Urban Food Policies

In the face of growing urbanization and its complex food challenges, cities are at the forefront of one of the most critical issues of our time—food. With over half of the world’s population residing in urban areas, it is essential to address the pressing problems of unhealthy diets, malnutrition, food waste, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and the livelihood of small-scale farmers.

These issues are magnified in urban environments, where people are increasingly disconnected from nature and heavily reliant on food imports. This leads to a paradox where malnutrition coexists with food waste in many European cities.

As urban populations continue to rise and the climate crisis worsens, cities must tackle these food system challenges for their residents, the rural producers that serve them, and the planet. Many cities have embraced sustainable urban food policies.

Slow Food is committed to advocating for urban food policies that foster more sustainable, ethical, and inclusive food systems and that prioritize the well-being of people and the planet. Slow Food works on providing tools, resources, and training for its communities, enabling them to engage with and influence local policies and strengthen their advocacy efforts.

  • Promoting Plant Rich and Agroecological Food in Urban Areas

    In an era where the sustainability of animal products is one of the most pressing issues, Slow Food is exploring how we can rebalance our diets—transitioning away from factory farming and intensive fishing. The current trajectory of industrial products is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions; intensive animal farming and fishing account for a major part.

    Slow Food believes that local governments can and should play a central role in addressing issues related to overconsumption and overproduction of animal-based foods, even more so because it is predicted that two thirds of the global population will be living in cities by 2050. Cities can act on a number of different fronts when it comes to food policies: public can- teens, advertising, food waste, markets, education, food aid are just some examples. More broadly, cities have a great deal in shaping their urban food environments, as they are the level of government which is closest to citizens, and have resources and tools to promote change.

  • Working with Schools Canteens

    For over two decades, Slow Food has recognized the crucial importance of school canteens in shaping food systems across various dimensions. These spaces have the potential to influence the environmental impact of food supply chains, promote food education, and ensure fair compensation for small local producers. The school meal is not just a moment of nourishment but can also contribute to fostering healthy and sustainable long-term eating habits. However, this goal can only be achieved if the mealtime is preceded and accompanied by significant food education involving cafeteria staff, teachers, and families. Slow Food acknowledges that chefs are pivotal in both the physical and cultural transformation of food. Despite the frequent undervaluation of the work of collective food service providers who daily feed thousands, Slow Food seeks to overturn this prejudice and emphasize the importance of those who, even while handling large numbers, manage to choose short supply chain and low-impact raw materials. This commitment is underscored by the inclusion of virtuous cafeterias in the Alliance of Chefs network, following the principles and tenets of Slow Food’s Call to Action.

    Often, it is believed that collective catering systems are managed annually by experts, with the assumption that prepared meals meet nutritional needs. However, we rarely consider the environmental impact of these meals or the connection between the food consumed at school, the local culture, and producers. Many times, public procurement forces collective catering to prioritize cost over food quality.

    Slow Food aims to promote a concept of “quality” that extends beyond sensory attributes, aiming to create environments where all children have access to food that is good for them, producers, and the planet. This objective, aligned with Slow Food’s three pillars – biodiversity, education, and advocacy – is made possible through the collaboration of various civil society actors, both public and private, coming together to reconstruct the school catering system.

  • Increase Communities Empowerment

    In recent years, Slow Food recognizes the growing importance of empowering citizens and involving them actively in the design and implementation of food policies and initiatives. The agri-food system has undergone significant changes, including the integration of societal concerns such as food inequality, food democracy, food sovereignty, the environmental impact of food production, and public health consequences of unhealthy diets. Slow Food acknowledges that relevant institutions must be established to advocate for these concerns, and cities and municipalities, as guardians of public well-being, are increasingly aware of their role in fostering a sustainable and healthy future for their citizens.

    The concept of food democracy has gained attention, emphasizing the need to counterbalance the influence of large corporations on the food system with input from the grassroots. While municipal responsibility for food has traditionally been limited, the development of urban food policies has gained momentum, aiming to address environmental, social, and economic challenges within current agri-food systems. Citizen participation is essential not only for food democracy but also for the development of urban food policies.

    Organized Citizens: The Rise of Food Policy Councils

    Recent years have witnessed the growing influence of food policy councils (FPCs), driven by a rising awareness of the interconnections between food, health, equity, and sustainability. Ordinary citizens are at the forefront of this movement, actively participating in FPCs to shape the future of local food systems. Increased awareness of the impact of food choices on personal well-being and the environment has led communities to seek localized solutions. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, prompting a shift toward more resilient and community-centered food systems.

    The role of citizens within FPCs encompasses advocating for equitable food policies, community engagement, grassroots initiatives, data-driven decision-making, and educational efforts, all contributing to the transformation of food systems into sustainable, inclusive, and health-focused models. FPCs can either emerge from grassroots coalitions or be initiated by local public authorities, but their goal remains the same—to improve local food systems.

    Cities Empowering Citizens to Shape Urban Food Policies

    Engaging citizens in the policy-making process is essential for a thriving democracy and effective urban food policy. European cities are experimenting with various methods to involve their citizens in local food policy development. For instance, Ghent, Belgium, established a Food Policy Council with representatives from diverse sectors. Glasgow, Scotland, formed the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership, including a wide array of community members. Wroclaw, Poland, initiated a project empowering local leaders, particularly in disadvantaged districts.

    Cities adopt both formal and informal approaches to engage citizens, often influenced by the city’s existing policy structures and tradition of citizen inclusion. Regardless of the approach, it is the city’s responsibility to ensure citizen participation through participatory planning methods, such as public consultations, community meetings, workshops, and surveys. Having a dedicated department or team within the municipality responsible for managing participatory processes significantly contributes to their success

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