Expertmeeting food in social domain

25 November 2016 - Published by Alfred Kazemier
On Wednesday the 29th of September, Groningen organised an expert meeting regarding Food in the Social Domain. The topics included exploring the ways food permeates and can influence how we work, eat, and meet together in Groningen, and looking at the necessity for new ways to maintain a sustainable social domain, since traditionally, the social safety-nets are important in the Northern Netherlands, especially as our society faces austerity. The possibility of using food to mitigate the effects and provide a new perspective was the goal of this expert meeting.

Exploring possibilities for smart specialisations

Is it possible to increase the quality of the meals, lower the price and achieve goals of self-actualization for people depending on the social system? Creating a regional food chain would be a huge step in these goals, and this meeting was held to introduce organizations with the REFRAME-project. During the meeting several missing links were identified. The restaurants (SOOZ) at healthgroup Meander and the restaurants at the Bennergroep are looking for a better, more regional offer, íf the offer is competitive. Intriguingly, competitiveness here includes elements of pricing, quality, ease of ordering and logistics.

The Meander-group is transitioning from a traditional care-institution to a more modern instititution focusing on providing a sense of community and safety. Central in this challenge is the transformation from the old-style institutional kitchens (focus: feed the clients) to more competitive, entrepreneurial restaurants, named SOOZ. This makes the institutions more open entitites, and more of a meeting spot for the neighborhood. Changing the focus of these restaurants also provides an opportunity for people with mental illnesses or -disablities to participate in meaningful activities. These factors combined lead to a restaurant that doesn’t need to be subsidized.

The concrete examples of combining different social roles with regards to food are Toentje, an initiative by Jos Meijers, the municipality of Groningen and the foodbank Groningen. By growing food, a platform is provded for social work, food production, health improvement, education and poverty relief. The work is being done by 35 people, ranging in status from ex-homeless to ex-incarcerated. Participation jobs, education and useful work are happening here, and the central theme is ‘inspiration by meeting people’, since poverty is a big driver for isolation of people. A link between the SOOZ-restaurants and Toentje is being investigated.

Bie de Buuf is a social restaurant, aimed at serving high-quality meals for, but not exclusively, social minima, thereby creating vertical connections between different societal groups. These goals are realized by using the Culinaire Vakschool, and will open October 1st.

Critical conditions for success

From this meeting, a number of critical succes actors have been identified. The ambition to create access to good food is a central theme among all the initiatives. This ambition becomes realististic by creating free housing, looking at people in a different way and making these people central to the organization of the ambitions. 

Possibilities for support or stimulation from governmental organisations

To support initiatives, governments can create the right conditions, such as affordable housing, stimulating social jobs, etc., and also create the option to look at challenges in a different way and to combine them with initiatives that already exist. Taking into account the multiplier effect of these initiatives would be a way to gain value in the procurement of health care, welfare and support capacities. And finally, governments can write such initiatives into policies relating to social cohesion and liveability.


The examples named are smart-specializations, which is why links to the websites are included. However, the scale of the initiatives is not yet large enough to function as ‘launching customers’ for products of the regional food chain. However, several of these initiatives show potential in scaleability. For now, it is sufficient that the links and the knowledge-exchange have been made.