Cities—where half the global population lives and 70% of food produced worldwide is consumed—can create resilience and sustainability in their food systems: at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, held this year from September 22 to 26 in the Parco Dora in Turin, two consecutive panel discussions held on Thursday September 22 in the “Feeding the City” conference space featured project participants and other urban food policy experts discussing how.
Representatives and experts highlighted the importance of working together and creating connections to ensure resilience, sustainability and quality in urban food systems.
“Turin was the first Italian city to put the right to food in its statute and not just food, but quality food, sufficient, nutritious, healthy and culturally and religiously acceptable”, reminded Michela Favaro, the deputy mayor of Turin; and Milan’s deputy mayor, Anna Scavuzzo, emphasized the importance of an integrated approach to deal with complicated situations and of alliances, and highlighted that “an approach is either integrated or it’s not an approach, it’s just an attempt,” as exemplified by Food Trails and its parent project, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, an international agreement on urban food policies signed by 243 cities all over the world. Launched after Expo 2015, it gathers multiple cities across the world to share best practices and has also established an award to recognize them. As well as collecting a library of new food strategies from around the world, it also implements innovative EU-funded projects, with a total of €31 million invested in 16 projects.
The three elements that cities should be focusing on are: public procurement, for example in schools and hospitals, urban food markets and zero food waste, according to Corinna Hawkes, professor and director for the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London. “If every city could implement these three things, it would be transformative,” she said. It would mean “healthy food in schools through public procurement, making sure food markets are full of healthy, wholesome foods and supporting producers and reducing food waste, which means addressing the environment, food insecurity and climate change. By fundamentally focusing on citizens, you get an eater-centered approach to the food system that also takes into account the needs of all the other actors in the chain.”
Marta Messa, Slow Food’s general secretary, noted that “we have to put the role of cities and urban policy at the heart of regenerating the food system, and to change the food system we have to all work together. We can’t expect individuals to change the system themselves.”
Slow Food is a key partner in Food Trails, a four-year EU-funded project launched in October 2020 that aims to encourage the development of integrated food policies in cities by setting up “Living Labs,” enabling collaboration between public administrations and citizens to design food policies that empower the community, reduce waste, increase sustainability and ensure people have healthy and secure diets.
School canteens are an important element of food policy, and keys of a real change.
This approach was exemplified by the experience of the Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, a metropolitan administration which comprises 49 municipalities in southeast France. “We don’t have jurisdiction over food,” stated Christine Oriol, a consultant in agricultural development in Grenoble. “We are not allowed by law. But we can work on energy supply, water supply, waste, social cohesion, finance, and all these departments now have programs targeting food policy. So, we do have an integrated food policy.” They were able to tangentially influence school canteens through their jurisdiction over waste and agriculture, working on quality procurement, reducing food waste and replacing disposable plastic with reusable containers.
The Belgian city of Ostend has implemented a Food Shift Acceleration Lab that works with nine cities to bring about change. A key focus has been an agricultural park in the city. “It’s only 35 hectares, it’s not going to feed the city, but it’s impressive to see how many initiatives have started from this food park. A CSA, a farm shop, a farmers’ market, educational activities, working with schools, with co-housing. Most recently a home for the elderly bought 50 shares in the CSA so they can have fresh organic food produced one kilometer from where they are. Instead of buying everything in plastic bags they now purchase food full of muddy clay. They have more work to do but they are so happy with the taste” said Kathy Belpaeme, the director of the food department.
Public participation is key to shifting food policies: “Rome has 200 community gardens, noted Elisabetta Luzzi, of Risorse per Roma, a municipal agency of the City of Rome “and the power of participation comes from these urban gardens. They are like the new piazzas—social gathering points, fantastic for including disabled people, weaker people, integrating refugees.” In the end, she said, “the best food policy is one that comes from citizens. A Living Lab with 400 people from different organizations, representing more than 5,000 individuals, has been meeting since February, producing regulations for the city’s Food Council, which will be made a law by the end of the year.”