Organic and low-input food systems are emerging worldwide in answer to the sustainability crisis of the conventional agri-food sector. “Alternative” systems are based on local, decentralized approaches to production and processing, regarding quality and health, and short supply-chains for products with strong local identities. Diversity is deeply embedded in these food systems, from the agrobiodiversity grown in farmers’ fields, which improves resilience and adaptation, to diverse approaches, contexts and actors in food manufacturing and marketing. Diversity thus becomes a cross-sectoral issue which acknowledges consumers’ demand for healthy products. In the framework of the European project “CERERE, CEreal REnaissance in Rural Europe: embedding diversity in organic and low-input food systems”, the paper aims at reviewing recent research on alternative and sustainable food systems by adopting an innovative and participatory multi-actor approach; this has involved ten practitioners and twenty-two researchers from across Europe and a variety of technical backgrounds in the paper and analysis stages. The participatory approach is the main innovation and distinctive feature of this literature review. Partners selected indeed what they perceived as most relevant in order to facilitate a transition towards more sustainable and diversity based cereal systems and food chains. This includes issues related to alternative food networks, formal and informal institutional settings, grass root initiatives, consumer involvement and, finally, knowledge exchange and sustainability. The review provides an overview of recent research that is relevant to CERERE partners as well as to anyone interested in alternative and sustainable food systems. The main objective of this paper was indeed to present a narrative of studies, which can form the foundation for future applied research to promote alternative methods of cereal production in Europe.