A Food Shift Ecology

Viktor Zaunders
Food Shift
Published in
9 min readJul 2, 2019


A collective has been seeded and inoculated by mind-mycelium. It is called Food Shift.

What on earth might that mean?

This is a story that I hope can give you a feeling of what Food Shift is. This is an invitation to a landscape.

the Push

For a number of years, more and more people have been paying closer attention to the ecosystems of this planet. We are also shifting more of our focus towards the process through which humanity is feeding itself and how that relates to ecosystem health.

Statements are coming out that are constructing the view that this earth we all share is rapidly loosing vitality. Examples of these statements include that there is only 60 harvests left before the topsoil is gone, insect populations are decimated by 75% and over a million species are heading towards extinction right now.

Desertification mapping from the USDA (image source)

Large parts of the planet are becoming desert and even more humid regions are loosing their biodiversity as the collapse of insects report from Germany (cited above) shows.

Much of this is connected to our care (or lack of care) in our relationship with the land we cultivate to grow the crops that feed humans. Whether consciously or not, we are degrading the biosphere we live on. Current models of food production, as well as other practices such as clear-cutting forests, are leading to the undermining of vitality on earth.

Food is also now mostly produced in a way that has removed it from context. Commodification is a pattern that removes “the product” from place and relationship. As distance grows between where food is grown to where it is consumed by humans, we become less able to see and respond to the feedback that our eating habits have in relation to our ecosystems.

As with most other systems of human organisation, our food systems have for some time been evolving under reductionistic control principles that are missing many of the aspects of living systems.

The large-scale fully mechanized factory production model of human sustenance is in many cases holding back possibilities of thriving local ecologies (including thriving humans!). So we need new ways of organising as humans at the same time as we develop new ways of relating to the water, soil, bacteria, fungi and other creatures.

The dominant pattern that we have been organising with for some time, scaled up “pyramids” or the “command and control” approach, is not allowing us to show up as fully human and is not allowing us to act in accordance to the needs of this planet at this time.

the Pull

While realizations of our detrimental impacts on the biosphere are propelling us forward in a new direction, we are also being pulled by emerging new and old understandings.

I, for one, have been raised with a view of the world as mechanical. It has been the dominant story in our society and scientific thinking for centuries. We are now passing through the limits of that understanding as we are invited to re-examine our world view in light of new findings of just how complex and interrelated life is.

So first off, let us really get that we are living systems!

Humans, just like any other living being I know of, are essentially bacteria cooperating and coordinating. All the way from the level of the cell, through the multi-cellular, the animal, the human, the organisational and all the way to the biosphere (and beyond that who knows), we are dealing with living systems.

Lynn Margulis was a biologist that, through extraordinary efforts, brought this understanding into society. She worked with many other biologists in clarifying the way that complexity in life has come to be. Her work made visible to many people the way that all of the nucleated cells come from a cooperative joining together of bacteria (which do not have a nucleus).

Illustration from “Kingdoms and Domains: an illustrated guide to the Phylas of life on Earth” by Margulis and Chapman.

This is so very important because it shows that while competition between individuals can absolutely optimize species to more efficiently fit with their surrounding systems, leaps in evolution (like the one we seem to be at the cusp of) happen when diverse wholes learn to cooperate in a larger super-system.

These new forms, or super-systems, become more complex than the disparet systems they evolve from, because they introduce more interconnection.

Bacteria are less complex then fungi or animals because they incorporate less interconnection. This continues beyond the species level since ecosystems can easily be seen in this way too, as sub-system wholes (plants, animals, fungi, bacteria) all cooperating in making more energy and water available to all in that area. Fungi have a particularly powerful role to play in creating interconnection which is something that is constantly informing my work.

So the biosphere, Earth, is a complex living system, containing many ecosystems that collaborate to maintain stability here. Ecosystems, like wetlands, prairies, mountain ranges and forests can be seen as land based organs of this larger system. In my view, this understanding is critical in order to enable (rather than disable) health and thriving for life on our planet.

This understanding is present in many cultures outside of the “industrialized culture” that I grew up in and we are now adding to it the wealth of knowledge that we have accumulated in the last centuries to make this understanding even more nuanced.

If we understand that we are embedded in larger living systems and that we do not have to force life. Then we can start to learn to cooperate, like bacteria did 2 Billion years ago, with our fellow life around us.

Image courtesy of Fritjof Capra.

There are many diciplines and intiatives that are already working from this understanding. Biomimicry, Regenerative Agriculture, Permaculture, Holistic Management, Rain for Climate and Global Cooling Earth to name a few.

As we look at ourselves and our organisations as living systems we also find a need to structure our collective activities in new ways.

How can we cooperate freely and support each other as humans, while performing our role as humans in our ecosystems?

How do we fully embed ourselves as one of the newer organs that have evolved on this planet?

For a while now, there has been a lot of attention going into new ways for us to organize. In fact, there are many many explorations happening right now. Here we can also list some to get a flavor. Sociocracy, Agile, Cooperativism, Social Permaculture, Distributed Autonomous Organising, Holocracy, Horizontal, Viable Systems Model and the list goes on (and on and on…).

All of these exciting frontiers are pointing us towards the possibility of regeneration.

Regenerative practice defined as “participation and design as nature” leading to an increase in systemic vitality. (image source)

A picture of Food Shift

Thank you for following along on the journey to now. With this push and pull in mind a few people felt a need to create something through which we could facilitate these new modes of cooperation. We are calling that something Food Shift.

I see Food Shift as an initiative serving to shift our food systems into regenerative relationships with our ecosystems; to enable humans to function as integrative, learning and healing organs within the biosphere.

What does Food Shift look like? Well, this article is trying to paint a picture. Some sort of map, which of course is never the actual terrain. This post is also trapped in the time of writing (or updating) it, so perhaps it is outdated already. But maps are useful for navigation so lets try to make one anyway. A map of what we are going for.

In permaculture we make maps of landscapes to help us see flows and functions, but organisational maps are usually very abstract, mostly just circles, lines and boxes. Let’s try using metaphors here (while acknowledging that metaphors are tools for communication).

A Food Shift Ecosystem

So we have sown a seed, kernels of care into the vast field that is our food systems. We have created an open collective with the following ambition:

To nourish and connect people, projects and organisations in emerging regenerative food systems.

While I am a part of a small core group that is active in setting up and nourishing the infrastructure for networking activites (perhaps metaphorically like a pioneer tree), I am very much focused on our role as network weavers.

We’re thoroughly inoculated with mind-mycelia. We want to connect to more people and organisations in order to get more knowledge, cooperation, materials and learning flowing.

We hope to connect like mycelium to more projects (depicted above as other trees and bushes) so that wastes are readily turned into inputs, as well as enabling a degree of functional specialization where groups can fluidly cooperate on a larger level.

In ecosystem terms, we’ll need logistical functions like the animals in the woods that are constantly moving things around and processing them. We feel there is space for pollinators, people that can move around in these systems and help projects come to fruition. There can be possibilities of nurturing seedling regenerative ventures by more mature and stable groups and clusters. We see a definite need for information pathways and mutual support structures, like those that fungi provide in perennial ecosystems.

We can learn how to better operate together as complex food systems, by making our needs and our gifts visible to each other.

We hope to serve many different actors in coordinating, cooperating and learning together, drawing on lessons from how Margulis described the evolutionary leap when bacteria started to cooperate and composed a formidable new form of life, the nucleated cell.

If we were to try to use an image of a cell in order to communicate what type of functions we are trying to incorporate into Food Shift, it might look something like this:

Functions that Food Shift hopes to help coordinate.

Some of the functions we are trying to help coordinate include:

  • learning sessions around regenerative practice, both online and offline gatherings
  • match-making for the gifts and needs of people and organisations in these fields
  • mutual support structures for food producers to shift from degenerative to regenerative practices
  • creating clear pathways for new actors to get started and redirecting the purchasing power of society towards regenerative practitioners
  • a space where regenerative practitioners can coordinate for greater efficacy, symbiosis and collective intelligence
  • making maps to help pioneering food initiatives navigate and find each other
  • media and inspirational efforts to shift public perception of our food systems towards favoring regeneration
An illustration of the benefits of mycorrhisal connectivity. We are attempting somethings similar for people, organisations and projects. (image source)

On geography of the network — Glocality in practice?

It seems safe enough to me to assume that before agriculture, entire continents were hyphally connected in mycelial networks.

From Madrid to Beijing the forests and the perennial grasslands stretched and those root systems were thoroughly colonized by many many different species of mycorrhizal fungi that weaved mats of fungal networks.

Where did one mycelial network end and another begin? Very hard to say.

I don’t know where our strain of mind-mycelium (Food Shift) is going to go. We’re inoculating ourselves and letting it spread from here.

There are many other networks of connected people that have a slight variation in form and function. **Diversity** is strength, resilience and potentiality, so we have no intention of being the ONE network for food.

I do not know what sort of needs for connectivity arise and where, but we can all start with the bioregions where we act as humans and we will see what happens. Most of us early inoculants live in the area politically known as Sweden, who knows how far and wide the networks tendrils will stretch out.

We hope to grow into serving in places where our service is needed, that is all.

Come into the Food Shift forest!

If this post makes you intrigued or excited and you feel like you would like to connect, contribute, learn and explore together then you are most welcome to Join! We are still a young seedling but we have set up what we hope to be a “minimal viable structure”.

If you have an idea, share it and let us help get things going or just start a conversation about something you care about around food.

If you feel that what we do is important and feel like you have the opportunity to support us financially, you are also welcome to support the Open Collective.



Viktor Zaunders
Food Shift

Idea pollinator and bridge-builder with a love for networks, ecology & technology.