ensure the recognition of the right to food in law and its enjoyment in practice” (ESCR, 2015). France responded by detailing how food aid is supported by EU and French funding (DESC, 2016, Add.1, §102–105 ). This response indicates the non-effectiveness of the right to food in relation to its definition in international texts. Moreover, according to the FAO database (2021), in France there is no explicit or implicit constitutional protection of the right to food or even the right to be free from hunger, even in the form of a guiding principle. It is true that the guarantee of health protection and the obligation of local authorities to provide “adequate means of living” are present in the preamble to the Constitution of October 1946. But these values have never been interpreted in such a way as to recognize a right to food in France, unlike the right to housing, for example. There is therefore no legislation in France that would fall within the scope of a right to food or a right to be free from hunger.

With regard to the first article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood.”), the food aid system based on the distribution of food is a long way from respecting dignity and equal rights. This is now at the heart of the advocacy of a number of anti-poverty associations and NGOs (Secours Catholique, ATD Quart Monde, EAPN France, etc.).

Donors are financially incentivized: they dispose of surplus food while gaining a tax advantage and a positive social image. On the other hand, the user and, more generally, the charitable association supply chain set up between the donor and the user, are totally dependent on the donor and the public authorities (distribution, quantity, quality, etc.) and are therefore in a vulnerable situation.

This construction creates a significant asymmetry in roles with users unable to rebalance the relationship through a “counter-donation” to the “distributor” volunteers, notably because the users of food aid have no other choice than to accept[36]. The fact that this possibility does not exist (receiving a donation and giving in return), which is a necessary condition for maintaining people’s dignity, places them in a situation of inferiority and dependence. The Se nourrir quand on est pauvre (“To eat when you are poor ") study (Ramel et al., 2016), carried out by ATD Quart Monde, based on interviews with food-insecure people, clearly highlights these asymmetrical roles.

Food aid does not maintain equal rights

The territorial coverage of food aid is uneven. Access criteria are sometimes misunderstood by users and always variable, as they depend on associations and structures that each set their own rules. Volunteer work means there is a great deal of variability in the level of aid provided, if only in terms of opening times, which depend on the availability of volunteers. Access to this aid is therefore inherently unequal.

The SECALIM study, which was based on focus groups conducted in February-March 2021, reports on these inequalities in access to food aid, and to food more generally, in one of the poorest housing estates in Marseille (Annex 5). In the absence of normal physical access to food, since the only (discount) supermarket in the neighbourhood closed in 2008, other forms of food supply in the neighbourhood have developed. Some of these are based on food aid, others are not, but what characterizes them is their opacity and lack of respect for people’s dignity. Several examples were described: the resale of products simply unloaded on to the ground, the donation of food in the street without prior information and without respect for confidentiality, etc. These practices primarily affect female residents (the focus groups were mostly female) who express a strong sense of injustice and anger; moreover, these residents do not necessarily distinguish between what is food aid and unauthorized resale that could be described as “wild sales”[37]. As for professionals in the social sector, they express frustration and anger, at not being able to respond to the difficulties of the people they are supposed to be supporting.

The spirit of solidarity is based almost entirely on voluntary work, which is not highly valued by the public authorities

The organization of food aid depends heavily on the work of charitable associations, whose funding is regularly challenged and revised downwards.

Food aid associations are therefore obliged to devote an increasing proportion of their human and financial resources to the administrative and logistical tasks delegated to them by the public authorities, and to the search for private funding. This is to the detriment of their original mission. Furthermore, in some food aid organizations, half of the volunteers are over 70 years-old, which was a major problem at the start of the Covid-19 crisis, since these volunteers could no longer work in the field due to the high risk of exposure to the disease (CNA, 2021).

2.4. Food aid and its limitations in terms of environmental impact

Solidarity towards future generations is also absent from this system: the reduction of the organizational model’s environmental impact is not currently taken into account in the choices made. Contrary to what is imposed on public and private collective catering by the EGAlim law of 30 October 2018[38], in the context of food aid, there is no provision for favouring certain products and/or types of supply (good quality products from more sustainable agriculture, including organic and local products), certain packaging methods (bulk in particular) or the diversification of protein sources.

In this regard, it is regrettable that the data available from the monitoring system for food aid in France set up in February 2021, is limited to the number of “beneficiaries” and the quantities distributed (see Annex 6). No doubt in order not to burden the associations with additional administrative work and thus give themselves every chance of ensuring that the information provided by the association network is regular and complete, the institutions have decided to limit the information collected concerning distributions to the quantities of food distributed (in tons, in numbers of meals, parcels and/or boxes) and to the number of distribution centres active during the quarter concerned. However, such a level of aggregation of data makes it impossible to assess the food balance and nutritional quality of donations, or to analyse the food aid delivered in France with regard to any other sustainability aspects. In particular, it is impossible to assess the impact of the sector on climate change throughout the life cycle of the products it distributes.

LCA (life cycle assessment), the reference method for carrying out environmental assessments, is based on a standardized approach (international standard ISO 14 044):

  • Multiple stages: production and extraction of raw materials, processing procedures, packaging, logistics, distribution, consumption and end of life of products
  • Multiple criteria: for each stage of the life cycle, material and energy consumption, discharges into the natural environment, effects on the climate, land use and biodiversity are taken into account.

LCA is a decision-making tool and its results can be used for, among other things, eco-design, environmental reporting and to guide public policies.

However, in order to carry out an assessment of this type on the food aid sector, it would be necessary, at the minimum, to have quantitative data by product family and by type of distribution (FEAD, donations from professionals, etc.), which is not currently the case (see section 3.4.3). LCA would make it possible to assess whether the anti-waste measures, which are the subject of the Garot law and reinforced by the EGALim law, have a real environmental benefit over the entire life cycle of products and contribute effectively or not to a more circular economy.

One of the major pitfalls in terms of reducing the overall environmental impact of a system is carrying over something to another life cycle stage or to another impact that has been reduced for one stage or impact (“carry-over effect”). The assessment report on the Garot law (see § 2.2.1 and 2.2.2) highlighted the following issue: at present, some of the products donated to associations by companies or distributors cannot be distributed to food aid users (mainly because their shelf life is too short) and are therefore thrown away and included in household waste. This constitutes a transfer of the environmental burden and also of the economic burden to local authorities, whereas if the products had been thrown away directly by professionals, they would have been managed and financed directly by the latter. The Garot law thus makes visible what already existed in the majority of cases, namely the transfer of food waste management from distributors to associations. This carrying-over, which has existed since the creation of the food aid sector, is an implicit part of the division of labour based on the presupposition that since it is a matter of donations, the associations are obliged to accept the food as it is.

An in-depth environmental assessment is needed to study the functioning of the current sector in terms of anti-waste measures (EGAlim law) and to analyse whether or not it effectively contributes to a more circular economy (see Box 2).

Box 2:

The anti-waste law of 10 February 2020 for a circular economy

This law aims to accelerate change in production and consumption patterns to reduce waste and preserve natural resources, biodiversity and the climate.

The circular economy is an “economic system of exchange and production which, at all stages of the product life cycle (goods and services), aims to increase the efficiency of resource use, reduce the impact on the environment while allowing the well-being of individuals, in which the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible and the production of waste is reduced to a minimum” (cf. French voluntary standard AFNOR XP X 30–901).

It is not limited to optimizing the management of end-of-life products (donations and recycling rather than the destruction of unsold products), but has three dimensions: environmental, economic and societal, and seven areas of action[39] including sustainable procurement and responsible consumption.

3. Potential of conventional and alternative schemes to promote sustainable food security

3.1. Identification and analysis of the potential of existing schemes

Conventional food aid schemes are intended for food-insecure people who request them. They provide either assistance in kind in the form of foods that may be free (food parcels) or at reduced prices (social grocery stores), or meals (community restaurants, mobile distribution units), or monetary assistance (service vouchers, food stamps, cash). In parallel to this conventional food aid, alternative forms have developed in the last decade to try to address some of the limitations of conventional food aid.

In this report we carry out an analysis of the potential of different types of schemes (conventional and alternative) to promote sustainable food security. To do this, we have made a (non-exhaustive) inventory of examples of existing schemes in France based on the resources of the “PrecaAlim” platform (“food insecurity resources platform”)[40] and on the basis of documents published on the Internet or presented (or mentioned) during webinars on the issues of diet and precarity. Around one hundred examples were listed and then grouped by type of scheme. All the schemes (conventional and alternative) identified and analysed in this report are presented in Annex 3. The schemes that fall outside the scope of conventional food aid have various origins: there are citizen initiatives developed on a more local or regional scale (purchasing groups, cooperative supermarkets, third-places, etc.) and private sector responses (for example, low-cost shopping lists offered by supermarkets[41]), or resulting from a public-private partnership (for example, the Malin programme[42]).

In order to analyse the potential of the schemes, we first established a list of criteria for evaluating the different systems with regard to the fight against food insecurity and the transition to a more sustainable diet. These criteria are based on our reading of the pillars and guiding principles of the international definitions of food security (availability, accessibility, quality/use, stability) (Committee on World Food Security, 2012), sustainable diets[43] (taking into account health, environmental, economic, socio-cultural dimensions) and the different strata of the socio-ecological model of the determinants of health behaviours (individual determinants and determinants related to the physical, organizational and structural environment, as well as the societal, economic, political and legislative environment) (Booth et al., 2001). A list of criteria was thus selected (Box 3), constituting the basis for the specifications of a scheme conducive to sustainable food security. A system that meets all of these criteria should promote sustainable food security, which we have defined as follows: sustainable food security exists when all people have equal access (economic, physical and social) to sustainable diets in a coordinated and sustainable manner.

Box 3:

Proposed criteria for a scheme conducive to sustainable food security

A scheme conducive to sustainable food security ensures equal access

  • economic
  • physical
  • social

… to sustainable diet, that is

– chosen and desirable

– culturally acceptable, in accordance with values, food preferences and practices,

– of good sanitary quality,

– nutritionally adequate,

– environmentally friendly,

– economically viable and fair

and ensures empowerment* on an

– individual

– collective

– and policy basis


…and social inclusion

– social cohesion

– outreach

– respect for dignity


… in a coordinated and sustainable manner       

  • sustainability of impact
  • sustainability of the scheme


*Basing our analysis on Bacqué and Biewener’s work (2013), we propose a definition of empowerment as the process by which an individual or a group acquires the means to strengthen their powers to be, to decide, to act, and thus, to emancipate themselves. This definition is part of an historical approach and a critique of the way different actors and sectors appropriate this notion (see Annex 7).

An initial reading of the schemes in the light of these different criteria (Box 3) enabled the identification, for each scheme, of the criteria on which they can potentially act. The schemes were then grouped (Table 3) according to their main action target (three categories), and according to the target populations (three categories), in order to highlight the advantages and limitations common to the various proposals. It should be noted that this reading of the benefits and limitations of the schemes is an analysis of their potential to promote sustainable food security, not their impact. To our knowledge, there are very few studies that have evaluated the impact of schemes on food insecurity using intervention research approaches that allow causality to be studied and the effectiveness of an action to be demonstrated.

The available impact assessments have been conducted in a very uneven manner. They cover in particular price policies (subsidies, price reductions on certain foods), and the literature notes a weak consensus on their effects on consumers (Gittelsohn et al., 2017). First of all, the interventions often combine several modes of action, for example food stamps with support (nutritional information, cooking workshops, etc.). It is therefore difficult to distinguish the impact of each one. Secondly, interventions are often limited in scope to a small population, and results are highly dependent on the local context.

In France, only the impact of food stamps on the consumption of fruit and vegetables, and that of community gardens on the promotion of more sustainable lifestyles, have been evaluated. Regarding food stamps, two such interventions have been evaluated in France. They consisted of the distribution of vouchers targeting fruit and vegetables to a low-income population for one year (Bihan et al., 2012; Buscail et al., 2018). In both cases, an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption was observed, in line with the majority of international studies of initiatives to reduce the prices of healthy food products (McFadden et al., 2014 study of the Healthy Start programme in the UK; Gittelsohn et al., 2017 review of the literature;   Rummo et al., 2019), but in the French case this increase was only observed for people whose initial fruit and vegetable consumption was very low.

Concerning community gardens, the only assessment that set up a protocol enabling their impact to be measured was carried out in France (Tharrey and Darmon, 2021) and did not detect any impact, one year after joining a community garden, on the sustainability of the gardeners’ behaviour, in particular in relation to the supply of fruit and vegetables to their households (Tharrey et al., 2020).

3.2. Main action targets of schemes

Three main targets for action were distinguished (Table 3): i) economic accessibility (or affordability), ii) individual empowerment, and iii) physical accessibility. Action on economic accessibility can be carried out in two different ways: by offering free or reduced-price foods (food parcels, social grocery stores, purchasing groups, meals, community restaurants, etc.), or by providing cash transfers (food vouchers, discount coupons, etc.).

The schemes targeting individual empowerment seek to strengthen self-esteem and the acquisition of knowledge and skills (cooking workshops, awareness-raising workshops, community gardens, etc.). Schemes that address physical accessibility do so by providing access to the equipment and space needed to cook (collective kitchens, etc.) or by overcoming barriers related to lack of mobility and/or isolation through mobile grocery services or home delivery services. Some schemes combine several action targets, for example both affordability and individual empowerment (such as social grocery stores offering workshops).

Beyond their main target for action, the schemes are distinguished by their ability to respect people’s dignity (without judgement or stigmatization) and their contribution to social inclusion, particularly through activities that promote social cohesion and through management methods that involve people in decision-making.

An important quality of a scheme is its capacity to deploy so-called “outreach” measures, i.e. the possibility of reaching out to people who may need help (preventive actions, assistance, support, etc.) without waiting for them to make the request themselves. The aim of the outreach approach is to reduce non-recourse, while respecting the choice of the people concerned to accept or not what is offered to them.

3.3. Eligibility criteria and target populations for the schemes

In addition to analysing the targets of action (on what criteria are we trying to act?), the schemes were also analysed with regard to the target populations (on whom can they act?) (Table 3). Three categories emerge, according to the eligibility criteria:

– i) schemes targeting people in insecure situations, with eligibility criteria giving means-tested access;

– ii) schemes targeting people in insecure situations, extended to all (mixed populations and progressive pricing);

– (iii) non-targeted schemes.

Table 3. Classification of schemes according to their main action target (acts on what?) and eligibility criteria (intended for whom?)[44]


Eligibility criteria and target populations for the schemes


Scheme targeting people in insecure situations, with eligibility criteria giving means-tested access

Scheme targeting people in insecure situations, extended to all (mixed populations and progressive pricing)

Non-targeted schemes.


Main target of action of the schemes

Main action on economic accessibility through the provision of foods at reduced prices

– Food parcels

– Community grocery stores

– Community restaurants

– Meal distribution

– Solidarity grocery stores

– Solidarity baskets

– Solidarity and social restaurants

– Purchasing groups in quartiers politique de la ville (QPV) (social priority districts)

– Discount supermarkets

– Leclerc’s €21/week shopping list

– Open-air markets


Main action on affordability through cash transfer

– Service Vouchers

– Food stamps

– Discount vouchers

– Cash assistance


– Luncheon vouchers

– Collective catering with social pricing


Main action on individual empowerment

– Cooking workshops

– Themed workshops (nutrition, budget, waste, etc.)

– Community garden in social priority districts

– Visits to producers

Cooperative supermarkets

Main action on physical accessibility

– Food or meal delivery at home

– Food trucks

– Distribution of meals by mobile units

– Collective catering (equipment and location)


Mixed systems combining several modes of action

– Social grocery stores offering workshops

– Mobile social grocery stores

– Social and solidarity grocery stores offering workshops

– Food-related third-places

– Food-related third-places


3.4. Advantages and limitations of different types of schemes

The classification of schemes according to their main action target (on what?) and eligibility criteria (for whom?) makes it possible to highlight the advantages and limitations common to the different types of schemes.

3.4.1. Advantages and limitations depending on the main action target

Schemes that act (solely) on economic accessibility by offering foods at reduced prices (food parcels, social grocery stores, purchasing groups, etc.) have the advantage of acting on availability (physical access) by creating a food supply that is not always guaranteed in a given area. For many years now, there has been a decrease in the commercial offer in municipalities’ “social priority districts”, along with a decrease in the availability of public services (Cour des Comptes, 2020). Annex 5 illustrates how the lack of a local food supply in a disadvantaged area (a social priority district in Marseille) contributes to the fact that food is not accessible in socially acceptable conditions for the inhabitants. A limitation of schemes offering foods at reduced prices is that the discount may not be sufficient for some groups. Moreover, these schemes do not generally carry out actions targeting individual empowerment (the proposal of workshops, or other support actions, is not systematic). The possibility of choosing foods is often limited or non-existent.

Schemes that (solely) affect economic accessibility via a monetary transfer (service vouchers or personalized support vouchers, discount coupons, etc.) are subject to the prerequisite that food supply is available in the area. They have the advantage of respecting people’s freedom of choice (the “access to a chosen diet” criterion). However, they are not usable in all types of shops, including open-air markets and some discount shops, so recipients may feel obliged to “shop where it’s expensive” (Collectif Alerte PACA, 2020, p9). Furthermore, some cash transfer schemes could reduce non-recourse if information on entitlements was provided and administrative procedures simplified. These cash transfers are said to provide less stigmatizing aid than food parcels or social grocery stores (Action Contre la Faim, 2020, p.4), so long as that the payment procedure is indistinguishable from other widely-used payment methods such as luncheon vouchers.

Schemes targeting (solely) individual empowerment (cooking workshops, awareness-raising workshops, etc.) are limited by the fact that they do not act on the primary cause of food insecurity, i.e. economic accessibility. They must therefore be considered as complementary support actions.

Schemes that focus (solely) on physical accessibility (home delivery of meals or foods) have a major advantage in that they provide aid directly and reach isolated groups who are highly unlikely to use conventional food aid. These schemes act on economic accessibility when, for example, the cost of the meals is covered by a CCAS (municipal social action centre). They provide a vital service to the elderly who have small budgets and/or are isolated or unable to travel. They do not, however, have an impact on people’s empowerment.

Mixed schemes have the intention of enabling physical accessibility and/or individual empowerment in addition to an action on economic accessibility (social grocery stores offering activities, food-related third-places including a purchasing group and a collective kitchen, mobile social grocery stores, etc.), but these schemes are not widespread. The Malin programme is a mixed scheme to improve the nutritional situation of children aged 0–3 years. To achieve this, it has developed an outreach approach and offers an advice service to help families find their way around (website, newsletter and tools for professionals) and a budgetary service with the aim of facilitating economic access, in particular with discount vouchers for products suited to children’s diets or, more generally, for feeding families, via traditional distribution channels (physical accessibility).

3.4.2. Advantages and limitations of schemes according to their eligibility criteria

The schemes designed for people in insecure situations and extended to all and which therefore mix different groups (solidarity grocery stores, social and community restaurants, etc.) have the advantage of reducing stigmatization. However, to benefit from the reduced prices requires administrative procedures, in particular means-testing, proof of family composition, etc., which may lead to the application being abandoned.

Schemes that include the most vulnerable but do not specifically target them, such as cooperative supermarkets, help to avoid stigmatization, but may not ultimately reach the most vulnerable if the offer is not sufficiently local or if the prices are too high. Actions are currently being developed in order to propose, for example, purchasing groups in QPVs (social priority neighbourhoods).

Finally, beyond the action target and eligibility criteria, the sustainability of the schemes and the sustainability of their impact are essential elements to be taken into account. Many of the schemes are totally dependent on the allocation of subsidies, the involvement of volunteers, and food donations. Some schemes include workplace integration through economic activity (e.g. the Jardins de Cocagne organic network, the integration sites in the MINs (National Interest Markets), or those of the Fédération des Paniers de la Mer (“Sea Baskets Federation”) set up in several ports on the Atlantic coast and the North Sea). Finally, schemes based on user involvement in the operation and financing (cooperative supermarkets, etc.) may appear to be more robust but struggle to include the poorest groups.

3.4.3. Advantages and limitations of schemes according to environmental criteria Conventional schemes

We carried out an initial analysis of the public data for the national scheme, the FEAD Operational Programme, on the basis of the Implementation Report by France for the year 2019 (FEAD, 2019). This implementation report provides information on the type and quantities of products purchased by FranceAgriMer for distribution by charitable associations. The products are mainly described in terms of tonnages (volume) and euros spent (value). In 2019, 27 products were the subject of calls for tender managed by FranceAgriMer (compared to 33 in 2018, 6 products having been withdrawn for reasons relating to nutritional quality)[45].

The types of protein source foods, of animal or plant origin, are partially known:

  • in 2019, 54% of these tonnages were animal products (60% in 2018);
  • two pulse-based products are listed among the 27 (canned lentils and flageolet beans), the other vegetable products that are sources of protein are cereal products (macaroni, rice), but the percentages are not known.

The origin of the products and their production methods are not specified. The quantities and types of packaging are not known either, and the report does not specify whether or not the tonnages include the weight of the packaging.

In 2019, an additional criterion for analysing the bids made by manufacturers was added to the tender specifications, in order to take into account the freight and carbon footprint of suppliers during transport for the initial delivery to warehouses of the four main organizations (FFBA, Restaurants du Cœur, Secours Populaire Français and the French Red Cross). The companies applying for the tenders (food processing companies) were also encouraged, during the execution of the contract, to apply environmental management measures. There is no information in the report on how the logistics criteria were assessed and used in the selection of the companies awarded the contracts.

In the framework of the FEAD 2021/2027 programming[46] currently being finalized, it is indicated that foods will be “selected and/or distributed taking into account environmental criteria among others. Several aspects are envisaged: contribution to the fight against deforestation (including imported deforestation), restriction of the use of plastics, encouragement of short supply chains and products from organic farming, etc. It remains to be seen how and by whom the specifications will be drawn up, the bids selected, and the results communicated in terms of environmental impact.

Regarding the environmental impact of food aid, our initial observations are as follows:

– the available public data does not allow for an environmental assessment of food aid. It would be at a minimum necessary to know the types of products and the quantities distributed using the Agribalyse database[47], an environmental reference database for agricultural and food products.

– the selection criteria are generic and not accompanied by outcome indicators and targets. For example, what does it mean to “contribute to the fight against deforestation”: to require that animals be fed with deforestation-free soy? To ensure that paper and cardboard packaging comes from sustainably managed forests?

The EGAlim law measures concerning catering for schools could be used as a basis[48], with a requirement of at least 50% good-quality and sustainable products, including at least 20% organic products, [49] as well as the diversification of protein sources (with a vegetarian menu offered at least once a week), and the use of plastics gradually eliminated.

​​​​​​​ Alternative schemes

France Stratégie highlights global food issues and challenges in its recent report Pour une alimentation saine et durable (“For healthy and sustainable diet”) in September 2021 for the National Assembly:

  • Accessibility or nutritional quality issues
  • Challenges with model compatibility in the climate emergency (food is the source of more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and 19% in France)
  • The need for a food transition towards more plant-based diets.

Chapter 4 of this report is devoted to “Initiatives to be followed at all territorial levels, from communes to large regions”[50].

In particular, the report analyses the following initiatives with regard to the environment: PATs (territorial food projects) and transitions of local sectors or companies.

The methods of action and the benefits targeted are extremely varied and, in part, deployed in a systemic approach to food that also integrates social and economic dimensions, objectives targeted by the Climate and Resilience Act in its Article 265.

The following examples from the Precalim platform (cf. §3.1 and Annex 3 of this report) illustrate the diversity of actions at various stages in the product life cycle that are deployed in the context of alternative schemes.

On production and supply methods: Jardins de Cocagne type schemes, encouraging more environmentally friendly agricultural practices (agro-ecological practices, organic farming, etc.) and supplies as close as possible to the distribution sites, should make it possible to reduce the number of intermediaries, reduce transport and thus reduce food losses due to the handling associated with transport and intermediaries.

On manufacturing processes: “mobile canneries” should make it possible to reduce the level of processing of products and to implement less energy-consuming preservation methods.

On distribution and consumption methods: Réseau VRAC (“Bulk Network”) type schemes contribute to the reduction of packaging and also to the promotion of foods that enable the diversification of protein sources (substitution of a proportion of proteins of animal origin for proteins of plant origin).

It should be noted that the majority of schemes that integrate awareness-raising actions relating to the environment and sustainable diet enable the building and sharing of knowledge and skills of all actors in the value chain, with a focus on local and regional actions that create jobs and links.

Nevertheless, our first general observation is as follows: these schemes do not include a methodology for assessing their social and environmental impact at the conception stage (or these data are not public), which makes it difficult to share feedback and to make a comparative assessment of the potential and limitations of these different schemes.

3.5. The place of sustainable food security in the minimum income debate

The main field of action of all the schemes, the diversity of which has just been described, is food. However, sustainable food security also requires economic and social policies. Reflection on the criteria for modes of action and conditions of eligibility encounters issues related to everyday needs such as health care, access to water, culture, mobility, etc.

The different existing schemes to combat food insecurity, such as food aid policies, should be part of a national debate at a more general level, i.e. that of public income transfer policies. The guarantee of an income would help to meet, in particular, food expenses. This more general debate takes two directions: that of a minimum income targeted at a particular population, and that of a universal income. Key issues include implementation conditions, in particular the conditionality of transfers, and the effects on areas other than food security (Allègre and Sterdiniak, 2017; OECD 2017; Cayol, 2019; Gentilini et al., 2020).

​​​​​​​3.5.1. Implementation criteria: conditionality

In the case of universal income, its fundamental principle is that it is unconditional: applicable to the whole population without any means testing, and without any counterparts in terms of obligations regarding the labour market (BIEN, 2021). It should be stressed that such a policy has never been applied and that, because of its universal nature, it is difficult to envisage (only) experimenting with it. The commonly cited example of Finland (OFCE, 2020), consisted of a non-means-tested benefit paid to 2,000 unemployed people for two years (2017–2018). However, the second year included labour market entry requirements. In France, the Socle Citoyen proposal discussed in the National Assembly in 2020 (de Basquiat M., 2020; de Basquiat et al., 2020) approaches universal income, by combining tax and benefits reform. By advocating universal income tax, universal income becomes an individual tax credit, that can be negative or positive.

On the other hand, conditional minimum income schemes are already in operation in various countries. The French Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA) (“Earned Income Supplement”) can be placed in this category. This is aimed at means-tested groups and is accompanied by checks on integration into the labour market. Generally speaking, the various constraints lead to a high rate of non-recourse, currently estimated at one person in three for the various social benefits (France Stratégie, 2021). Faced with this type of scheme, whose overhaul planned as part of the next Plan Pauvreté (Poverty Plan) with the creation of the Revenu Universel d’Activité (RUA) (“Universal Earned Income”), replacing the RSA and the Prime d’Activité (“Activity Bonus”) will not change the principle of conditionality, some associations are advocating the introduction of a means-tested minimum income, with no strings attached (Secours Catholique, 2020). A trial of such a project was voted by the Assembly of Corsica on 30 April 2020[51] but has not yet been implemented.

​​​​​​​3.5.2. Effects on poverty and the labour supply

In this context, the debates regarding the consequences of these income transfer schemes, whether conditional or not, fall into two main areas (OECD, 2017; Gentilini et al., 2020).

Effects on poverty and redistribution: the impact on non-recourse depends on the ease of access to these schemes (administrative burden, definition of the target population, stigmatization linked to the implementation of transfer programmes, etc.). A universal and unconditional system can combat non-recourse. Furthermore, the size of the beneficiary population and its income characteristics will determine how progressive these income transfers are. A universal scheme acts on poverty but does not improve income distribution if everyone receives the same allocation. In this case, it does not meet the criterion of proportionate universalism[52], which consists of promoting policies and interventions whose intensity is proportionate to the needs of groups in the population (Inserm, 2014).

Effects on labour supply: the receipt of a basic income may change labour market integration, with the possibility of a choice to reduce working hours for part of the population. This effect may be gendered, due to the particular conditions of access to part-time and/or low-paid jobs for women, or the specific targeting of transfers to women (Bartholo, 2016). In addition, in some programmes, transfers are conditional on activity or active job search constraints.

Finally, the question of financing generalized income transfer measures remains one of the keys to its implementation (OECD, 2017).

​​​​​​​3.5.3. Application to schemes targeting food

A study in the United States compared the impact of the current food stamps system (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)) with the costs and impact of a minimum income, universal or not, on food insecurity (Gundersen, 2021). To address the limitations of the SNAP programme in terms of non-recourse, ineligibility, or insufficient amounts for many users, the author used a questionnaire asking the population in insecure situations about the budget needed to achieve food security. They propose that the budget allocated to SNAP, increased by the amount necessary to cover these needs, be used to allocate a minimum income. The author concluded that with a universal allowance, the food insecurity rate would decrease by 88.8%. With an allowance targeting incomes that are less than four times the poverty threshold, the reduction is of a similar order (88.5%), but the budgetary cost of the programme to the government is much lower.

No study has so far examined the effects and benefits of this more generalized type of scheme on food insecurity in France. However, this debate between opportunities for targeted measures and universal measures can be linked to the proposal for a Social Security for Food (SSA) (ISF-Agrista, 2020), (see Part 4). The principle of this SSA meets the criteria of unconditionality of a universal scheme, since it would be accessible to all without means testing, thus avoiding non-recourse and stigmatization. Furthermore, it would not be associated with labour, health or any other requirements[53]. Its organization and financing would be based on the Social Security system (ISF-Agrista, 2020; SSA, 2021).

On the other hand, all schemes based on food aid are aimed at a specific population on a means basis. Table 4 puts the implementation criteria of these different schemes into perspective, both generalist (income transfers) and food-targeted, depending on whether they are universal or target a specific population. In the area of food, a few examples of schemes have been selected. There are conventional schemes with several levels of intervention (see the main modes of action described in the previous paragraphs): measures targeting economic accessibility (food parcels, food vouchers), measures that also include support (social grocery stores offering activities), and schemes that include actions aimed at empowering people.

The limitations of these various intervention programmes depend directly on their levels of constraints:

– In terms of the conditions of recruitment of the target population (steps to justify income, the degree of intrusiveness of checks on budget management, the counter-obligations in terms of integration into the labour market, etc.) which underlie participation (degree of non-recourse and stigmatization).

– In terms of programme implementation, i.e., how food is accessed (constraints on choice of products and purchase locations, provision of support).

Table 4 also shows the effects on the labour supply and income redistribution mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Income transfer schemes, whether general or targeted at food, are thus distinguished by whether they are universal and unconditional (universal income, social security for food) or are aimed at a specific population and possibly conditional (minimum income, food allowance).

The economic evaluation and financing of these various income transfer schemes, including the food allowance proposed by the SSA, is a component of these proposals. They have been the subject of several official reports in the case of income transfers (OECD, World Bank), but this is not the case for the SSA, which only exists for the moment as a proposal by several associations and collectives (ISF-Agrista, Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire, see 4.2.1.). The study of the direct economic costs of the SSA and its various effects (on food supply, on the agricultural system, on employment, etc.), recently initiated by one of these associations (ISF-Agrista), is thus likely to be carried out in more depth in the future, especially when this issue is addressed by research projects. The main issues are:

  • The amount of the universal allowance: its universal character does not prevent it from being conditional on income in the proportionate universalism approach.
  • The targeting certain products or production methods.
  • The timing/period of its implementation.
  • The capacity of the food supply to meet this new demand and its regulation: what volumes? At what prices?
  • Financing arrangements: social contributions, taxation, etc.

It is clear that the overhaul of the agri-food system (supply and demand) associated with such a scheme would have multiple costs and benefits, from an economic, social and health point of view. It has to address the issues of employment, remuneration of those involved, sustainability of practices, prevention policies, etc.

It is the totality of these costs against the totality of the benefits that will have to be weighed up in assessing the desirability of the SSA. It therefore seems urgent that this avenue be explored in all its aspects and that these figures are obtained so that debate can progress. In this report, we do not underestimate the importance of this approach, but we do not currently have the necessary information to analyse it in any depth.

Table 4. General and food targeted intervention schemes : implementation criteria and effects


General schemes

Schemes targeting food*






Minimum income

Universal income

Food parcels

Food Vouchers

Social grocery stores

Actions targeting empowerment

Social Security for Food

Conditions of participation

Target population








Resource requirements








Intrusive controls








Counterparts (work, education, health, etc.)








Conditions for access to food

Monetary form








Spending targeting constraints (products, locations)








Presence of support


























Stability of the income source 








Labour supply: reduction of supply to avoid reduction of transfers, gender effects








Re-distributive effects: progressive transfers








*The types of schemes presented here are assumed to have a single focus and do not include mixed forms (e.g. combining food vouchers with individual empowerment actions).

This range of action methods and the heterogeneity of the intervention criteria lead us to question their relevance in order to overcome the limitations of the current system. On this basis, the following section outlines the guiding principles and options best suited to addressing the challenges/issues of sustainable food security.

4. What scheme for sustainable food security?

4.1. Guiding principles for sustainable food security

Based on the analysis of the failures of the current food aid system (Part 2) and the existing conventional and alternative schemes (Part 3), this report proposes guiding principles for a scheme and policy context conducive to sustainable food security (Figure 2).

Three levels need to be considered: the scheme’s action targets, its organization and a democratic policy context conducive to the achievement of sustainable food security. The action targets and organization concern the operationality and implementation of a response to food insecurity, while the policy level concerns the principles and messages to be adopted in order to move towards conditions for sustainable food security. The issues of operationality and policy context evolve at different paces (time frames), but need to be worked on simultaneously as they are interdependent.

Figure 2: Guiding principles for a scheme and policy context conducive to sustainable food security (and definitions)


Sustainable diet:  Diet that is chosen and desirable, culturally acceptable, consistent with values, preferences and dietary practices, healthy, nutritionally adequate, environmentally friendly, economically viable and equitable.

Food security: "Food security is achieved when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.” (Committee on World Food Security, 2012).

Food insecurity: Food insecurity is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (Anonymous, 1990).

Sustainable food security: Following the above definitions and the different layers of the socio-ecological model of health behaviour determinants, Sustainable Food Security exists when all people have equal access (economic, physical and social) to sustainable diets in a coordinated and sustainable manner.

Empowerment:  the process by which an individual or group acquires the means to strengthen their powers to be, to decide, to act, and thus, to emancipate themselves (definition inspired by Bacqué and Biewener, 2013). Empowerment should be present at every level of the guiding principles stated above:

– first level (action target of the scheme), i.e. strengthening of self-esteem, skills and decision making (making choices for oneself)

– second level (organization of the system), i.e. the power to engage in a collective dynamic

– third level (political empowerment), i.e. the power to be an actor in social transformation (power to decide on the conditions for satisfying ordinary needs – eating, housing, health care, transport, etc., including economic power in the choice of systems to meet these needs).

4.1.1. Action targets of the scheme

It is essential that the scheme combines a range of measures that address economic accessibility, physical accessibility, individual empowerment and social cohesion, while including a response to emergency situations and an outreach approach to reduce non-recourse. This should include:

  • At least one action aimed at improving economic accessibility, through the provision of food at reduced prices (purchasing groups, social grocery stores…) or cash transfers (food vouchers, direct monetary aid, etc.). As budgetary constraints are one of the main issues for the vast majority of food-insecure people, acting on economic accessibility is an essential element to include, whatever the scheme.
  • One or more specific actions, depending on the territory, aimed at improving physical accessibility, in terms of mobility (delivery, local food supply) and/or equipment (collective kitchen, etc.).
  • The implementation of actions aimed at increasing empowerment, enabling people to regain a degree of control over their living conditions, make decisions, act, strengthen their self-esteem, participate in solidarity and belong to a collective. These actions will make it possible, for example, to promote social cohesion, access information and themed workshops, discuss issues, cook, garden, etc. Educational tools such as the Opticourses® educational kit are already available (see Box 4). A dedicated location for each area (possibly shared by several structures) is conducive to the proposal and implementation of these actions. With regard to schemes such as community gardens, it should be noted that we now know that their implementation alone is not sufficient to bring about a change in attitudes and behaviour more in line with the principles of sustainable diet (Tharrey and Darmon, 2021). For them to become real tools for promoting sustainable food security, a number of prerequisites are probably necessary (Tharrey et al., 2022).

Moreover, given the diversity of the populations concerned by food insecurity, it seems essential to include an emergency response, guaranteeing immediate and unconditional access.

Box 4:

Opticourses, a food and budget-based health promotion programme[54]

Some poor households manage to have a balanced diet without needing to turn to food aid: despite a low food budget (Marty et al., 2015) (nevertheless higher than the bare minimum necessary for a nutritionally adequate diet estimated at €3.85 per day for an adult (Maillot et al., 2017)), they manage to do so by preferentially selecting foods of good nutritional quality at good prices (Darmon, 2014). The practices adopted by these households, which demonstrate a certain competence in their food choices allowing them to achieve a better nutritional balance despite the physical and financial constraints to which they are subjected, may be inspiring for other households which are also in difficult economic and material situations[55]. These are the principles on which the Opticourses® group workshops are based[56], an educational programme on food and budgeting in line with the principles of health promotion (non-judgement, respect for people, taking into account their skills, knowledge, etc.). Co-constructed by residents, professionals and researchers as part of an intervention research project, this programme is considered as “evidence-based” nutrition action by Santé Publique France[57] as it has proven its relevance and effectiveness in the field (Perignon et al, 2017). It is currently being developed to more fully and explicitly integrate sustainable diet principles. It could thus contribute to the empowerment of individuals and groups as part of a scheme to promote sustainable food security, to regain control over food supplies so that they are more balanced and more sustainable.

4.1.2. Organization of the scheme

Different organizational principles are to be considered within the scheme (internal organization) but also in terms of coordination[58] with existing food insecurity schemes within a territory and other social schemes (external organization), in particular with the Comité national de coordination de la lutte contre la précarité alimentaire (Cocolupa) (National Coordination Committee for the Fight against Food Insecurity) set up on 8 September 2020[59]

Internally, the aim is to enable:

  • equal access to the system so that each person can easily find solutions adapted to their food insecurity situation. To avoid non-recourse, it is necessary to encourage the implementation of “outreach” initiatives and to facilitate the conditions of access to the scheme by simplifying, standardizing and harmonizing the procedures, or even eliminating them, given that it is already difficult for people to take the step of applying for access. It is also important to communicate effectively in order to make the scheme visible and to adapt this communication to different categories of the population (e.g. translation into different languages), and to make the scheme accessible to people with reduced mobility.
  • involvement of people through their participation in decision-making and the operation of the scheme.

In terms of external organization, the aim is to ensure territorial coordination that creates links with other existing schemes to combat food insecurity, taking into account people’s environment (public transport, isolation, etc.) and encouraging structures to coordinate their actions for the benefit of the populations concerned. Territorial coordination can open up the possibility of pooling logistics (premises, supplies, transport, etc.) and coordination with other social services (housing assistance, etc.) in order to harmonize a diagnosis of the situation, identification of needs and guidance. A scheme to combat food insecurity can thus act as a gateway to more general rights (access to healthcare, housing, etc.).

4.1.3. Cross-cutting principles or prerequisites

In parallel to the actions implemented, it is important to create the conditions for the availability of food in an area, that this availability meets individual requirements, is physically accessible (networking of territories by distribution points)[60] and that it enables a shift towards more sustainable diets.

For example, a network throughout France of the Maisons Interculturelle de l’Alimentation et des Mangeurs (Intercultural Food and Eating Centres)[61] could be envisaged that would respect the various guiding principles set out above and that would be adapted to the different characteristics of each territory, allowing practical and equal access to a good quality food supply in order to fight against situations of food insecurity and prevent their emergence, particularly in the event of a crisis

Systematically carrying out local diagnoses according to a democratic process involving the public in order to identify needs (levels of urgency, diversity of the population, criteria for good quality diet, etc.), the available food supply, and the actions and structures existing in a territory has been recognized as an essential element prior to the implementation of efficient responses (Mousty, 2020) The Territorial Food Projects programme, through the many shared diagnoses, could be a resource.

It is also a question of ensuring stability over time, both in terms of the sustainability of the system (which would not be dependent on volunteers, donations, etc.) and the sustainability of the impact (access to the scheme not limited in time, completeness of the aid, etc.) in order to guarantee sustainable food security. The scheme’s capacity to anticipate, adapt and be resilient to changes in the general situation are essential elements to be taken into consideration. It is a matter of anticipating changes and planning solutions (diversification of supply sources, constitution of buffer stocks, etc.) to enable rapid adaptation and to be able to maintain an uninterrupted response to food insecurity in all situations.

In line with the recent CNA opinion No. 89 (Box 5), which recommends “the establishment of a fundamental food base” and “the improvement of existing food aid systems”, and by analogy with the health system, we believe that to promote the emergence of sustainable food security, the scheme should integrate a curative approach (including an emergency response) and a preventive approach, with the objective of progressively reducing the curative approach in favour of the deployment of a preventive approach.

Box 5:

As part of the feedback from the first lockdown, the CNA (2021) called for the establishment of a right to sustainable diet

In its recent opinion No. 89, the CNA recommends “ensuring the conditions for the implementation of a food democracy and a right to food in order to put in place an inclusive policy guaranteeing access to healthy and sustainable diet for everyone, everywhere” (part 4 of the recommendations), with the following objectives and practical means:

– inclusion of the right to food in French and European law (4.1., p. 42)

– recognition of an agri-food exception at European and French level, particularly in the context of trade (i.e. food products should not be treated like other commercial products, in order to avoid speculation on agricultural raw materials at the international level (4.2., page 42 and footnote 81)

– recognition of the social role of collective catering, by recognizing a right to collective catering for all (4.4., page 43)

Another recommendation is to “rethink the fight against food insecurity at the French national level and apply any progress at the European level” (part 5 of the recommendations), with the following objectives and practical means:

– the establishment of a “fundamental food base”, placing people at the heart of the system (5.1), in particular through a reflection on the introduction of a “social security for food” scheme in the context of a future consultation group.

– improving existing food aid schemes (5.2.), in particular through food vouchers, ideally that are usable in sustainable supply chains.

4.1.4. Favourable policy context

Since the end of the Second World War, the status of consumer, supported by the rise of the wage-earner, has enabled social inclusion, if necessary with the help of the state and transfer incomes. These have played a fundamental role in enabling families and people in insecure situations to remain in this sphere of consumption. Combined with civil and political rights, this consumer status has become an integral part of citizenship and part of a social contract with rights and duties.

All the public policies implemented in France and Europe have resulted in the development of the agro-industrial model to the detriment of family-run farms. Food products are treated in the same way as other consumer products and are subject to international agreements. However, the initial objective of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was to protect agricultural prices in order to allow the modernization of European agricultural systems[62] and their stability.

Food companies respond to emerging demands with new market segments. Consumers can only express themselves through the action of buying or not buying. All this remains structured by the market, in which individual choice, even when organized into collective action, cannot gain the upper hand.

From this observation, the concept of “food democracy” takes on its full force. It represents the demand of citizens to regain power over the way they access food, in the reconnection of this food to agriculture, and more broadly, the conditions of its production (economic, social and environmental). Food democracy is emerging as particularly fertile environment for the creation of a new citizenship, in which citizens regain the means to direct the evolution of their food system through all of their decisions and not just those concerning the act of making a purchase[63]. In contrast to a conscious consumer, who remains engaged in a purchasing and consumption approach, the concept of food democracy opens up the prospect of a “food citizen”, based on the right to sustainable diet for each individual, and a reappropriation of democratic decision making in a collective manner with regard to the choices in food systems.

However, if food democracy is to be embodied in citizens’ everyday responses, it has to be based on a systemic and multifunctional understanding of food, which is not only physiological (covering nutritional needs), but also social (being together and recognized in equal “food citizenship”), identity-related (linked to belonging to a family, culture, traditions, community, etc.) and pleasure oriented. In addition, the social conventions linked to the food model in the country where we live (Fischler and Masson, 2008) must be taken into account in order to understand the differences, resistances, constraints, etc. Thus in France, eating together remains an important convention, and the taste of food takes precedence over the origin of the products (unlike in Italy, for example).

Taking these three aspects – the food system, the multi-functional nature of food and the food model – into account is the basis of actionable knowledge for food democracy. However, this knowledge is segmented, not only by the very structuring of public services through different ministries, but also by a technical vision that is far from the daily realities of inhabitants in their living environments. This knowledge tends to be trivialized because it is deeply integrated into domestic life rather than in the public sphere and is predominantly held by women[64].

Food democracy (Lang, 1998; Both and Coveney, 2015) can provide us with the framework for collective thinking and actions to promote sustainable food security and to engage in the fight against food-related inequalities (Ndiaye and Paturel, 2020). More generally, food democracy is seen as part of a process of reducing social and territorial inequalities so that the entire population can live decently in adequately equipped living environments with sufficient income.

The CNA opinion No. 89 proposes a right to sustainable diet at national and European level, rooted in international human rights. It makes a clear distinction with a right to be free from hunger and emphasizes the aspects of dignity and sustainability both in the protection of access and in the duration and quality of the food produced in a food system that respects humans, animals and the environment. To this end, the CNA proposes to implement an agri-food exception in all trade treaties. It should be noted, however, that the effectiveness of the right to food enshrined in international human rights, remains dependent on market relations and competition. Furthermore, the CNA puts forward a right to collective catering, which is a step forward given its potential role as a lever for favourable changes in the food supply at the regional level.

The CNA proposes to refer to an “agri-food exception” model (Collart Dutilleul, 2013), based on that of cultural exception. However, the context of the cultural sector is not at all the same as that of the agri-food sector: the economic stakes in the world of agri-food multinationals, which are much more numerous than in the cultural sector and are largely relayed by the owners of the resources of the agricultural and food systems, lead to power relationships in the face of which governments and citizens are largely powerless. Hence the importance of the concept of food democracy, which brings the possibilities of change back into the political sphere: for example, a legislative proposal based on the CNA opinion should be more of a break with the past, to bring food systems back into the realm of the general interest and to initiate the development of proposals for economic democracy linked to social democracy in the real market. And in this context, particular attention must be paid to democratic decision-making mechanisms relating to women and low-income families.

4.2. The path to Social Security for Food

A universal Social Security for Food (SSA) scheme has been debated for two years in a collective that brings together several organizations (Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire, ISF-Agrista, the Confédération Paysanne, Réseau Salariat, etc.)[65]. Following the general social security regime, three principles guide the Social Security for Food: the right to sustainable diet[66] guaranteeing universal access, contributions as a method of funding, and the approval of the actors in the food system through local democracy (Figure 3).

The SSA proposal respects the guiding principles identified in this report and is seen as a way to promote sustainable food security. This is in line with the recommendations of the CNA (Box 5), which proposes that, in order to build the “fundamental food base”, a “Social Security for Food” type of mechanism should be considered in the context of a future consultation group. We hope that this report will contribute to this reflection.

The SSA proposes as a guideline and foundation to move towards a universal scheme for access to sustainable diet to ensure sustainable food security. This dynamic requires the simultaneous design of “Transition” schemes and the construction of “Transformation” schemes for food systems. Transition consists of a temporary phase of the process leading to the Transformation phase, which is itself evolving. In line with this dynamic, the food aid sector cannot be eliminated without implementing transitional arrangements and proposing a change of role to the operators in this sector, embracing an approach that builds universal access to sustainable diet (including an emergency food aid scheme) involving new forms of support.

4.2.1. History and principles of Social Security for Food

Using the framework of food democracy as a way to re-engage all inhabitants, Social Security for Food[67] is a policy proposal based on:

– a critique of the agro-industrial food system whose objective is to produce by monopolizing resources without taking into account the destructive effects on the planet and the consequences for future generations.

– the impossibility for part of the population (including some farmers) to feed themselves while respecting their needs and identities.

In France, we have had social security for health since the end of the Second World War[68] as a concrete political and management form of access to a health system open to the entire population. The proposal for Social Security for Food is based on the model of the general social security system as it existed before 1967, when a first reform changed the democratic model[69]. The value of this SSA proposal is that it builds on what already exists and on the long experience of the social security regime. Thus we can draw lessons both from the point of view of social democracy (approval of professionals and management of social security offices) and economic democracy (funding based on a social contribution).

In this context, the proposal with regard to the food aid sector is to support the population captive to this mode of access to food in moving towards a common right, namely the right to sustainable diet. Moreover, the SSA proposal is in line with the discussions initiated by the Conseil National de l’Alimentation (CNA) (see opinion No. 89) and the “One Health” concept[70] (interdependence between human health, animal health and the environment). The French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) situates its work within this cross-sectoral approach[71].

Figure 3. Schematic representation of Social Security for Food[72]

4.2.2.  Two timeframes: “Transition” and “Transformation”

Based on the observation that existing systems are segmented, the SSA proposal aims to set up a common right system. This SSA would make it possible to implement two necessary simultaneous approaches, but whose time frames are not the same: that of a Food Transition and that of a Food Transformation.

The Transformation aims to achieve sustainable food security, i.e. to ensure equal access (economic, physical and social) of the entire population to sustainable diet in a coordinated and sustainable manner. This process would help reduce the contribution of food systems to climate change and benefit the health of present and future humans and the environment. Sustainable food security thus involves taking into account food needs (individual and collective) while forcing a change in the nature of the food supply. There can be no Transformation without a radical change in the food supply. However, this Transformation cannot be implemented immediately and a Transition is necessary.

The Transformation towards sustainable food systems is based on two fundamental elements: first, the implementation of a national contract for the actors in the system, in the same way as this exists for the actors in the current health system (doctors, paramedics, pharmacists, etc.); and second, funding via a social contribution The social contribution is not a tax but a percentage of the socialization of the value created by everyone’s work. In other words, it is wages (or remuneration) pooled to fund access to services that meet our basic needs: this is the case today for health.[73]

A card (which could be called « Vitalim » by analogy with the current Carte Vitale for health cover) would allow universal access to sustainable diet as we have today for access to health care.[74] More detailed studies are needed to propose precise financial amounts to fund this universal food allowance.

As it stands, it is more the process of economic democracy that is important, as it fundamentally transforms access and, above all, engages with change in the agricultural and food production apparatus. In the same way that the general social security regime made it possible to build hospitals (Friot, 2018) (many of which are still operating) thanks to the sustainability of funding through social contributions, funding the SSA through a national contract system would encourage actors and activities in the food system to move towards greater sustainability, in particular by reinvesting part of its added value in environmental measures. In addition, this funding would allow the various actors to benefit from fair remuneration.

The establishment of a social democracy system is necessary for this economic democracy (Friot, 2012): the right to sustainable diet enshrined in the law[75] is its foundation. Democratic mechanisms called Groupes locaux d’alimentation durable (GLADs) (Local Sustainable Food Groups[76]), similar to the network of social security offices, would be implemented according to living areas and not according to administrative divisions which are increasingly “distant” from the areas where daily activity takes place. These bodies should be diversified and not rely solely on representation for their democratic basis, as is the case today in all public institutions (e.g. the CNA). Taking into account the presence of populations usually excluded from decision-making locations is essential: a diversity of democratic mechanisms is the only guarantee of this (Bertrand and Paturel, 2020) (concrete democracy based on the needs of inhabitants through peer groups, imperative mandate, representation, drawing lots, rotating delegation, election of representatives without candidates, etc.). The regional and national bodies, which would coordinate the GLADs, would be responsible for managing the issues that require larger pooled resources and for ensuring the regulation of food systems so that territorial equality of access to sustainable diet is guaranteed, all under the mandate of and in conjunction with the GLADs.

The Transition is about developing responses that build on and seek to modernize what already exists in order to respect the right to sustainable diet. However, this Transition is not intended to be long term, as the food supply must evolve to enable the respect of the principles of universal access to sustainable diet as a common right. Thus, the current food aid sector would evolve into an emergency food assistance system. The term “food assistance” is used rather than “food aid” because it is not just a matter of distributing food and/or monetary aid, but of taking into account the whole nutritional situation of the person or group and proposing complementary interventions: for example, what they need in order to cook (fuel, cooking equipment), access to drinking water, hygiene and health services, etc.

4.3. Interpretation of SSA in terms of public health: from curative to preventive

While the current system based on food aid is totally curative, our interpretation of SSA from a public health view point leads us to identify and distinguish between Curative and Preventive approaches within the SSA.

In line with the guiding principles we have identified (Part 4.1.) for promoting sustainable food security, the SSA would include a Preventive and a Curative component (Figure 4). The Preventive component would have a universal vocation and would concern the whole population. The Curative component would maintain a response for those currently receiving food aid and begin to implement their exit from this channel. Gradually, the population currently receiving food aid would move away from the Curative component and towards the Preventive component.

Figure 4. Social Security of Food in terms of public health

In the context of the Transition stage, it is not possible to eliminate the current food aid sector, especially with the current health situation. However, the differentiation of the targets of emergency food assistance must be implemented rapidly in order to stop treating the situations of food-insecure families and individuals in the same way as those in extreme poverty. Thus, a distinction should be made between: i) low-budget households and individuals whose sole reason for using food aid is an economic problem that they could overcome as soon as an income dedicated to sustainable diet is put in place; ii) low-budget households and individuals who are recurrently enrolled in this mode of access to food; iii) low-budget households and individuals in emergency situations.

– i) From a preventive perspective, for households and people on low budgets who do not usually currently resort to food aid (apart from in periods of generalized crisis such as the COVID crisis), the main response would be financial support through the granting of a monetary allowance to enable them to achieve food autonomy.

– ii) For households and individuals who currently use food aid on a recurrent basis, educational mechanisms should be put in place to empower them so that they have more autonomy than in the food aid system and gain everyday access to sustainable diet.

– iii) For people in emergency situations (approximately 700,000 to 1 million people)[77], the need for food assistance remains, and it is essential that it respects both dignity as a principle of human rights and the nutritional quality of a sustainable diet.

The Curative component, i.e. the emergency response for people in very insecure situations (iii), will therefore have to remain to take into account emergency situations.

Since 1985, the modes of food intervention have been designed with reference to extreme poverty. The treatment of people is based on this vision and justifies the distribution of food. Even if we know that the choice to distribute food is strongly linked to the agri-food production model, the justification for food aid operators, recognized by public institutions, is to fight against what is called “food insecurity”, and not to support ordinary access for those on low incomes. The most recent responses continue to be mainly in the direction of “solidarity with insecure groups” based on food aid and without questioning the existence of this insecurity in France. The new measures consist of a modernization of the food aid system, in particular through more frequent use of monetized aid. Thus, based on a proposal by the Convention citoyenne pour le climat (Citizens’ Climate Convention), the establishment of “100% local, organic and sustainable diet vouchers” to be allocated by the CCAS (and other local actors) to people using food aid was announced in mid-December 2020 by Emmanuel Macron[78] (but is unlikely to be implemented, at least not during the current presidential term[79]). Similarly, at the launch on 8 July 2021 of the “action plan to transform food aid and combat food insecurity” resulting from the Cocolupa (National Coordination Committee for the Fight against Food Insecurity), the Minister of Health, Olivier Veran, more specifically listed measures aimed at children[80] such as the distribution of free breakfasts in voluntary primary schools zones named « Rep » and « Rep+ » and located in QPVs (social priority neighbourhoods) and vulnerable rural areas[81], the strengthening of state support for social pricing measures for school canteens, particularly for disadvantaged rural municipalities[82], as well as the national deployment of the “Malin” programme, a scheme targeting pregnant women in insecure situations and their unborn children (up to the age of two)[83]. The “Malin scheme has the advantage of simultaneously acting on economic accessibility (discount vouchers for food products[84]), empowerment (site providing advice adapted to the child’s age, training of early childhood professionals, networks for parents), and physical accessibility (the vouchers can be used in all shops selling the products concerned). Furthermore, an intervention research study currently underway (Cavalli et al., 2017) will evaluate its impact. As far as social pricing for canteens is concerned, if it were generalized with uniform implementation procedures across all regions, it could tend towards the principle of proportionate universalism (see Annex 8), but with the limitation that not all municipalities are obliged to offer a school meals service. It could be proposed to make this a legal obligation in the context of the SSA.

4.3.1. Curative component Curative component action targets

In the first instance, the Curative component would bring together schemes offering a range of measures that address economic accessibility, physical accessibility, individual empowerment and social inclusion, while allowing for an immediate response to emergency situations, as described in the guiding principles for action (see section 4.1.). We must not lose sight of the fact that these actions are also intended to support people towards universal access. These actions would be progressively reduced as the Preventive component is introduced in the form of a common right to sustainable diet applying to all citizens, while continuing to provide a Curative component enabling emergency situations to be addressed. Organization of the Curative component

Regarding the organization of the Curative component, it is necessary to ensure the internal organization of the schemes (equal access, involvement of people) and coordination with existing food insecurity schemes within a region and other social schemes, as described in the organizational guidelines (see section 4.1.2). This coordination of the Curative component is necessary, but it is not sufficient to drive the large-scale change necessary for sustainable food security. A central task of this coordination would be to involve current food aid operators so that they are included alongside the other actors in the food system to participate in the construction of the Preventive component, with the aim of gradually reducing users of the Curative component.

4.3.2. Preventive component

​​​​​​​ Preventive component action targets 

The implementation of the SSA would allow for the creation of a universal sustainable diet allowance available on the “Vitalim” card (see above). The Démocratie Alimentaire collective proposes that this allowance be based on the model of family allowances which are granted to all families residing in France and whose amount is adjusted for higher incomes[85]. The amount of this allowance is to be defined and should take into account the budgets calculated in the ONPES study for a decent minimum standard of living (estimated, for food, at between 75% and 85% of the average food budget, depending on the composition of the household) (ONPES, 2014), the strictly minimum cost necessary to meet all the nutritional recommendations in terms of protein, fibre, vitamins, essential fatty acids, minerals, without excessive proportions of sugar, fat, or salt (estimated at €3.85 /day for an adult, Maillot et al ., 2017), and, more specifically, the budget needed to meet the PNNS (National Nutrition and Health Programme) recommendation to eat “at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day” (Familles Rurales, 2021)[86].

This allowance would contribute to changing the demand and supply of food towards a more sustainable diet, and thus contribute to the Transformation. To make the Transformation a reality, one proposal would be to set up a process for allocating the allowance on the following basis: initially unconditional (possible use of the allowance for any type of food supply), then progressively directed, first in part and then in full, towards products from more sustainable food systems. This would make it possible to support the change to more virtuous food systems, and provide the time necessary to set up the approval system (definition of the criteria that “products from more sustainable food systems” should respect and the modalities for monitoring the respect of these criteria). Given the urgency of climate change, the whole process should not take more than 10 years.

This allowance would give families control over their food supply. Moreover, access to this right would also allow them, through information and awareness-raising, to take their place in democratic structures such as the GLADs, and would serve as a lever to act on the food supply in the same time frame. In this context, the role of food aid operators could evolve with a view to supporting this Transition and could go as far as playing a role in sustainable food systems: for example, the network of social and solidarity grocery stores could join “ordinary” distributors.

Territorial Food Projects could play an important role in the Transition by serving the SSA, particularly in the preparation/development of the GLADs. The French Law on the Future of Agriculture, Food and Forestry of 13 October 2014 institutes the creation in article 39 of these Territorial Food Projects, whose objective is to localize agriculture and food in regions by supporting the installation of farmers, short supply chains and local products in canteens. The framework is one of encouraging cooperation between the various actors in the local food system. This institutional arrangement has multiplied rapidly since its creation. However, the social dimension, although present in its conception, is not very effective in practice. Moreover, when it exists, the actions are always based on a specific approach for families with low budgets and rarely on a Transition approach that would create a common right for these families.

However, the framework of the Territorial Food Projects[87] and the experience acquired over the last six years would be precious assets for the creation of the democratic (economic and social) process of the SSA for the two components, i.e. the Preventive and Curative components, as much in the preparation of the approval of actors and products from localized sustainable food systems, as in the reflection on the necessary hybridizations that will necessary between long and short supply chains circuits, processed products and fresh products, etc.[88]

In parallel with the main action on economic accessibility, the Preventive component will also act on physical accessibility and promoting the empowerment of individuals and groups (Figure 2). The deployment of educational schemes aimed at sharing knowledge and collective learning contributes to the empowerment of individuals and groups, including the empowerment of professionals in the social action sector. The feedback from these collective learning spaces is also useful for improving food supply and demand in terms of both production and democratic decisions. Educational tools such as the Opticourses® kits are already available (see Box 4). There is also the ici.C.local® collective brand designed to trace the origin of products sold in open-air markets on a participatory basis[89]. Others are in the process of being finalized, such as the Démocralim© game[90], the objective of which is to understand the food system and to find cooperative solutions, based on scenarios such as a “zero food aid region”. All these support tools were designed on the basis of needs expressed through action or intervention research.

The Preventive component would contribute to the environmental transition, by implementing simpler logistics and a circular economy (including waste management and recycling) across the entire food system, concerning all participants, whatever their budget. The educational aspect also contributes to the environmental transition by encouraging the evolution of diets towards more sustainable ones.

​​​​​​​ Organization of the Preventive component

The organization of the Preventive component would be based first and foremost on the GLADs (Local Sustainable Food Groups). These GLADs, like social security offices, would be implemented at the scale of local living areas. They would thus adapt to different regions, environments and food landscapes (including physical accessibility) and support, on an approval basis, products and professionals in a sustainable food systems perspective. As part of the SSA, thought will have to be given to the criteria for the approval process to be organized in a democratic fashion and the creation of a system that guarantees the application of these criteria in an equal way across all regions while taking into account local characteristics.

We have several suggestions:

– This Transition towards universal, equal and inclusive access could be based on the existing public mechanisms such as the Territorial Food Projects mentioned above, but also on less obvious mechanisms such as the MINs (National Interest Markets) in the mission to regulate and distribute the food supply.

– More generally, the food and nutrition policy plans (National Food Programme and National Health Nutrition Programme) would be stakeholders in the SSA.

– Collective catering has a significant role (highlighted by the CNA opinion 89) which could be expanded to support a universal food access policy. Today, these catering services provide a maximum of 4 to 5 meals per week for school children and employees who have access to a company restaurant. It could be expanded by making it available to the general public, for lunch and dinner. The skills and material resources are already present on a national scale; it would be enough to make them available to populations living within their perimeters. This could contribute to strengthening a lever for transformation of food systems.

In conclusion, the aim is to move from the current food aid system, which provides a partial solution for the most vulnerable and does reach everyone, [91] to a universal system for preventing food insecurity. For this universal system, the proposal of a Social Security for Food (SSA) including curative and preventive components appears to be a way to respond to the guiding principles we have identified to ensure sustainable food security on a regional scale, and possibly on a European scale, on a sustainable basis. However, many aspects of this SSA, in particular the economic aspect, remain to be finalized to constitute a complete proposal.

Public research on a multidisciplinary basis can contribute to the development of a structured approach to the analysis and co-construction of the two components (curative and preventive) of a Social Security for Food, the evaluation of the impact and its monitoring.

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6. List of boxes, tables and figures


Box 1: Health crisis and food insecurity in France (summary of the findings of Opinion No. 89 of the CNA (National Food Council))

Box 2: The anti-waste law of 10 February 2020 for a circular economy

Box 3: Proposed criteria for a scheme conducive to sustainable food security

Box 4: Opticourses, a food and budget-based health promotion programme

Box 5: As part of the feedback from the first lockdown, the CNA called for the establishment of a right to sustainable diet


Table 1. Distribution of food, by origin, in 2018, for the four incumbent operators in the food aid sector (data calculated from information in the IGAS report, Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019).

Table 2. Reasons for non-compliance in the implementation of FEAD budgets (adapted from the IGAS report, Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019)

Table 3. Classification of schemes according to their main action target (acts on what?) and eligibility criteria (intended for whom?)

Table 4. General and food-targeted intervention schemes: implementation criteria and effects


Figure 1. Food aid and public policies to combat food insecurity in France and Europe

Figure 2. Guiding principles for a scheme and policy context conducive to sustainable food security (and definitions)

Figure 3. Schematic representation of the Social Security of Food

Figure 4. Social Security for Food in terms of public health

7. Annexes

7.1. Annex 1. The Uniterres programme: food insecurity among users of social grocery shops compared to insecurity in farmers

A few social experiments have taken place where the objective was both to supply food aid schemes with local fruit and vegetables and to support local production (supply of the Restos du Cœur in l’Hérault since 2011). Unlike some food aid schemes[92], the aim is to support existing production and even to take into account the insecure situation of some farmers.

This approach was at the heart of the Uniterres programme, the objective of which was to distribute products to the ANDES network of social grocery stores from market gardens produced by farmers in difficulty, for reasons such as they were starting up, converting to organic farming, or because of the fragility of the farm’s economic model. The insecurity of these farmers[93] was thus compared to that of the recipients of the food aid distributed in the grocery stores and that of the volunteers who were also economically insecure. When we analysed what was happening to the farmers mobilized by Uniterres, we assumed that this was a care-based scheme: care for the farmers and care for the grocery store users. The elements analysed gave an idea of the views of the farmers, but not the users.

Farmers’ concern and support for the needs of food aid users

The hypothesis that farmers’ investment in the Uniterres programme is based on a relationship of care for the users of the solidarity grocery stores implies clarifying the way in which they consider the food needs of these actors, this consideration being, as Tronto (2009) points out, one of “the most difficult elements to establish in practice”, and recognizes the need to respond to these needs in the context of their work and the exercise of their profession.

Three types of solidarity were identified as forms of engagement in the farmers and an overall resilience index was created.

The first form of solidarity, which we call distant solidarity, is not characterized by a concern for the needs of the users of the solidarity grocery stores. Commitment to the programme is based on consideration of the needs of other actors who are themselves involved in the programme. Farmers are not involved in the programme out of moral concern for the needs of the beneficiaries, although they recognize the need to address these in more general terms. It is about supporting other actors who are part of their work relations system. It is a question of supporting a peer in their professionalism and demonstrating the professional approach with which links have been built beforehand.

In addition, the results of the study show that the participation of other farmers in the Uniterres programme is based on a concern and care for the needs of disadvantaged people who use food aid. They show concern for the problem of access to good quality food for disadvantaged people, and recognition of a response to this problem through a transformation of work in agriculture.

The second form is what we have termed reciprocal solidarity: the farmers note the unmet food needs of disadvantaged people. The problem of access to good quality food is addressed by farmers on the basis of professional and personal concerns related to this problem in the exercising of their profession. Firstly, the farmers, whose agricultural activities come into the category of professional organic farming, attest to the existence of inequalities in access to the consumption of their produce, which they consider necessary, even essential, for human health. The configuration of their marketing networks contributes to the creation of these inequalities. The short supply chains they develop and favour, such as open-air markets or associations for the maintenance of local farming (AMAP), limit access to the consumption of the food they produce to people in the affluent middle classes. The choice of this type of configuration is described as necessary. The economic and social dependence on these social categories of consumers is a means of reducing the fragility of their agricultural activities, and thus of meeting their professional and personal needs through work. However, the sale prices of their production result in the exclusion of disadvantaged people from these channels. Their discourses and debates about increasing the consumption of organically produced food among the general population reveal that addressing the needs of disadvantaged people – including food aid users – can be achieved through a redefinition of organic agriculture, including a reconfiguration of their networks of relationships with consumers. It is about opening up these networks to those in need, who face hunger and food dissatisfaction due to poverty and insecurity. Investing in the Uniterres programme makes it possible to carry out this inflection in organic agriculture, and to build a new relationship between agriculture and food aid based on care.

Secondly, the expression of a feeling of shared vulnerability on the part of farmers towards food aid users reveals an awareness of the existence of food needs in disadvantaged people. From their point of view, these needs exist and need to be addressed. The socio-professional trajectories of farmers – in the case of reciprocal solidarity, these are trajectories of professional conversion to and qualification in organic farming – are characterized by a weakening of their ability to provide for their own personal needs through work. Like food aid users, the increased vulnerability of farmers, whether past or present, is characterized by the emergence of the problem of food insecurity. However, as farmers point out, their profession allows them to have food resources through the consumption of their production and forms of exchange with their peers. Food insecurity is less about deprivation and absence than about reduced food choices. Farmers experience vulnerability through the impairment of their ability to meet their personal needs, which contributes to their awareness and care for the needs of the users of solidarity grocery stores. Involvement in the Uniterres programme is a concrete way of responding to this.

However, in the third form that we have termed close solidarity in this programme, concern and the care for the needs of the users of the solidarity grocery stores are rooted in an experience of the most prevalent insecurity, linked to the phenomenon of social exclusion that characterizes their socio-professional trajectories, and their status as beneficiaries of the food aid provided by the ANDES (national association for the development of solidarity grocery stores).

The problem of access to food is experienced directly by farmers who rely on solidarity grocery stores. Concern for “others” and concern for “oneself” overlap because of a shared status of beneficiaries of solidarity grocery stores. Care for others is also partly care for oneself. The results of the study show the possibility of a conflict between a role as a provider of nutritional care for vulnerable people on the one hand, and as a recipient of that same care as an individual facing increased vulnerability on the other.

Farmers in the Uniterres programme: self-care and care for their needs

This study was based on a second research hypothesis, according to which the participation of farmers in the Uniterres programme is based on a self-care relationship.

The results show that not all farmers engage in the Uniterres programme to meet their own requirements. Self-care differs depending on whether or not they define themselves as “farmers in difficulty”, a central category in the definition of the Uniterres programme. The existence of needs differs according to whether or not they are, from their point of view, in a situation of increased vulnerability, i.e. a significant deterioration in their ability to provide for themselves through work. Such farmers do not engage with the scheme in the same way to meet their needs.

The results show that farmers who do not consider themselves to be farmers in difficulty become involved in the Uniterres programme in order to affirm their sense of identity. In the reciprocal solidarity model, farmers in the process of professional qualification and conversion to organic farming, for whom increased vulnerability is a thing of the past – but still remains a risk in the exercise of their profession – take advantage of the Uniterres programme to replace sales channels that do not meet the normative requirement of “local” i.e. geographical and social proximity to consumers, with the sale of part of their agricultural production to solidarity grocery stores in the Midi-Pyrénées region. It can be considered that it is less a question of needs than of expectations in terms of professional identity. The Uniterres programme is a means of putting into practice an ideology of the farming profession in which the “local” standard constitutes a professional standard. The substitution does not affect their economic resources. The prices negotiated with the Uniterres programme organizers guarantee them an economic value that is considered satisfactory. The substitution does not affect the configuration of their marketing networks either, as the priority sales channels are preserved.

In addition, other farmers who do not define themselves as farmers in difficulty participate in the Uniterres programme to meet expectations relating to their work organization. The aim is to improve their working conditions through various changes in practices. The replacement of sales channels that have constraints in terms of travel, by sales to solidarity grocery stores via the Uniterres programme can reduce farmers’ workloads. One logistical aspect of the Uniterres system that enables them to make this substitution is that Uniterres coordinators take care of the delivery and invoicing of their production. Another change of practice consists in creating new production on their farm, not only to meet demand from the programme actors – thus the needs of the solidarity grocery stores – but also to increase their economic resources. This can help to smooth their cash flow or to reduce their workload due to the coordinator taking over certain tasks.

For those farmers who define themselves as farmers in difficulty, their focus is on meeting basic needs. Participating in the Uniterres programme is a way to increase their economic resources to meet needs that relate to self-protection and/or the operation of their farm. Although the study does not allow this aspect to be clearly highlighted, it can be assumed that these additional resources are mobilized to meet basic needs, i.e. health care, food, and housing. The weakening process that occurs in the socio-professional trajectories of farmers highlights a relationship between increased vulnerability and food. This relationship is particularly marked in the case of farmers in the process of social integration through agriculture, and, for some, of professional conversion to agriculture. Moreover, these additional economic resources obtained through the support of the Uniterres programme contribute to changes in work organization – for example, investment in a plastic greenhouse for market gardening – to increase their agricultural production, and consequently their economic resources through the sale of their produce. These changes improve or restore their ability to meet their personal needs through work. In order to address and manage these needs, farmers in difficulty make changes in their practices. When farmers are able to increase their agricultural production, sales to solidarity grocery stores through the Uniterres programme are added to the other sales channels in their marketing network. When they cannot increase their production, they replace marketing channels considered to be unstable or unprofitable by sales to solidarity grocery shops. In both cases, participation in the Uniterres programme is seen as a necessary step to increase their economic resources, but on a temporary basis.

In addition, farmers in difficulty use the Uniterres programme to provide cognitive and practical support. It is a matter, particularly for farmers undergoing professional conversion, of experimenting with production practices to make them more effective. The challenge of participating in the programme is to improve their crop management skills. To do this, they take advantage of the flexibility of coordinating their production with the supply of solidarity grocery stores. This type of commitment to the Uniterres programme is part of a concern for oneself and for one’s needs. It aims to increase their ability to meet their needs through work, in particular being able to make a living from their farming activity.

7.2. Annex 2. The main actors in food aid in France




Public actors

European Union

FEAD funding (see Annex 4)

French State (DGCS, DGAL, DGS, etc.)

Public policies and Funding


Public contracts related to European funds

Local authorities (CCAS& CIAS[94], regional councils, etc.)

Local management, aid to disadvantaged groups and aid to associations

Economic actors and individuals


Agricultural donations

Businesses (agri-food, catering, supermarkets)

Donations of goods and skills

Social Entreprises dedicated to fight against food waste

Intermediation between foodstuff deposits  and associations, distribution of food aid to users


Financial donations and sponsorship

Private individuals

Financial donations, food donations during collections, volunteering

Charitable associations and integration projects

4 incumbent associations: FFBA, Restos du Cœur, Secours populaire français, Red Cross

Logistical management and redistribution of foods purchased by FranceAgrimer with European funds (FEAD)

15 accredited associations nationally, in addition to the 4 incumbent associations

Distribution of food to users (from large national associations with their networks of regional and local branches, to local associations): more than 8,000 local associations

Supplier/Wholesaler Associations

Supply of food to distributing associations:

  • FFBA, Restos du Cœur, Red Cross, Secours populaire (receive food from the FEAD)
  • ReVivre: role of wholesaler/logistics provider for associations (does not receive food from FEAD)
  • Solaal: association whose aim is to facilitate donations between the agricultural sector and national authorized food aid associations.

Two associations of social grocery stores

Networks of social grocery shops and integration projects through the collection of fruit and vegetables in wholesale markets for food aid:

– SAF-ANDES: Solidarité Alimentaire France, which brings together the grocery stores in the ANDES network (National Association for the Development of Solidarity Grocery Stores)

– UGESS: Union des Groupements des épiceries sociales et solidaires (Union of social and solidarity grocery store organizations).

Non-authorized associations

Local associations that cannot receive FEAD funds and cannot enable their donors to benefit from tax exemption for donations

7.3. Annex 3. Existing conventional and alternative food aid and support schemes

Conventional schemes

Food parcels

Distribution of raw or processed foods in the form of parcels or baskets that can be prepared by the person themselves according to pre-established composition rules or prepared in advance. Unconditional discount and no financial contribution.

Social grocery stores (with or without collective activities)

Grocery stores run by a local authority or an association providing food exclusively for people in difficulty (based on financial criteria) in exchange for a financial contribution, in a place and according to operating principles that are similar to those of a local shop. Access is generally time-limited.

Solidarity grocery stores (with or without collective activities)

Grocery stores that operate on the basis of a mixed public and dual pricing (with purchases at the standard retail price or at a higher price to allow others to benefit from social pricing). Access to the reduced prices is means-tested, and usually time-limited.

Cooking workshops

Workshop on food preparation (recipes, processing, etc.) and balanced nutrition, usually followed by a shared meal.

Mobile kitchen

A kitchen on wheels that can be transported in a utility vehicle, allowing cooking workshops to be held in facilities that do not have an approved kitchen (e.g. mobile kitchen for Food Banks).

Meal distribution

Distribution of ready-to-eat food, served in fixed or mobile facilities (travelling vans). Unconditional discount and no financial contribution.

Social restaurants

Restaurant accessible on financial criteria, with financial participation.

Social and solidarity restaurants

Restaurant open to all, with dual pricing. Access to the “solidarity rate” is means-tested (criteria checked beforehand by the 115, an anti-poverty association, etc.).

Personal support coupons or food service vouchers, food stamps

Coupons, tickets or food vouchers allocated on the basis of financial criteria and allowing the purchase of food products in partner shops.

Cash assistance

Emergency financial assistance.

Alternative schemes

Solidarity baskets

Food baskets (usually organic) provided in direct partnership with local producers, at a reduced rate for food-insecure people (referred to this scheme by social structures).

Purchasing groups in social priority districts

Group purchases of organic (or not) food products (among other products) through short-supply chains in social priority districts. Orders on a monthly basis. Delivery and repackaging of products organized in each neighbourhood (usually in a community centre) by and for the inhabitants, e.g. VRAC.

Cooperative supermarket

Non-profit supermarket, accessible to cooperative members and self-managed, i.e. members participate in financing, management and all tasks necessary for its operation.

Open-air market in social priority districts

Open-air market provided mainly by resellers located in municipalities’ QPVs (social priority districts).

Community kitchen

A place that provides the necessary equipment for cooking.

Themed workshops

Workshops to raise awareness, provide information and discussion, to move towards sustainable diet, e.g. nutrition workshops, Opticourses workshops (balanced diet on a small budget), Démocralim (understanding the food system), workshops on food waste, etc.

Community gardens in QPVs

A garden with individual and/or community plots cultivated by gardeners and managed with the support of the municipality and/or a neighbourhood association.

Kitchen truck

Mobile truck offering cooking workshops.

Mobile social grocery store

Mobile social grocery store that serves isolated people, particularly in rural areas.

Food-related third-places

Third Places[95] are community spaces that are neither home nor work, that combine manufacturing, services and exchange networks, in a friendly and accessible setting, encouraging social cohesion. Some of the food-related third places focus on caring for vulnerable groups.

Supermarket shopping lists

Low-cost, balanced weekly shopping lists proposed by supermarkets (e.g. Leclerc’s proposal of €21 shopping lists for 21 meals).

Malin Program

The Malin (smart) programme[96] is a mixed system (outreach, support, financial accessibility, physical accessibility) for children aged 6 to 24 months in food-insecure families and their parents. It is in the process of being rolled out nationwide.

School meals with social pricing

Means-tested pricing for school meals is not new. What is new is the attempt to introduce uniformity to these schemes, and to make them more widespread (see Annex 8).

7.4. Annex 4. European funding for food aid: PEAD (1987–2014), FEAD (2014–2020) and ESF+ (since 2021)

The European Council created the European Programme for Aid to the Most Deprived (PEAD) in 1987. The PEAD was based on a mechanism for bartering certain commodities (meat, milk, sugar, rice, etc.) to to absorb the agricultural surpluses of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (intervention stocks). As the CAP reform progressed, European agriculture generated less surpluses and it became increasingly necessary to compensate with budgets earmarked for the purchase of food for the most deprived. The budget of €100 million in 1987 reached €500 million in 2010, i.e. 0.9% of the CAP budget.

In 2011, a European Court of Justice decision (Paturel, 2019) recognized the PEAD as a social action and transferred it to the European Social Fund. The European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) thus took over from the PEAD in 2014.

The FEAD[97] took on the objectives of the PEAD and added basic material assistance to the most deprived (clothing, shoes, hygiene products, etc.).

This material assistance had to be accompanied by non-material assistance and social integration measures, including counselling and support services to help people escape poverty and integrate into society.

For the period 2014–2020, the FEAD was allocated a budget of €3.8 billion. To benefit from these funds, EU countries commit, among other things, to :

  • supplementing the FEAD amounts by (at least) 15%.
  • reporting very accurately on how these budgets are spent.
  • ensuring that food (and other products) purchased by the FEAD are never sold to food aid users.
  • ensuring the traceability of food flows from the FEAD.

In France, all EU funds are allocated to buying food. France initiated a national and regional authorization procedure. To simplify the procedures for controlling the proper use of public funds, the four incumbent associations (Restaurants du Cœur, the French Red Cross, Secours Populaire Français and the French Federation of Food Banks) were authorized at national level to receive public contributions from European funding. In addition, nine new associations were accredited nationally in 2014 and there were 19 in 2021 (including the four incumbent associations).

However, under the FEAD, the distribution of products (food, hygiene products, clothing, etc.) must be free of charge. The 729 social and solidarity grocery stores existing in 2014, whose objective was to sell at low cost, were therefore excluded from this funding. France allocated a budget to continue subsidizing them: the Crédit National Epiceries Sociales (CNES) (National Fund for Social Grocery Stores). The state also retained the principle of funding its decentralized services for associations fighting poverty and social exclusion that were not directly concerned by food aid funding: for example, the Centres d’Hébergement et Réinsertion Sociale (Accommodation and Social Integration Centres). The budget in 2014 was €15.5 million, divided equally between these two types of intervention.

In each annual FEAD campaign, the funds were distributed among these four associations. They then decided, according to their needs, how to allocate them among the thirty or so commodities that can be purchased via FranceAgriMer (the French public body responsible for awarding public contracts for “FEAD-approved” products ). These associations then distribute the food via their own networks or other (local and authorized) associations. Access to this food aid is allocated by social workers employed by the Departmental Councils, CCASs and CIASs and authorized associations (e.g. Médecins du Monde social workers).

In 2021, the FEAD was integrated into the European Social Fund + (ESF+). At the beginning of 2020, the charitable associations, concerned for the stability of their resources, feared a possible decrease in the amounts allocated, or even that they would be discontinued or transferred to other forms of action. The Covid crisis and its current and especially future impacts on food insecurity led to the choice of maintaining a specific programme within the ESF+ dedicated to food aid and support for the most deprived, under objective 11, “addressing material deprivation through food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived, and providing accompanying measures”.

Ultimately, the amounts allocated have risen significantly. With an allocation of 869 million euros over the period 2021–2027, France’s funding has increased by around 50%[98]. It was decided to replicate the organization and management of these funds[99].

7.5. Annex 5. Women residents and social workers’ views on food insecurity in their neighbourhood

Many ideas are currently being discussed to improve access to sustainable diet for all, but the debates often do not involve enough of the people concerned and do not take territorial realities into account. The objective of the Sécalim project was to give these people a voice: the issue of the fight against food insecurity was the subject of collective reflection within discussion groups organized in February and March 2021 in two municipalities in the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis[100]. The women participants[101] discussed the issue of access to food in their neighbourhood and the means, existing or to be created, to fight against food insecurity. We felt it was important to report on the serious situations of food insecurity and indignity highlighted in these focus groups.

In Marseille, the meetings were held in the neighbourhood called “Frais-Vallon”. One group was made up of professionals from the social sector and two groups were formed of local women residents. Frais-Vallon is a social priority district in the north-east of Marseille with  the size of a small town with 6,000 inhabitants. It is one of the poorest areas of the city, with more than half of the inhabitants living below the poverty line. The health crisis has impacted daily life for more than a year, however, both the residents and the social workers spontaneously went back more than ten years to explain the deterioration in access to food in their neighbourhood. There used to be a discount store in the base of one of the residential buildings, but it closed in 2008 and the premises have remained vacant since. It is this lack of a local shop offering a diversified range of food (and hygiene) products – at prices considered affordable for the majority of inhabitants – that was spontaneously cited on several occasions as a major problem in terms of access to food in Frais-Vallon. The lack of food shops primarily affects the elderly, single mothers with children, and those without personal means of transport.

This is reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon “food dessert” concept (Walker et al., 2010), but this term should not obscure the fact that access to food is not the only service lacking in poor neighbourhoods. In a recent report on the attractiveness of social priority neighbourhoods (Cour des Comptes, 2020), the Cour des Comptes mentions a “devitalization” of the economic and commercial fabric of these neighbourhoods, which has been very marked in recent years. The high concentration of poor households and the lack of “marketability factors” expected by operators (visibility from main roads, pedestrian and car accessibility, openness to public spaces, etc.) discourage investors. The report explicitly states: “While the development of supermarkets potentially meets the expectations of local residents, the low purchasing power of the area and the persistence of acute security issues make them unprofitable for large retailers”.

In answer to the question “what is accessible in terms of food in Frais-Vallon?”, residents describe the existence of food distribution in the street, on the ground or from the “back of a lorry”. Some of these distributions are food aid, others are not (resale of products bought in supermarkets at the base of residential buildings, for example), but in all cases, what is striking and what is unanimously denounced in the discussion groups is the lack of premises suited to these activities, and the indignity of these practices: “And then it’s not decent. Items are dumped on the ground. They stick to the tar. It looks like it’s for animals. It’s not for humans. And that is degrading. When I see this, it makes me want to cry.” (Resident).

The social workers underline the lack of transparency in these practices (“That’s the problem, it’s far too opaque to say exactly what it is going on”). Some of these street vendors go through the classic route of purchases from the Marché d’Intérêt National, but others sell products that are donated to them (by distributors such as Casino or Carrefour or “large companies”) because of their approval with a food aid association. These products are often end-of-life or out-of-date, and not much cheaper than the entry-level products in the supermarket.

In the street, there are also free distributions. But the residents describe practices that are at worst opaque, and at best disorganized. Information is sometimes posted, but more often it works by word of mouth. A resident reports: “They even give to those who are not from the neighbourhood. You could see everyone collecting the parcels. We asked what it was. There was no reply. Afterwards, a young man said to us: “But why don’t you go too?” So he took our phone number and called someone.” Several others confirm this lack of transparency: “We don’t get told anything.” “We never know what’s going on.” Many denounce a form of favouritism: “I can tell you, they’ve got their people. It’s always the same ones because they have their phone numbers, 10 or 15 women. It’s always the same faces. And it’s first come, first served.” Another person interjects: “Not, it’s not the first to come! It’s the first they know.” Another adds: "We’re sick of it. They don’t help the right people.”

The criticism of the conditions in which these distributions take place is unmistakable: it is disorganized (“The first to arrive, they choose, that’s how it works”. “We wait from 9am until 1pm and we get nothing. The system is no good.” resident), it is not fair (“Some people take 10 packs of milk, and then there’s none left”, resident), there is no privacy (“There are twenty people waiting, all clumped together, waiting for the truck, we need a proper space”, resident), and dignity is not respected (“Children go by and they see their parents queuing up to collect stuff”, social worker). Hygiene (“People are jammed together next to the rubbish bins…” resident) and safety (“Sometimes we have no choice, even if it’s out of date, we’re glad to have it”, resident) are not guaranteed. These practices have intensified as a result of the health crisis, particularly as a result of the first lockdown in March-April 2020, but they have existed for a long time, and seem to have developed “in response” to the closure of the discount food shop in 2008.

The social workers express a lot of frustration at not being able to respond to the inhabitants’ problems. They are caught in an uncomfortable dilemma: should they denounce these dubious practices at the risk of aggravating the problems of the families who use them (“But at the same time, it provides a real service”. “We don’t have an alternative”. “My question is what could be organized so that the inhabitants can buy with dignity, and at low prices, that’s the question, but I don’t get any answers!”).

One social worker summed up the situation with regard to what she qualified as “wild sales” (i.e., unauthorized resale), as follows: “In fact, it has become a trade, a business, and someone who needs a small food parcel for 3 euros… well, that no longer exists in this neighbourhood” (social worker). An association that has recently moved into the premises of the community centre (a municipal facility) distributes parcels to its members, but membership (which also gives access to other services) is not free. “The problem is there are people who cannot pay, for example the membership is 33 euros, to go and get a parcel once a month. Let them ask for memberships for the remainder.” (resident). Another association gives parcels from time to time, but it is one-off, random aid. “It depends on what they have. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes nothing. You can’t count on it, ” (resident).

As far as traditional food aid is concerned, the director of the social centre where the Sécalim discussion groups took place in Martigues sums up the problem in one word: “mismatch”. There is a time mismatch, as the help often arrives too late in relation to people’s needs, and there is a content mismatch, as what is given does not always meet people’s needs and/or situations. Packages may not be suitable for the size of the household, or may contain products that are not part of people’s dietary repertoire, or that they are not able to store or prepare. She also cites the case of “schemes that do not match their target groups”, particularly for certain innovative initiatives: for example, an AMAP (Association for the maintenance of local farming) was set up in front of the social centre in Martigues, but it did not last. In Frais-Vallon, a social worker confirms: “There are a great many forms to be filled out to benefit from food aid, it has really been designed for people who are already in aid systems. Migrants and Roma are excluded from these systems”. Students and day labourers are also less likely to receive food parcels.

These mismatches and this inappropriateness are one of the reasons for non-recourse to food aid. Some people who need it are not entitled to it because of restrictive administrative criteria (“Les Restos du Cœur is well organized, but you just have to be entitled to it, and that’s complicated”, resident). The impression that aid does not concern you, the lack of information, the difficulties of access (distance, limited opening hours and periods, etc.) also explain non-recourse (AREAS, 2016). However, another obstacle, explicitly mentioned by several women in the focus groups, is simply shame: “I’m not the only one. They have much less than I do. That’s why I leave it. I’m ashamed to use things like that.” “In any case, people who don’t have means, they don’t go anywhere. They are ashamed. That’s how I see it. They are ashamed.”

In fact, the many reasons for non-recourse to food aid and the unsuitability of this aid to the diverse needs and situations of food-insecure people have been known for a long time and have been the subject of detailed analyses and recommendations, notably in 2014 in the context of a study financed by the ministerial programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Agri-Food and Forestry (MAAF) and by FranceAgriMer (Badia et al., 2014). But it has to be said that these recommendations were not followed up in France’s regions, as shown by the case – perhaps emblematic, but certainly not isolated – of Frais-Vallon.

Faced with a system that undermines people’s dignity and autonomy, professionals have expressed their revolt: “Today we are in a state of extreme culpability: OK, you get Earned Income Support (Revenu de Solidarité active, in French), so you have to show that you deserve it… but we’re talking about fairness!” One concludes that this problem should be approached in a radically different way, from a rights perspective: “Even the word ‘aid’… ‘we will aid you’… no, the aim is to restore rights to people who are in great difficulty, due to multiple factors!”.

7.6. Annex 6. The notion of empowerment

Based on the work of Baqué and Biewener (2013), we proposed a definition of empowerment as the process by which an individual or group acquires the means to strengthen their powers to be, to decide, to act, and thus, to emancipate themselves. This definition follows a historical vision and critique of the way different actors and sectors appropriate this notion.

Historically, the notion of empowerment appeared in the middle of the 19th century and meant both the description of power relationships and actions to access power. Power is central to the notion of empowerment, and “is accompanied by a socio-political process that articulates an individual dynamic of self-esteem and development of skills with a collective commitment and transformative social action” (Bacqué and Biewener, p. 144).

The appropriation of this notion in a multiplicity of fields, in North America, Latin America, South-East Asia, South Africa and Europe (including France), have blurred its boundaries. However, the foundation of empowerment is power and the process of achieving it. This notion thus has a proven historical trajectory, particularly in social struggles (civil rights in the United States, national and transnational feminist movements, the landless workers movement in Brazil, etc.). This updating of the concept from the 1970s onwards places it in a “chain of equivalence” depending on the actors appropriating it, i.e. social action, public policy and international development. The assimilation of the notion of empowerment by public policy and international development injects a managerial approach that formalizes the process, which thus becomes a series of procedures for achieving empowerment. These procedures allow institutions and public policies to define intervention methodologies: for example, user participation is required as a way to assess the relevance and impact of social programmes. Participation and the participatory approach are thus quantified in order to summarize empowerment, but at the same time weaken its content. Empowerment is then seamlessly invoked by the institutional actors of public policies, preventing conflictual relations linked to social relationships such as that of volunteers distributing food aid to its users. In the name of power to act, it is rather a question of the “power to do” for the populations and certainly not of “power over” a chosen access to food and its reconnection with the conditions of its production. Moreover, when this “power over” is highlighted by associations or semi-public structures, it is a matter for the recipients of accepting the intermediaries and delegation is imposed on them. While all so-called empowerment approaches recognize individual (or personal) reappropriation, it is never about political power encompassing economic power, i.e. making collective decisions about the conditions for satisfying basic needs (eating, housing, health care, transport, etc.).

7.7. Annex 7. School meals: a social justice issue?

Based on the bibliographic introduction to the PhD thesis manuscript of Ms Romane Poinsot. “The role of vegetarian food in school catering as a means to reconcile nutrition and the environment: the French case”. Thesis under the supervision of Nicole Darmon, presented by Romane Poinsot on 30 September 2021. UMR MOISA, GAIA Doctoral School, University of Montpellier.

In France, since 27 January 2017, access to school canteens must be ensured for all children, according to article L. 131–13 of the Education Code, which states that “Enrolment in the primary school canteen, where this service exists, is a right for all children attending school. There can be no discrimination on the basis of their situation or that of their family”. (French Republic, 2017). The problem is that 40% of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not eat at the canteen, compared with 22% of children from privileged backgrounds and 17% of the very privileged (CNESCO, 2017). It should be noted, however, that non-use of the canteen is not only due to financial reasons. According to a study on food consumption and nutritional intakes in collective catering in France based on data from the INCA3 study, only 8.7% of children who did not eat lunch in canteens (in nursery and primary schools) did not do so because their parents considered the price to be too high (ANSES, 2021). The most common reasons for non-attendance were the presence of a parent at home, the distance from the school, the availability of grandparents, etc. (but the study does not specify how these answers are distributed according to the socio-economic status of the children).

Social pricing of school meals, which allows children to benefit from meals at a cost that depends on their parents’ income, is a valuable tool to fight health inequalities (even if, as indicated above, budgetary constraints are not the only reason for not eating at school canteens). Indeed, if social pricing were generalized with homogeneous implementation procedures across all regions, it could meet the principle of proportionate universalism (cf note 12, p.13). A study by the Association of Mayors of France (AMF) revealed that three quarters of municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants still did not have social pricing in 2020 (AMF, 2020). Since April 2019, a new policy has been initiated by the state to encourage the implementation by communes of social pricing measures for canteens: for each meal charged €1 (or less) to families of children in kindergarten and elementary school, the state pays a subsidy of €2 to communes eligible for the péréquation (“balancing adjustment”) element of the rural solidarity grant that request it (Délégation interministérielle à la prévention et à la lutte contre la pauvreté (Interministerial delegation for the prevention and fight against poverty), 2021a). The school catering price scale must have at least three levels, one of which is less than €1 and one of which is more than €1, and this social pricing should be set for a fixed or unlimited duration on the basis of a formal decision. In January 2021, the subsidy was increased from €2 to €3 per meal. The €1 meals are part of the prevention strategy in the fight against poverty. By May 2021, one in five communes had introduced social pricing for canteens and 1.4 million meals at €1 or less were served to 18,000 pupils in 241 communes (Délégation interministérielle à la prévention et à la lutte contre la pauvreté, 2021b). It should be noted that the roll-out was delayed by the health crisis and that this initiative has encountered some obstacles in small communes where management can be difficult and families do not always wish to communicate their income.

8. List of acronyms

AFSSA: Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments (French Food Safety Agency)

ANSES: Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety)

BSN: Baromètre santé nutrition (Nutrition Health Barometer)

CCAS/CIAS: Centre communal/intercommunal d’action sociale (Municipal/Intermunicipal Social Action Centre)

CNA: Conseil national de l’alimentation (National Food Council)

CNES: Crédit national des épiceries sociales (National Fund for Social Grocery Stores)

CSG: Contribution sociale généralisée (Generalized Social Contribution)

CRDS: Contribution au remboursement de la dette sociale (Contribution to reimbursement of social debt)

COCOLUPA: Comité national de coordination de la lutte contre la précarité alimentaire (National Coordination Committee for the Fight against Food Insecurity)

DGAL: Direction générale de l’alimentation (General Directorate for Food)

DGCS: Direction générale de la cohésion sociale (General Directorate for Social Cohesion)

DGS: Direction Générale de la Santé (General Directorate for Health)

DREES: Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (Department for research, studies and evaluation of statistics)

DRIHL: Direction Régionale et Interdépartementale de l’Hébergement et du Logement (Regional and Interdepartmental Directorate of Accommodation and Housing)

FEAD: and EAPN Fonds européen d’aide aux plus démunis (Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived)

FES+: Fonds européen de solidarité + (European Solidarity Fund+)

FFBA: Fédération française des banques alimentaires (French Federation of Food Banks)

GLAD: and IGAS, INSEE, Groupements locaux d’alimentation durable (Local sustainable food groups)

IGAS: Inspection générale des affaires sociales (General Inspection Office for Social Affairs)

INSEE: Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies)

MIN: Marché d’intérêt national (French wholesale market of national interest)

PAT: Projet alimentaire territorial (Territorial Food Project)

PEAD: Plan européen d’aide aux plus démunis (European Programme for Aid to the Most Deprived)

PNNS: Programme national nutrition santé (National Nutrition and Health Programme)

SSA: Sécurité sociale de l’alimentation (Social Security for Food)

UNCCAS: Union Nationale des Centres Communaux et intercommunaux d’Action Sociale (National Union for Municipal and Intermunicipal Social Action Centres)

[1]The monetary poverty line, set at 60% of the median standard of living, is equal to an income after tax of 1,063 euros per month for a single person, 1,594 euros for a couple without children and 2,231 euros for a couple with two children under the age of 14 (Insee, 2021).


[3] CNA Opinion No. 89 (2021) states that “the French government released 39 million euros for food aid in April 2020, then 55 million euros in July 2020 for the purchase of food for associations and the financing of service vouchers (food stamps) enabling homeless people or households made vulnerable by the health crisis to buy basic necessities.”


[5] Production (increased losses and waste, decrease in producers’ income); distribution (with repercussions on the availability and price of products); catering (closure of restaurants and collective and school catering facilities) and consumption (decrease in the number of people going to large supermarkets, increase in short supply chains and online purchases).

[6]This is one of many definitions of food security, as given by the Committee on World Food Security (2012).

[7] To our knowledge, there is no more recent published data on the prevalence of adult obesity by income in France.

[8] Proportionate universalism: “To reduce the slope of the social gradient in health, actions must be universal, but with a scope and intensity proportional to the level of social disadvantage. This is called proportionate universalism. A greater intensity of action is likely to be needed for those with greater social and economic disadvantages, but focusing only on the most disadvantaged will not reduce the health gradient and will only address a small part of the problem.”

[9]US Household Food Security Survey Module six-item short form, HFSSM, developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) The six items translated from the short version of the HFSSM, included in the food insecurity questionnaire used in the INCA3 survey (face to face), were the following:

Please tell me if each of the following statements has often, sometimes, or never concerned you/your household during the last 12 months: 1) The food I bought didn’t last long enough and I didn’t have enough money to buy more; 2) I couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals; 3) Have you ever cut back on meals or skipped meals because you didn’t have enough money for food? ; 4) (if yes) How often did this happen – almost every month, some months but not every month, or in only 1 or 2 months? ; 5) In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you thought you needed to eat because there was not enough money for food? ; 6) In the last 12 months, have you ever been hungry but not eaten because there was not enough money for food?

[10]Secours Populaire Français & IPSOS, (2019) with a sample of 1000 people, representative of the French population aged 16 and over

[11]There are two samples in the INCA3 study (Anses, 2017) : one for children and one for adults. In the children’s sample, 2.3% of households reported having had access, in the previous month, to free food aid (meals or distribution of food boxes) and/or 2.4% to food purchase aid (social or solidarity grocery stores or distribution of food vouchers). In the adult sample, the figures were 2.4% for free aid and 1.9% for food purchase aid. Given that 1% of adults had used (personally or a member of the household) both types of aid at the same time, this thus suggests that 2.4+1.9 –1= 3.3% of people belonged to a household that had used some form of food aid during the month preceding the survey. Furthermore, a Drees survey indicates that in 2018 only 5% of recipients of RSA (Earned Income Supplement) had recourse, during the month preceding the survey, to food donations from food aid associations (

[12]Food aid monitoring system by INSEE and the DREES, in collaboration with the charitable sector and the Union Nationale des Centres Communaux et intercommunaux d’Action Sociale (National Union of Municipal and Inter-Municipal Social Action Centres) (UNCCAS)

[13] Action 15 of the PNNS 4 (2019–2023) (“Improving access to healthy food for people in food insecurity”) plans to achieve this objective by building on food aid and other targeted schemes supported by the national strategy to prevent and combat food insecurity, such as the Malin programme, free breakfasts and one euro meals in certain schools ( _lancement_du_plan_d_actions_de_transformation_de_aide_alimentaire_et_de_lutte_contre_la_precarite_alimentaire___08_juillet_2021.pdf ).

[14] The Banque Alimentaire de Paris et Ile de France (BAPIF) brings together five associations (the Salvation Army, Emmaus, Secours Catholique, the Centre d’Action Sociale Protestant and Entraide d’Auteuil).

[15] Agrifood sector is defined as :  all “participants involved in the production, processing and marketing of an agricultural product. It includes suppliers to agriculture, farmers, storage contractors, processors, wholesalers and retailers who enable the raw product to move from production to consumption. Finally, it concerns all the ‘institutions’, such as government institutions, markets, and trade associations that affect and coordinate the successive levels through which products pass”Golberg (1968) cited by Bencharif and Rastoin (2007).


[17]Capped tax exemption.


[19]Waste in France is estimated at 10 million tonnes of products per year, of which production accounts for 32%, processing 21%, distribution 14% and consumption 33% (ADEME, 2016).

[20] Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived: European funding for food aid. The history and functioning of the FEAD fund is explained in Annex 4


[22] Interministerial strategy for the prevention and fight against child poverty, various projects related to the National Food Programme and PNNS, credits for meals for people staying in certain accommodations centres, etc.

[23] Communal and Intercommunal Social Action Centers

[24] National Fund for Solidarity Grocery Stores

[25] The emergence of entrepreneurial initiatives to combat waste, such as Too Good To Go, Phenix and Optimiam; the introduction of promotional bins and fridges in shops; consumer education on the concepts of best-before dates and use-by dates; etc.

[26]This reference parcel (sometimes known as the “food aid pie-chart”) was specially created at the charitable associations’ request. Compliance with these recommendations makes it possible to cover all nutritional requirements (Darmon, 2008).

[27]The FEAD introduced strict controls on the free distribution of food purchased with this fund, reminding member states that they must provide evidence of free distribution. This obligation, which already existed in the PEAD, was reinforced with the FEAD and excluded, in particular, social grocery stores: hence the need for France to finance them through the CNES (The National Credit for Social Groceries).

[28]The Revivre association (which has the capacity to buy some of the food it distributes) has set up bins in emergency accommodation hotels for the recovery of unused products so that other users in the hotel can benefit from them or so that they can be recovered by the association, which makes it possible not only to limit waste but also to align the association’s future purchases with users’ preferences.

[29] Pushed flows is a supply chain term that designate the situation where flows of goods are note linked to the upstream demand (customer) and are generated by anticipation leading to high inventory levels and little agility

[30]As part of the food aid monitoring system recently set up by INSEE and the DREES, in collaboration with the voluntary sector and the Union Nationale des Centres Communaux et intercommunaux d’Action Sociale (UNCCAS) (National Union of Municipal and Inter-Municipal Social Action Centres), cf DREES (2021).

[31]Sums which will not be reimbursed by the EU to FranceAgriMer and will therefore remain France’ responsibility.

[32]Recalculated from data in the IGAS report (Le Morvan and Wanecq, 2019).

[33]This study was initiated during a project by Agroparistech students commissioned by the ReVivre association. Initial results, in the case of milk, showed that the logistical costs borne by the associations largely compensate for, or even exceed, the difference between the cost of foods from the FEAD and supermarket prices.

[34]This paragraph is part of a collective note for European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) France by M. Ramel and D. Paturel, in response to a request from the FAO, which regularly asks civil societies about the progress of the right to food in their countries.

[35]The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral international treaty adopted in December 1966 by the UN. The signatory states undertake to act to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant are fulfilled in their countries: the right to food is one of these. France became a signatory in 2012.

[36]They receive aid on regimented basis, following an application to public or semi-public institutions: either they accept the whole procedure or they refuse and do not access the food aid. Viewing this procedure as a donation, which provides no choice in access to food, is a utilitarian conception. Moreover, we must not lose sight of the fact that these donations are in fact part of a food aid sector based on a high-production oriented system: these donations are therefore an integral part of market exchanges.

[37]A more detailed investigation would be required for a better understanding of these somewhat opaque food access practices in the informal economy.

[38]The EGAlim law provides for a set of measures concerning public and private collective catering, a sector that is a key lever for action in the National Food Programme (2019–2023) to promote access for all to healthier, safer and sustainable diet. In particular, it sets quantitative and qualitative targets for procurement (50% of high-quality, sustainable products by 1 January 2022, including at least 20% of organic products), diversification of protein sources and the banning of plastics in food processing and packaging materials.

[39]The seven areas of action of the circular economy (cf. French voluntary standard AFNOR XP X 30–901) are: sustainable procurement, eco-design, industrial symbiosis, functional economy, responsible consumption, extension of service life and efficient management of materials and products at the end of their life.)




[43] according to the FAO definitions in 2010 and the FAO/WHO in 2019 (

[44]See definitions of schemes in Annex 3

[45]The products concerned are the following: frozen unsalted butter, coquillettes (macaroni), frozen chicken cutlets, all-purpose white flour, UHT skimmed milk, parboiled long-grain rice, frozen minced beef 15% fat, sugar cubes, sunflower oil, frozen white fish fillet portions, ground coffee, chocolate flake cereals, breakfast chocolate drink powder, strawberry extra jam, emmental cheese, extra fine green flageolet beans, very fine green beans, cooked lentils, green peas and carrots, apple and banana purée with no added sugar, dehydrated mashed potato flakes, ratatouille, ravioli Bolognese, sardines in oil, whole tuna in brine, leek and potato cream soup.




[49]Good-quality, sustainable products, in addition to the organic products, consist of the following products: products benefiting from official certifications identifying quality and origin (SIQO), label rouge (red label), PGI, PDO from producers with high environmental value certification, farm products; fishery products with sustainable fishery certification; products benefiting from région ultrapériphérique (“outermost region”) certification or fair trade or Projet Alimentaire Territorial (Territorial Food Project) status (although they are not counted in the 50%).


[51]Médiapart 2020. The Corsican Basic Income Project, blog 12 August 2020.

[52]see definition in note 12.

[53] In the field of food environment interventions aimed at the general population, price and information policies can also be mentioned. Research shows that these policies act in different ways on different populations and are not necessarily progressive (Caillavet and Fadhuile, 2020; Gittelsohn et al., 2017; Régnier and Masullo, 2009). Regulation of the food supply could be more effective, with a view to ensuring good value for money.


[55] Commonly referred to as “smart”, these households, according to the theory of positive deviance, can be considered as “positive deviants” because they are different from other households that are also in a difficult situation, but in a positive way.

[56] Opticourses is a collective trademark registered by INRAE.

[57] Santé Publique France. Opticourses programme. Portal for evidence-based nutrition actions.

[58]  The Agence nouvelle des solidarités actives (ANSA) (New Agency for Active Solidarity) has just made available a toolkit to coordinate the fight against food insecurity at local level


[60] The concern here is to ensure that there are no neighbourhoods or villages without access to a food supply within a 400 metre walking distance in urban areas and 10 km in rural areas (as defined by the US Department of Agriculture).


[62] In particular by allowing France and the other five founding European countries to create food sovereignty through the single market, community preference and financial solidarity.

[63] The literature is full of initiatives. The creation of the Réseau Mixte Technologique “Alimentation locale” (“Local Food” Joint Technology Network) in 2015 and its renewal until 2024 is a good indicator of this trend.

[64] This knowledge is based on the practicalities of everyday life: planning menus and a balanced diet, shopping, storing food, stocking and anticipating stock management, cooking, doing dishes, etc.; these activities are considered menial and the majority of them are carried out by women.

[65] The list of all organizations is available here:

[66] The Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire proposes that the foundation for this SSA should be the existence and inclusion in the Constitution of the right to sustainable diet so that this guarantees this common base. French democracy is based on the law which embodies the general will and establishes rights.

[67] This SSA proposal has since been discussed in a collective that brings together several organizations and collectives, including the Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire. Figures 3 and 4 are based on this collective’s work.

[68] What is the general social security regime? [online]

[69] The 1967 ordinances specified the separation of the general regime into three branches (health, family, old age) and the appointment of a national director by the government, whereas these risks had been conceived on a holistic basis and therefore regulated in an equal manner by “universal” rights (valid for everyone, regardless of where they live, without any hierarchical distinction between risks)

[70] This concept was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). A concept note entitled “Sharing responsibilities and coordinating global activities to address health risks at the animal-human ecosystem interfaces” serves as a tripartite agreement and was signed in 2010. This agreement was reinforced in May 2018 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.–3–1-protocole-daccord-signe-par-la-fao-loie-et-loms&lang=fr


[72]Diagram based on the work of the Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire

[73]There is a debate, in particular within the collective for an SSA, regarding the basis (either added value or wages) and the percentage of this social contribution.

[74]This is not totally accurate, since in the case of social security for health, funding via the CSG and CRDS taxes is added to the social contribution.

[75]The Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire suggests that it be included in the constitution, thus placing it on the same level as the right to health.

[76] The GLAD acronym (Local Sustainable Food Groups) originates from the work of the Collectif Démocratie Alimentaire. The traditional term of caisses primaires (social security offices) for food is not used because the administrative basis for these groups is not the traditional administrative division; the traditional division does not correspond to the reality of the inhabitants’ lives, we thus prefer the notion of bassin de vie (living area) as defined by INSEE [online]

[77]These figures are based on statistical data from humanitarian and food aid organizations (e.g. in Paris, those of the Samu Social (emergency aid for the homeless)) on the number of people living in hotels, on the streets, in emergency shelters and in shanty towns. They are therefore approximate. However, the 2020 report of the Abbé Pierre charitable foundation, using the same approach, arrives at the figure of 902,000 (p.369).





[82] Since the measure was introduced in April 2019, nearly 1.9 million meals at €1 or less have been served to children from low-income families. In response to requests from local authorities, in April 2021 the state increased its financial support from €2 to €3 per meal at the social rate and tripled the number of local authorities that were eligible.

[83] The “Malin” programme was initiated in 2009 by charitable associations (French Red Cross, French Paediatric Society, French Association of Ambulatory Paediatrics, Action Tank Social & Business) and Danone/Blédina (subsequently joined by other private companies), in close collaboration with the public authorities (Commissariat aux solidarités actives, Ministry of Health). Its national deployment is based on a network of local actors in social actions, health and early childhood such as the CAF, PMI, crèches, and maternity wards (

[84] As part of the national roll-out of the “Malin” programme, enrolment in the programme is via response to an email systematically sent by the CNAF to all future parents whose CAF index is less than 85, or following an identification by a PMI professional or other local structure (and in this case without any other proof to be provided other than the referral letter from the professional). The discount vouchers concern products adapted to the age of the child (from 6 to 24 months) and approved by paediatric associations (vitamin-enriched milks for young children, baby food, compotes, etc.), and family products (yoghurt, poultry, vegetable oils), as well as small household appliances (blender, casserole dish, etc.).

[85] As a reminder, this means-adjustment affects 1/10th of CAF recipients and the income ceiling is €5,500 per month.

[86]According to Familles Rurales (2021): “In June 2021, to eat all 18 fresh fruit and vegetables in our basket in compliance with the PNNS, a family of 2 adults and 2 children had to spend between €99 and €195 (i.e. between 8 and 16% of the net monthly minimum wage). By choosing the 5 cheapest fruits and vegetables in our basket, the same family could spend “only” €52 to €86 (i.e. between 4 and 7% of the net monthly minimum wage).”

[87]For the time being, Territorial Food Projects continue to be based on an institutionalized approach, not very open to real food democracy. They have not demonstrated a change in the decision-making processes to transform the food system(s), or in the consideration of people on low-budgets.

[88]This report does not address the necessary reflections regarding the economic issues of food systems at different levels (national, European, North/South, international, etc.).


[90]Game in test phase and initiated by the Démocratie Alimentaire collective.

[91]As a reminder, data from the INCA3 study indicated that only one in four food-insecure people in France used food aid in the month preceding the survey. See note 40 on page 18 of this report.

[92] For example, the Réseau Cocagne has been nationally accredited as a food aid operator since 2016.

[93]As a reminder, the Mutualité Sociale Agricole reported that one third of farmers was on RSA (Earned Income Supplement) in 2017.

[94] Communal and Intercommunal Centres for Social Actions

[95]By facilitating meeting, sharing, collaboration and networking between different groups, Third-Places  are potential vectors for creativity, the emergence of new possibilities and innovation ( Various types of third places linked to agroecology and food, or “food-related third places”, have been identified in France ( “food justice” third places (generalist third places that are interested in food, among other activities, with a view to promoting balanced, good-quality diets (local supply, home-made products, fruit and vegetables that have not met quality criteria, development of cooking skills), with particular attention to vulnerable groups); “citizen food” third places (these third places mobilize citizens who are mainly interested in food topics such as taking back control of supply, developing market gardening skills, learning to process raw products. These are local facilities created by citizens and for citizens); “cooperation at work” third places (third places that bring together a community for coworking (space shared between several self-employed workers) or cofarming (land shared between several independent farmers).

[96]The Malin programme focuses on the affordability of a balanced diet (through vouchers for age-appropriate food and for the whole family’s diet). It also affects physical accessibility as these foods are available in conventional local shops. Enrolment in the programme and eligibility for the budgetary offer is based on an outreach approach (at national level, email from the CNAF subject to means-testing; locally, possible referral by a professional and not necessarily means-tested). Finally, the programme targets empowerment, providing training for early childhood professionals, and offering advice and tips to parents (including those who do not benefit from the discount vouchers) on its website (diet, sleep, screen-time, etc.) as well as tools to facilitate the mobilization of professionals and networking and participation of families in the programme’s orientation.




[100] The SECALIM project, “What food for all to fight against food insecurity?” (“SECALIM” is from the French SECurité ALIMentaire) aims to outline what a new response to food insecurity could look like, based on the views of those most affected. The project was conducted in September 2021 in two municipalities in the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis (Marseille and Martigues-Port-de-Bouc). It was funded by the national strategy for preventing and combating poverty (DRDJSCS-PACA), and was coordinated by the NUTR’ IN MED association. Its partners are INRAE, the Regards Santé research consultancy, and a group of associations in Frais Vallon in Marseille, and in Martigues and Port-de-Bouc.

[101]As the groups are predominantly made up of women, the text refers to women professionals and residents.

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