Food systems are facing demands for revolutionary changes from the perspective of sustainability (e.g., Clapp et al. 2018; Hinrichs 2014; Blay-Palmer et al. 2016). Population growth, climate change and biodiversity loss, price fluctuations, food insecurity and hunger, the pandemic and currently the war in Ukraine with all its consequences raise complex questions about how to arrange food production and consumption sustainably. Food policies around the world have begun to respond to sustainability challenges in multiple ways. Yet the reconciliation of environmental sustainability and other goals related to food systems has proved demanding. Challenges relate in particular to agricultural practices and land use, consumption and dietary patterns, and unequal power relations in food systems (e.g., El Bilali et al. 2019; Blattner 2020; Borsellino et al. 2020).

In sustainability transition studies, a recent interest in just transitions provides a way to advance a reconciliation between the different environmental, social, and economic interests in a balanced manner (Williams and Doyon 2019; Kaljonen et al. 2021; Tribaldos and Kortetmäki 2022). In this context, transition refers to large-scale, system-level changes that are required for guaranteeing the sustainable development of societies (Loorbach et al. 2017). A just transition means that the pathway to a more sustainable future system should in itself be as just as possible, ensuring that the distribution of benefits and burdens is fair and disadvantaged members of society are not left behind or given the greatest burdens (Williams and Doyon 2019). Understanding the challenges and requirements of a just transition necessitates the analysis of present (in)justices to identify vulnerabilities and disparities that may be aggravated in the transition (Clapp et al. 2018; Kaljonen et al. 2021). In this paper, we argue that taking a justice perspective on food policies can enhance the transparency of different demands and goals related to food systems and help in identifying conflicts and synergies between them.

Justice has long been a key concern in the food policy context (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013; Kneafsey et al. 2017). Food justice draws on the theoretical and conceptual ideas of environmental and social justice (Mares and Pena 2011; Purifoy 2014; Herman et al. 2018). However, food justice focuses specifically on food systems and the needs of, and relations between, food system actors (e.g., consumers, retailers, industry, producers). Universally relevant food justice issues concern the distribution of benefits and harms in food system activities, decision-making procedures and power relations, and socio-cultural and epistemic issues (e.g., Gottlieb and Joshi 2013; Levkoe 2006; Tribaldos and Kortetmäki 2022). In addition, there are context-specific justice concerns that reflect the challenges in specific societies and communities (e.g., Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Smaal et al. 2020; Coulson and Milbourne 2021; Kaljonen et al. 2021).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO 2018, p.1), a sustainable food system means a “food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised.” In food systems, the core question of justice relates to the capacity of the present food system to generate just outcomes and processes (Herman et al. 2018). Food system outcomes have been characterized with different typologies (e.g., Ericksen 2008; Ingram 2019; Stefanovic et al. 2020). Drawing on recent literature and discourse framings that emphasize food and nutrition security (e.g., Ericksen 2008; Richardson et al. 2018; Stefanovic et al. 2020; Kaljonen et al. 2021), we define the key desired food system outcomes as (1) food security and nutrition, (2) livelihoods and fair income, and (3) environmental sustainability and animal welfare. Food security is the pivotal political goal of any food system (Brunori and Silvasti 2015), and environmental sustainability is a prerequisite for maintaining the possibility of reaching that goal in the long term (Hinrichs 2014; Blay-Palmer et al. 2019). Livelihoods and fair income contribute to more general economic welfare and together represent the other core prerequisite for maintaining food production in the long term. Regarding food system outcomes, it should also be noted that food systems consist of different sub-systems, such as farming and waste management systems. In addition, food systems are connected to other systems, such as energy and health systems (FAO 2018). Self-evidently, all these parallel systems, which include not only food production and marketing actors but also public sector and civil society actors, influence and establish the food system’s ability to promote food justice (see Kneafsey et al. 2017).

Policies have a key role in reaching the societal aims set out for food systems and ensuring justice. In this article, we focus on how Finnish food policies frame justice at the national level. Although Finland is an EU member state and its agricultural policies and climate targets are bound to EU-level policies, national policy planning has an important role in how justice and different food system outcomes are interpreted and weighed. Finland is committed to carbon neutrality by 2035 and aims to reach this goal through a just transition, which means a socially and regionally just climate policy (Government Program 2019). The Nordic location creates a specific context for achieving the food system climate goals: while the growing season is relatively short (ranging from 185 days in the southwest to 105 days in the north) and the number of potential plant varieties is limited, dairy and cattle farming have become important sources of livelihood for farmers. It has partly guided previous policies, which also have an impact on the implementation of the new policies.

We develop a framework for analyzing food justice in food system-related policies and test it in the Finnish context. The aim is to unveil the (in)justice issues that require attention in the planning and implementation of a just transition. We also reflect upon the blind spots—namely, issues that might be highly relevant for food justice but that existing policies overlook. We examine food justice from the viewpoint of food system outcomes. Using policy documents and interviews with policy officials, we study how the Finnish food policies have addressed food and nutrition security, livelihoods and socio-economic welfare, and environmental outcomes and how they have assessed them in terms of food justice. That is our first research question. Second, we ask what synergies and conflicts can be identified between different food justice issues and food system outcomes. Lastly, we strive to determine what lessons these findings bear for transition policy planning. We aim to address the entire food system. However due to the particular emphasis of Finnish food policies, the production related aspects of the food system are more accentuated in the analysis than others.

In the following section, we provide a conceptual overview of food justice, discuss how food justice has been analyzed in food policy studies, and present our analytical framework. Then we present the results of how food system outcomes and justice dimensions appear various ways in the policies and what lessons do they bear for the future policy planning. Finally, we discuss the results and draw the conclusions.

Justice in Food Policy

Food Justice

Food justice refers both to social movements and to the conceptual and empirical domain of research. Food justice issues include but are not limited to the distribution of benefits and burdens in the food supply chain; food security and equal access to fresh food; farmer and worker rights; power relations that influence decision-making processes; and the role of citizen-led initiatives in resolving food related inequalities (e.g., Glennie and Alkon 2018; Coulson and Milbourne 2021; Kneafsey et al. 2017). As a form of social movement activism, food justice has origins in US grassroots movements that acted upon racial injustices including unequal access to fresh food and indecent working conditions (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013). Another traditional form of activism under the umbrella of food justice is the creation of alternative food networks and practices, such as urban gardening and community-supported agriculture (e.g., Alkon and Agyeman 2011).

As a theoretical and analytical concept, food justice has been increasingly applied to a wide variety food system-related inequalities also beyond the US context (e.g., Blake 2018; Coulson and Milbourne 2021; Herman and Goodman 2018; Kaljonen et al. 2021). Research on food justice has implied two aspects: in theoretical and conceptual terms, clarifying and defining what food justice requires, and in empirical terms, studying existing food injustices and obstacles to more just food systems. Systematic conceptualizations of food justice adhere to the general (non-geographic) frameworks of relational social justice and environmental justice (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013; Smaal et al. 2020; Tribaldos and Kortetmäki 2022; Kaljonen et al. 2021). These frameworks commonly depict food justice as comprising three interlinked dimensions: distributive, procedural, and recognitive (socio-cultural) justice. In addition, particular attention is often paid to the different, potentially invisible or unrecognised recipients of justice (Tribaldos and Kortetmäki 2022).

In distributive terms, the commonly identified food injustices align with the three types of food system outcomes: food security as equal access to adequate, healthy, and culturally appropriate food (e.g., Coulson and Milbourne 2021; Kaljonen et al. 2021); decent livelihoods, measured by wages and working conditions (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013); and environmental impacts (Gilson and Kenehan 2019). Just food systems produce equal food and nutrition security for all people, decent livelihoods with fair working conditions and workers' rights, and retained or improved environmental sustainability as well as morally appropriate treatment of animals. These demands are further challenged or complexified by climate change and the need to act upon it (e.g., Clapp et al. 2018; Kortetmäki 2018; Kaljonen et al. 2021).

Procedural or participatory justice, implying equal participation opportunities and balanced power relations in decision-making, is another dimension and a central concern for food justice (Levkoe 2006; Loo 2019; Tschersich and Kok 2022). Procedural justice covers both formal equality in decision-making and informal inequities regarding equal opportunities for different actors to actually have a say and be heard. Obstacles may relate to existing injustices, power relations, and resource disparities (Kaljonen et al. 2021). Recently, food justice movements have drawn attention to how grassroots activism, which has also been criticized for being a middle-class privilege, could become a vehicle for more inclusive participation of marginalized groups (Coulson and Milbourne 2021). A focus on procedural justice and participation should not lead to an over-individualization of food system responsibilities. For example, Ankeny (2019) claimed that resolving food system problems with “responsible consumerism” represents an unjust and likely ineffective strategy for addressing food system problems.

The third dimension of food justice concerns recognition, which refers to socio-cultural respect and opportunities for people to stand in equal relations to others regardless of their biological and socio-cultural characteristics. In the context of food system activities, recognition relates especially to opportunities for culturally different communities to self-determine their food practices and the legitimacy of different visions of food production (Kuhmonen and Siltaoja 2022; Schlosberg 2007, pp. 86–87; Whyte 2018). It also relates to equal opportunities for these groups to be heard in decision-making (Loo 2019) and the ways in which different narratives and visions of eating well are considered in public discussions (Kaljonen et al. 2021). At a more metapolitical level, recognition concerns questions about how politics and justice are framed (Fraser 2010). In this respect, the invisibility of nonhuman animals in food justice considerations has been brought to the fore more strongly recently yet mainly by animal-focused groups, leaving the issue outside the mainstream in food justice discourse (Coulson and Milbourne 2021) and research (Glennie and Alkon 2018).

Food Justice in Policy Analysis

Empirical food justice research has focused on social movements, alternative food practices, and the analysis of inequalities in existing food systems; food policy has received scant attention in general (Glennie and Alkon 2018, p. 5). In particular, policy analyses taking the justice perspective to food policies have been scarce, although recently Smaal et al. (2020) analyzed the social justice narratives in European urban food strategies and Maughan et al. (2020) studied social justice in national government and civil society organizations' food policies in post-Brexit UK. Both studies approached food justice using different variations of the tripartite conceptualization of justice into distributive, procedural, and recognitive dimensions, and both proposed a framework for examining and addressing social justice in policies.

Both Maughan et al. (2020) and Smaal et al. (2020) found that social justice was not emphasized in the policies, but core elements of justice were implicitly included. In post-Brexit UK policies, the core issues concerning distributive justice concerned land, labor, and access to nutritious food, public goods, and nature (Maughan et al. 2020). The urban food strategies studied by Smaal et al. (2020) raised similar distributive concerns, in particular, concerning access to land and food and to reasonable pay in food-related jobs. These issues have also emerged in studies using a broader sustainable development goals framework (Ilieva 2017; Olsson 2018). In addition to distributive justice issues, urban food strategies contained recognition and participation issues concerning knowledge and learning, social capital, voice, and opportunity to influence policymaking (Smaal et al. 2020). However, both studies pointed to a lack of details and missing concern for structures causing maldistribution and unrecognition. For example, in the UK, the identified core structural justice issues related to land ownership were largely untouched in the policies (Maughan et al. 2020). Furthermore, marginalized voices remained unrepresented. Procedural justice emerged as calls for increasing public participation, however, details on how this should be achieved were lacking. Procedural justice in the preparation of policy documents themselves was difficult to assess as they provided little information about the preparation process.

While these findings are interesting and relevant, it is clear that more analyses from different geographical contexts are needed to gain a broader understanding of how food justice is addressed in policy. We endorse a cross-sectoral perspective on food-related policies and bring the Finnish context to the discussion. Food policies do not form an explicit policy domain; they are rather fragmented constellations of policies in different food-related domains, from agricultural to environmental issues (e.g., Bureau and Swinnen 2018; Zimmermann and Rapsomanikis 2021). It is, therefore, necessary for policy analysis to account for this broadness. It can also bring forward an important comparative aspect by addressing the differences in food justice emphases in different sectors and policy documents. As one more addition to previous literature, our analysis aims at developing and testing a more detailed framework for analyzing food justice in food policies.

Analytical Framework

Policy analysis for food justice necessitates an analytical framework. In this paper, we apply the three-dimensional framework of environmental justice comprising the three interlinked dimensions of distributive, procedural, and recognitive (socio-cultural) justice (Schlosberg 2007; Kaljonen et al. 2021). This framework has been applied in several studies analyzing just transitions policies (McCauley and Heffron 2018; Williams and Doyon 2019). We develop the framework further by establishing analysis-guiding questions that specify different matters of justice for food policy analysis (see also Tribaldos and Kortetmäki 2022).

Table 1 summarizes the questions that can be used for analyzing and justifying how the different dimensions of justice are or could be addressed by food policies. The questions are based on the canonical works in social and environmental justice that have articulated and addressed the key questions of justice (Rawls 2020; Sen 1980; Nussbaum 2006; Schlosberg 2007; Fraser 2010). The questions and developed framework can be applied generally to policy document analysis for justice in any policy domain.

Table 1 Framework for analyzing justice in policy documents

Findings concerning distributive justice focally address the equality of distribution, which should be clarified by asking, “the equality of what?” (Sen 1980). The discussed equality may concern, for example, primary goods, freedoms, equal opportunities to live a dignified life, equal standing in the community, or environmental benefits and burdens. Another important question is who is being addressed as the relevant recipients of justice or as groups that require particular attention in justice considerations. In addition, since very few policy documents make claims for strict egalitarianism, an important nuancing question concerns the threshold or condition for justice as equality: how equal must the distribution be to meet the conditions of justice? One possible answer is that justice requires providing every citizen the opportunity to live a dignified human life according to their own conception of what is good (Nussbaum 2006).

Procedural justice can be sought and nuanced by asking the same “equality of what?” in contexts that address decision-making procedures: does equality refer to formal equality in participation or the actual capacities and opportunities of different groups to participate and be heard in decision-making? Furthermore, who is considered and identified as meriting particular attention from the perspective of participatory equality?

Recognition justice as the form of socio-cultural equality can be identified and clarified by asking “the recognition of whom?” and “in what respect?”. As the data in Table 1 demonstrate, recognition might take more universal or difference-sensitive forms (e.g., Fraser 2010), and the mentioned recipients of recognition can include either specific actor groups, all humanity, or often-invisible groups, which also includes discussions on the recognition of nonhuman nature (Schlosberg 2007). Regarding the analysis of recognition justice, it is particularly important to go beyond the actual findings of who is mentioned and how and to look at those groups who are left invisible.

Data and Methods

Our policy analysis is done in the context of Finnish society. Finland is one of Europe's northernmost countries. The Finnish population consists of 5 550 000 people, of whom 5 080 000 have a Finnish background and 470 000 have a foreign background (Statistics Finland 2022a). The five largest countries of origin for immigrants to Finland are the former Soviet Union, Estonia, Sweden, Iraq, and Russia (Statistics Finland 2022b). In recent decades, the numbers regarding poverty have been quite low, and likewise for food poverty. However, currently there are approximately 873 000 people at risk of marginalization and poverty, and their number has increased in recent years (Statistics Finland 2021). Still, income differences are quite small in Finland, and absolute poverty is rather low. The Finnish food sector employs approximately 134 000 people in agriculture and 31 000 in the food industry (Luke 2022; MEAE 2022).

We analyzed Finnish national-level food-related policies. The policies were identified by relying on our expertise in Finnish food-related policy-making and going through existing policy programs for food system governance at either a system level or the level of specific activities, such as agriculture or food consumption and diets (Table 2). The documents focus on recent policies (2013–2019) that are as a basis for new climate goals and policy actions. All the examined policies are in force in 2022, but their publication dates vary from 2013 to 2019. This also means that many of the policies are under renewal in 2022. The more ambitious emissions targets set out in the government program in 2019 and its view on a just transition exert pressure for the renewal of many of these policies. The analysis does not include the discussion on the updating or renewal of these existing policies, but rather the understanding of justice that lays the background for the renewals with regards to climate and sustainability actions.

Table 2 Analyzed documents and interviews

Some of the documents focus mainly on the specific functions of the food system, such as production (e.g., Rural Development Program) or consumption (e.g., Finnish Nutrition Recommendations). Some of them look at the system more generally (e.g., Food 2030). We also examined Government Report on the National Energy and Climate Strategy for 2030 (2017) and Finland’s National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2022 (2014), but they included no issues relating to food or food justice and were excluded from the final analysis. Our analyses of Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Government (2019), Government Report on Medium-Term Climate Change Policy Plan and related Sectoral Plan for Agriculture (2017), and Rural Development Programme for Mainland Finland (2014) focused on the parts relating to the food system but also on general goals with implications for the food system. Rural Development Programme includes agricultural subsidies. The other analyzed programs focus on the food system or parts of it, and we analyzed these documents in their entirety.

To gain an understanding of procedural justice in the making of the policies studied, we interviewed six key policy experts who had participated in preparing the key policies (Table 2). One interview was related to preparation of new climate food policy program. Interviews were done in 2020 and were recorded and transcribed. The interviews lasted from 45 min to 1.5 h. All interviews were individual interviews except the first interview with two experts. The interviews were thematically organized and dealt with the general preparation of policy processes and possible problems encountered. We were also interested in how participation had been carried out in practice.

Policy documents are the main research data and the interviews serve as supplementary data. We analyzed both data using theory-guided content analysis. We conducted the analysis by reading through the data and coding it according to the justice dimensions and food system outcomes. In policy documents, we searched for distributive, procedural and recognitive dimensions of justice, see Table 1 for the questions guiding our analysis) and for information on which food system outcomes the findings were related to. We used the interview data to outline the procedural dimension of justice in particular.


The presentation of our results is first structured according to the three targeted food system outcomes. Within these outcome categories, we discuss our findings with regards to the distributive and recognitive dimensions of justice, since these dimensions are both linked in the documents with the three food system outcomes. After that, we discuss the results with respect to procedural justice as it concerns the participation in food policy-making more generally.

Food Security and Nutrition

Availability and Stability of Supply

Food security is addressed frequently, either explicitly or implicitly, in the analyzed policies. It constitutes a key issue among the policy concerns related to distributive justice. Nearly all the policies highlight availability, adequacy, and supply of food. Hence, food justice is essentially a matter of national food security in Finland. This relates to the classic aspects of food security—(1) availability, (2) access, (3) utilization, and (4) stability (of supply) (FAO 2018; Ericksen 2008; Bilali 2019) with clear emphases on availability and stability.

Policies like Rural Development Programme and Government Programme connect food security with self-sufficiency, which links food security with the profitability of farming. For instance, the Rural Development Programme emphasizes the security of supply and independence of national agricultural production as constitutive of food security. Self-sufficiency is also present in the argumentation claiming that future challenges brought by climate change necessitate increased self-sufficiency to secure food availability and supply stability in Finland in the future. Government Programme states the following:

In the long-term, climate change may weaken the production conditions in important food production regions in different parts of the world. This is why we must secure the profitability of agriculture, national food security and a competitive domestic food system as part of the bioeconomy and circular economy package. Domestic food production is important for the security of supply and for employment and the regional structure. (p. 105-106)

The increased domestic production of feed is also linked to the stability of supply according to Climate Programme for Agriculture. Simultaneously, to be able to ensure food security via domestic production, it highlights that well-adapted native species and plant gene pools represent important solutions. Through diversity, these solutions can increase the resilience of the food system and improve the food security of future generations through a more stable supply.

From the perspective of recognitive justice, the policies concentrate on safeguarding the position of Finnish farmers and citizens. Numerous food system vulnerabilities, such as changes in climate and environmental conditions globally or unpredictable policy turns at the global and European levels, are not strongly highlighted in Finnish food policy documents. While Finnish policies acknowledge the interactions between global and national events, they emphasize self-sufficiency as being constitutive of food security. This places food security explicitly at the national level; the policy documents barely address global food security (let alone the food security of future generations) or the impacts of Finnish activities on it. Thus, from the viewpoint of recognitive justice, the documents also misrecognize distant communities (including gendered food security problems) and many of the groups that are most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Access to Food

In addition to availability and supply, food security is approached as a matter of access to adequate, safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. From the perspective of recognitive justice, this calls for identifying vulnerable groups prone to food insecurity that require particular attention. According to previous studies, for instance, the food expenditure of the lowest-income quintile is (in euros) only approximately half of the food expenditure of the highest-income quintile (Raijas 2017), and this difference has grown over the years. While Finnish food security is relatively high in both quantitative and qualitative terms compared to many other countries (Karttunen et al. 2019), according to Finnish Nutrition Recommendations, there are nutritional differences between population groups, especially with respect to education and income levels. Thus, the nutritional quality of food is lower among people with lower education and incomes (Raijas 2017). This creates health disparities especially regarding the risk of noncommunicable diseases. While Finnish Nutrition Recommendations and Food 2030 generally emphasize the consideration of all population groups, the documents pay particular attention to the status of children and low-income people regarding access to food. In Finnish Nutrition Recommendations, small children and pregnant women are mentioned as vulnerable groups because of their special nutritional needs. In addition, small children and the elderly are identified as potentially vulnerable because there is limited information about their nutritional status.

Consumer capacities are recognized and strongly related to healthy eating in Food 2030 and Finnish Nutrition Recommendations. Food education is elevated as a means for addressing these disparities. In particular, Food 2030 sees education measures as key factors in achieving a sustainable and equitable food system in the future. Going beyond education, Finnish Nutrition Recommendations highlights how welfare disparities related to access to food can be alleviated through public food services:

The lunch offered by food services is the only warm meal of the day for many. Hence, its significance for nutrient intake, health, working life energy and general wellbeing is great. (Finnish Nutrition Recommendations, p. 38, translation by the authors)

The publicly funded school meal program that provides a nutritious school lunch for all is seen as an especially important tool for equal access to nutritious food and food justice. For example, the Food 2030 program sees the continuance of this system as important. There is also a need to encourage children’s participation in school meals. Food 2030 recommends to for example:

Encourage all children and young people to participate in school meals that promote equality in health and ensure the continuation of subsidised school meals. (p. 26)

Several policies pay attention to recognition in terms of acknowledging the different food cultures and values that may be relevant for culturally appropriate food, which is often defined as constitutive of food security. However, the related discussion in the policy documents is very shallow, and cultural issues are mainly mentioned in passing. This may have something to do with the relatively long-lasting stability of cultural patterns of food over time (Purhonen and Gronow 2014), which has only relatively recently been challenged by different drivers in relation to both socio-cultural diversification and environmental and ethical concerns. Hence, according to Food 2030, new information is needed from different consumer groups. In turn, Rural Development Programme emphasizes that Finland has different regions and regional food cultures that have taken shape over the decades.

Additionally, there are major differences in the regional culinary cultures in various parts of Finland, and provincial differences can be observed. In this context, a province is not only an administrative area but also a historical and functional area that has been shaped by its culture, industries, people etc. over the centuries. (p. 674)

Cultural and regional differences in food are also recognized in Nutrition Recommendations, Food 2030, and Local Food Programme. Similar to health, their preservation is supported mainly via educational measures. In addition, immigration is expected to diversify Finnish food culture (Food 2030). The policy documents analyzed did not include critical examinations of the dominant narratives and values upheld by the dominant food culture or the impacts of these dominant values on the justice or sustainability impacts of the food system.

Livelihoods and Fair Income

The Finnish food policies identify several distributive issues related to livelihoods. The livelihood of farmers and profitability of their work gets the most attention. This is not surprising, since Finnish farmers have had profitability problems in recent years (Niemi and Väre 2019). On the one hand, the livelihood question is seen as part of the development of global and EU markets, where Finland’s position is relatively weak (Luke 2020). On the other hand, it is a question of farmers’ weak negotiating position in relation to other actors in the food supply chain and their resulting small profit shares. Hence, Finnish farmers are strongly dependent on agricultural subsidies and changes in agricultural policy, and their position is recognized. This recognition also includes the comparably poor climatic conditions for agricultural production in Finland. For instance, Food 2030 states the following:

Safeguarding profitable and sustainable primary production is a basic requirement for the entire food system. EU policies have a strong impact on the profitability and future of Finnish farming. Finland must ensure that farming will also be possible in areas of the EU where the climate conditions are not the most favourable for farming. (p. 10)

However, it is important to note that there are many types of farms in Finland. This is identified in Rural Development Programme. Going beyond the profitability of farms, both Food 2030 and Local Food Programme aim to diversify the centralized distribution channels and also have a broader goal to increase local and regional income opportunities. Local Food Programme pays special attention to small food processing companies in this regard. Economic viability at the community, farm, and enterprise levels is an important part of the food system’s socio-economic goals. Both documents see that local food and a focus on the regional food system create new employment and, for instance, increase tax revenue in the respective region. Thus, in addition to farms, opportunities for food enterprises are more broadly recognized. According to Food 2030, investing in regions also enables more diverse distribution networks of food, which can have implications for consumers’ access to food.

As an additional aspect, Local Food Programme presents local food production in a wider sense:

Local food may also have a role in preventing social exclusion if persons threatened by this could get started in working life by involving them in the production of local food in a smaller scale. Social entrepreneurship could offer the opportunity to develop food business activities where persons suffering from social exclusion, long-term unemployment or otherwise reduced working capacity could be integrated back to working life through tasks in the handling or packaging of so-called “easier” raw materials. (p. 11)

Thus, according to the program, local food is not only a solution for local viability, but also for reducing inequality and exclusion in terms of livelihoods. However, generally, the lack of attention to anything other than farming-related livelihoods and work in most of the policy documents is striking. The policies do not discuss or take into account the conditions of, for example, food industry or service workers, immigrant workers (which have frequently been revealed as problematic in the Finnish newspapers), or gendered wage equality or working conditions. The invisibility of these issues concerns not only distributive justice but also the lack of recognition of the often-invisible groups: immigrants, female, or lower-wage workers.

Environment and Animal Welfare

Environmental justice directs attention to the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens of food system activities and the fair allocation of responsibilities to address environmental problems. The Finnish food policy documents address environmental responsibility by considering the fair share and limitations of what can be demanded from agricultural and other food system actors, including consumers. These documents underline numerous trade-offs and conflicts but also synergies related to environmental sustainability actions and other desired outcomes of the food system.

The pressure to transition to more plant-based diets presents both synergies and conflicts between food security and livelihoods. In citizens’ everyday choices, environment and health are connected and present a clear synergy. This links food security and diets with environmental sustainability. For instance, Nutrition Recommendations states that many improvements in the nutritional quality of one’s diet promote environmental sustainability, as plant-based diets are also healthier. Consumers’ differentiated opportunities to select climate-friendly products are recognized in the Medium-Term Climate Change Policy Plan and, similar to health-related consumption choices, increased education is proposed as the solution. Conversely, the challenge for production is the amount of domestic crops. According to Food 2030, crop variety development and education are solutions to production-end challenges.

Dietary change presents conflicts in relation to livelihoods and food security as well as self-sufficiency. One recognized challenge is building domestic plant-based value chains, which is central in developing a sustainable food policy.

A wide-scale and fast reduction in meat consumption would locally cause significant economic and social problems in the main production areas. It seems that if meat was broadly replaced by plant proteins, it would mainly happen through imported plant proteins, as Finland does not have complete value chains for protein plants destined for human consumption. (Sectoral Plan for Agriculture, p. 30, translation by the authors)

Thus, support for environmentally friendly production is needed, which would also enable better access to plant-based food for consumers. These challenges are also related to a broader conflict between farm livelihoods and the environmental impacts of cattle and dairy farming. Overall reductions of meat and dairy production and consumption will create the need for new livelihoods (Blattner 2020; Kaljonen et al. 2021). However, this is not specifically addressed in the policy documents beyond general statements that climate measures must account for equality and justice (Government Programme, Rural Development Programme, and Climate Programme for Finnish Agriculture). According to Climate Programme for Finnish Agriculture, reducing consumption will allow meat production to become more self-sufficient. Policymakers seem to hope that the cut in meat consumption is targeted to imported meat.

A similar core conflict between livelihoods and environmental sustainability in Finland relates to agricultural production on peatlands. Peatlands have significant emissions reduction potential (Ekardt et al. 2020), but the reduction of agricultural production on peatlands represents a specific distributive justice issue, because it affects farms in particular regions of Finland (Puupponen et al. 2022). Somewhat surprisingly, there is minimal discussion of peatlands in the documents. Only Rural Development Programme and Sectoral Plan for Agriculture related to the Climate Policy Plan mention the issue, but they only highlight the challenge of developing sustainable and acceptable means for emissions reductions on peatlands. In general, policy actions are focusing mainly on the water systems and biodiversity impacts, but a comprehensive peatland policy is missing from the policy programs published in the late 2010s.

The conflict between environmental sustainability and farm livelihoods is partially tackled via the environmental subsidy system related to EU agricultural policies and implemented via Rural Development Programme. The policies recognize the work of Finnish farmers and the high environmental standards of agricultural production in Finland (Food 2030, Government Programme). The fair distribution of costs of action invokes the question of compensation for environmental measures. The language of distributive justice is built into the program via EU regulations that allow subsidy levels to be set according to the estimated extra costs of implementing the environmental measures, compared to agricultural production without the measures. Beyond the agricultural subsidies, the high environmental standards of farming demand recognition in public procurement criteria (Government Programme, Food 2030, Local Food Programme). The goal is met via education and legislative development.

Synergies can also be found between environmental sustainability, livelihoods, and security of supply related to agricultural production. In particular, Local Food Programme and Organic Product Programme raise potential synergies between the improved profitability of agricultural production and environmentally friendly production practices. In addition, Climate Policy Plan (2017) sees potential in carbon sequestration in agricultural production and Climate Programme for Agriculture (2014) emphasizes co-benefits to the environment, producers’ livelihoods, and food security in acting on climate change:

Promoting domestic feed production improves the security of supply and makes us less dependent on the volatile world markets, as well as reduces the negative climate impacts of agricultural production. (p. 31)

Climate Programme for Agriculture also points out that effective adaptation is required to achieve food security in the changing climate. Consequently, based on the policy documents, more diverse food chains would benefit the environment. However, the discussion on synergies remains at a relatively abstract level with an emphasis on the potential and aim to find co-benefits rather than on actual measures.

Animal welfare and recognition of the intrinsic value of nature are only rarely mentioned in the documents. Animal welfare is noted in Rural Development Programme, although the link is made mainly regarding legislation, consumer expectations, and farmer profitability, rather than welfare for the sake of animals themselves. Biodiversity and indigenous species are recognized in the same program: the intensification of agricultural production is seen as threatening biodiversity and the existence of native breeds.

Procedural Justice

Procedural justice in the policy documents is primarily connected to abilities to participate in and influence policy preparation. Our interviews revealed that the participation of different stakeholders was or is one of the main goals in preparing the policies studied. There are considerable differences between policies, however. For example, Finnish Nutrition Recommendations is based on scientific expertise. The recommendations are explicitly prepared as expert work with limited participation of other stakeholders. Other policies, such as Rural Development Programme and Food 2030, are more directly aiming at balancing socio-cultural values and visions related to agriculture and food. Hence, their preparation has also included more broader participation of various stakeholder groups.

It is relevant to ask how well the participatory processes work in practice. In Finland, policy preparation work is led by ministries and usually done with the help of preparatory committees or working groups, which include representatives of stakeholder groups and interest organizations recognized as important. In the context of the food system, this involves core industries, agricultural producer organizations, and the workers’ unions; researchers and environmental nongovernmental organizations are often involved as well. According to the interviewees, various stakeholders are widely represented.

The ministries do not involve citizens in working groups, but they do open policy drafts for public commenting. They can also initiate separate consultation processes, such as surveys or even mini-publics to consult with citizens. The preparation of Food 2030 was more extensive in this respect, employing extensive expert meetings, various working groups, and the collection of citizen feedback. In addition, more than 60 statements were requested from stakeholders.

The extent to which the opinions are accounted for usually remains hidden. Reflection on who actually had the opportunity to participate is not published. One interviewed expert indicated that it is not only certain groups that are missing but also voices inside those groups that are not heard well. This was especially the case concerning farmers’ voices:

It has been so that we have included representatives of young farmers here, for example. And there have been discussions with them because we are seeing in those young people the future of the food system and food production. (Translation by the authors)

One way to ensure wider participation and improve opportunities to participate is to conduct the consultation processes at the regional level. Further, in terms of regional accessibility, digital systems are significant auxiliaries for ensuring participation from different parts of the country. However, there are different abilities to use those systems.

These digital things make it possible a lot more than before. But at the same time, of course, it requires that everyone is able to use those connections. (Translation by the authors)

Food 2030 is the only program to specifically mention food citizenship and the need to support its development. From the perspective of procedural justice, increasing citizens’ awareness of the food system and their own capacities to act is important. According to Food 2030, this is supported, for example, via increasing urban and subsistence cultivation (p. 31) and education (p. 27). Beyond empowering citizens as food system actors, the policy also emphasizes the role of private food system actors in developing innovation and research activities.

Going beyond participation, one of our key observations is that different policies should be in closer interaction to achieve sustainability and improve justice. Only Government Programme takes concrete steps and establishes a roundtable working group to improve socially and regionally just emissions reductions. In the other policies, the actual measures used to improve cooperation related to policymaking remain vague. The improved connectedness of different policies also includes the aim to generate more holistic knowledge, which is needed to account for multiple effects, by combining, for instance, climate impacts and impacts on biodiversity, which are targeted in Climate Change Plan and Climate Programme for Finnish Agriculture. Education for policymakers and food system actors is suggested as the solution for better inclusion of different perspectives, better acknowledgement of different forms of knowledge, and policies grounded in research-based holistic information (Local Food Programme).

Discussion and Conclusion

Food System Outcomes and Ethical Foothold of the Past Policies

In this study, we asked how justice perspectives are visible in the different food system outcomes targeted by Finnish food policies. Justice issues can definitely be identified in policy goals. It would be useful if policy documents more often specified actual means or measures and also considered how their implementation can blur the justice concern or create new injustices.

In Table 3, we have gathered key justice-related food system outcomes that were identified in our study. The identified justice considerations in the Finnish food-related policies generally tend to concentrate on agricultural production and food consumption, while other food system activities and linkages between them receive much less attention. This activity-specific focus is clearest in policies regarding these parts of the food system, such as Rural Development Programme or Nutrition Recommendations. However, agricultural production and consumption are also the most visible parts of the food system in Government Programme and Medium-Term Climate Change Plan. The only clearly system-oriented programs are Food 2030 and Local Food Programme. The most emphasized justice concerns focus on farmers’ livelihoods and food security, especially from the viewpoints of the security of supply and citizens’ equal access to healthy food. The Finnish food policies, thus, aim at producing healthy and nutritious food largely on a domestic basis and making it available to all while also ensuring the economic viability of the food industry in general. Several issues that appear as core themes in food justice literature were absent or mentioned only as side remarks.

Table 3 Identified justice issues in Finnish food policies. References to key documents are in parentheses according to the numbering in Table 2

Food justice scholarship and activism have focused especially on food security and livelihoods. Food security has been approached mainly as a matter of inequalities in access to safe and nutritious food (Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Gottlieb and Joshi 2013). The notable difference between the findings of our analysis and the broad directions of food justice discourse is that the Finnish policy documents largely portray food security as a matter of availability and supply security and stability; they pay less attention to equal access to good and nutritious food. Documents emphasize domestic production and its profitability as key constituents of food security. In a sense, the focus in some documents resembles the productivist paradigm, which is a modest reformist corporate-oriented strategy that has been juxtaposed to the transformative approach of the food justice discourse (Holt-Giménez 2011). This begs the question of whether the strategic documents are more supportive of retaining present structures and implementing small reforms than of undertaking systemic transformations.

The different food policies do not address socio-cultural hegemonies or the domination of certain food narratives at all, although this is important for recognitive justice (Gilson and Kenehan 2019; Kaljonen et al. 2021). The consideration of religion-related dietary restrictions is not identified as a food justice issue. The Finnish focus on vulnerable groups differs from the US approach to food justice, where much attention has been paid to racial food injustices (e.g., Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Gottlieb and Joshi 2013). A comparison with international literature raises a question about whether immigrants are a group that remains unjustly invisible in Finnish food policies; they were also mentioned in the interviews concerning neglected issues. This is an important question because, generally speaking, food insecurity is rather common among immigrants, who face additional food security challenges related to the cultural aspects of eating (Moffatt et al. 2017), including religious requirements (Ryan-Simkins 2021).

Livelihoods comprise a key concern in the established food justice literature (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013) and findings in the Finnish policy context include similar concerns: the profitability of farming and distribution of the economic benefits between supply chain actors (Table 3). In relation to profit distribution disparities, centralized wealth and power in the globalized food system and its detrimental impacts on farmers and food workers represent one of the most problematic food injustices (e.g., Glennie and Alkon 2018). The Finnish policy documents note the centralization of retail and distribution channels as a problem for farming profitability and livelihoods, yet centralization is not problematized in other respects. Agricultural subsidies for production are providing distributive justice in terms of farmers’ incomes and can also be seen to contribute to the security of supply and, thus, to food security. Biodiversity impacts of the agricultural subsidy system are not yet highlighted, though.

Policy documents present local food as another solution for livelihoods and for addressing many other sorts of inequalities and promoting communality, social sustainability, and food security through greater self-sufficiency. This reasoning is similar to food justice activism based on the construction of local food practices to address food injustices (Glennie and Alkon 2018; see also Holt-Giménez 2011 and Cadieux and Slocum 2015). However, the deeper injustices of the whole chain are not well identified.

The working conditions of non-agricultural food workers and foreign agricultural workers (Gottlieb and Joshi 2013) are not addressed. The Finnish food system depends on seasonal foreign workers. Discussion about justice in innovations, such as equal access to innovations that would benefit the whole society or help with climate mitigation (Gilson and Kenehan 2019; Timmermann 2020) is absent. Gender (Sachs and Patel-Campillo 2014) is not a major theme either. Exceptions include the emphasis in Local Food Programme on the program’s gender neutrality and Rural Development Programme’s encouragement of specific investments in rural entrepreneurship for women and young people. Attention could have been paid to the fact that agriculture is a strongly male-dominated sector in Finland, while public catering is strongly female-dominated.

In terms of environmental and justice-related considerations, the policy documents focus on the trade-offs and synergies between environmental and other objectives for food system activities (Table 3). However, climate and carbon–neutral goals are received more attention in the recent reports (Government Program). Additionally, regarding recognitive justice, what is notable is the invisibility of nonhuman animals and discussion about their moral status and dignity, which is identified as a neglected issue in food justice studies more generally (Glennie and Alkon 2018; Coulson and Milbourne 2021). Animals are approached in Rural Development Programme via specific contracts. Here, however, the welfare of animals is addressed as a matter of the quality and profitability of production and as a means of fulfilling legislative requirements.

Synergies, Conflicts, and Lessons for Transition Policy Planning

In this study, we also aimed to determine what kinds of synergies and conflicts can be identified between food justice and food system outcomes and what lessons these findings bear for transition policy planning. Passages related to food access in the analyzed policy documents are often general, referring to the importance of nutritious and safe food rather than identifying vulnerable groups in this respect. When vulnerabilities are identified, the visible groups are children (covered by the school meal program) and low-income groups (addressed when making references to food prices) (Table 3). Gender-based dietary differences are strong, and men face a significantly higher risk of noncommunicable diseases due to their dietary patterns (Valsta et al. 2022), but this is not raised in the policy documents. In the interviews, one informant noted that elderly people are almost absent in policy documents although they comprise a growing low-income and food insecurity prone group that also faces other nutrition challenges due to illnesses and decreased physical capacities to acquire and prepare food. The invisibility of the elderly highlights a blind spot in the policy documents.

Conflicting environmental and economic goals emerged especially in relation to agricultural production. These are the most visible conflicting justice-related issues in the documents. Food security and livelihood goals seem to override the primary goal of agricultural subsidies with environmental criteria: effective environmental action to mitigate the harmful environmental impacts of agriculture. From the justice perspective, these concerns also relate to tensions between rapid and effective environmental action, on the one hand, and inclusiveness and equal engagement opportunity considerations in these transformations, on the other hand (Ciplet and Harrison 2019). Overall, this creates a risk that global environmental justice concerns (harms caused by environmentally unsustainable practices via climate change and biodiversity loss, for example) are constantly overridden by local justice concerns. Our analysis depicts a strong nation-state-oriented framing of justice in the Finnish food policy documents.

Locality is seen a key solution in the documents. However, it has received criticism within the food justice discourse for neglecting disadvantaged groups and the concerns of economic and socio-cultural exclusion (e.g., Goodman et al. 2012; Coulson and Milbourne 2021). Additionally, the reproduction of dominant sociocultural patterns, such as the privileging of white people (Guthman 2011), and the risk of reinforcing structures that slow down rather than promote climate action have been questioned (Kortetmäki 2018). Thus, focusing only on the locality may not necessarily be able to address deeper injustices of the system.

Overall, the justice concerns in the analyzed food policy documents differ clearly from those dominating food justice discourse, for instance, in the United States. In United States, there is much more discussion on chemical use, pollution impacts, externalized harms, environmental risks for workers, and the overall environmental unsustainability of the present global food system (see especially Gottlieb and Joshi 2013). The presence of animal production is solid in the policy documents, although addressed in a relatively narrow manner. This is, nevertheless, distinct from the US discourse, where the animal question has been quite absent from food justice research (Glennie and Alkon 2018).

The Finnish context also introduces new environmental issues to food justice. One central question is whether the agricultural subsidy systems should compensate for “brute luck” regarding the climatic conditions for agriculture. An idea for “brute luck compensation” in social justice is that nobody should be left worse off in a society because of innate impediments they cannot choose. No northern country has chosen cold weather or a short growing season. Thus, some policy documents suggest that it is fair to give greater compensation to northern producers to keep them producing food despite worse conditions. This raises a question: in what conditions should food production be made economically viable (via subsidies), and should any, or only a particular kind of, food production be supported? The perspective of overcoming harshness is important in Finnish literature; e.g. Runeberg (1830) and Linna (1959, 1960, 1962) depict hard-working Finnish small farmers struggling. One question concerning brute luck and farmers pertains to peatlands, the regional distribution of which is very disproportionate. Calls to stop farming these lands may feel incomprehensible to those whose families have farmed them for centuries (Puupponen et al. 2022).

Procedural justice is almost entirely absent in the policy documents: they focus on defining the goals and tools for substantive food justice and do not discuss the just or unjust processes in policy making, including in their own making (Table 3). Procedural justice can still be taken into account in policymaking, without it being visible in policy texts. Most of the policies studied were or are prepared using participatory procedures that involve hearing stakeholder groups and presenting opportunities for citizens to express their views (see e.g., Food 2030). Participation is an important starting point for any transition policy.

The food justice literature has paid considerable attention to injustices related to leaving food decisions to markets, the problems of the individualization of responsibility to consumers (e.g., Gottlieb and Joshi 2013; Ankeny 2019; Kortetmäki 2018), and how power disparities and the socio-cultural dominance of certain values systematically prevent some groups from being heard in the decision-making (Loo 2019). Food 2030 calls for more active food citizenship in this respect but does not offer much in terms of concrete means to support this.


Regarding justice, eventually, food security and securing livelihoods in different Finnish regions receive the most attention in Finland. Environmental sustainability is at risk of being overrun, although newer EU-level strategies highlight the importance of biodiversity. Gender, ethnicity, and religion are ignored in the policies studied, but they may have a bigger role in future assessments of recognitive and distributive justice and transition policies. Regarding climate policy, agricultural peatlands receive relatively little attention in the current policies. Similarly, the relationship between agricultural and nutrition policies is rather weak in many respects. There is a clear need to find closer links between agricultural, climate, biodiversity, nutrition and health, livelihood and regional development issues in future transition policies. Current policies are focusing on food security at a local and regional setting. A stronger global connection will be needed in the future, which will allow for achieving better results in all dimensions of justice.

References for the Analyzed Policies

Inclusive and competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society. Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Government 2019. Available at:

Government report on medium-term climate change policy plan. Towards Climate-Smart Day-to-Day Living. Ministry of the Environment 2017. Available at:

Climate programme for Finnish agriculture – Steps towards climate friendy food. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 8/2014. Available at: and Sectoral Plan for Agriculture (in Finnish)

Government report on food policy. Food2030: Finland feeds us and the world. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 2017. Available at:

Local Food – But of Course! Government Programme on Local Food and development objectives for the local food sector to 2020. Government Resolution 16 May 2013. Available at:

More Organic—Government development programme for the organic product sector and objectives to 2020. Government Resolution 16 May 2013. Available at:

Rural Development Programme for Mainland Finland 2014–2020. Available at:

Suomalaiset ravitsemussuositukset 2014. / Finnish Nutrition Recommendations. Available at (in Finnish):