Author Photo
Isabelle Lacourt

Since the launch of its Manifesto, in 2010, Eating City has been promoting a reflection about the relevance of urban food policies.

Despite the evidence that a city eats – it eats food and in some way the land needed to produce it -, accelerating the decline of rural territories, food is not usually considered among the competences of a city. Moreover, food issues are too often diluted between different aspects related to health, nutrition, environment, production, public food services or local economy, all being treated separately in a counterproductive systematic approach. However today, more and more cities re-evaluate food projects as means to improve urban planning and management, thus opening simultaneously several avenues for reflection, research and action. In a stimulating space of innovation, they are looking at new roles for institutions in food innovation dynamics and at tailor-made interfaces of cooperation between urban centers and adjacent territories. Innovative propositions are experimented, to combine food democratic imperatives, open participatory processes and food issues institutionalization, whereas a long-awaited common metric system is still needed to assess the consequences of food systems on environmental, social, economic assets.

All these cities involved in pro-active food related urban policies are driven by extremely diverse motivations, ranging from:

  • the fragility of a food system exclusively relying on globalized commodities, subject to speculation,
  • the added value of a vivid local economy based on high quality food production,
  • an agenda 21 and a plan for the reduction of CO2 emissions,
  • the potential of healthy food access to control obesity epidemics or to educate young people to make healthier food choices,
  • etc.

The exam of successful projects shows how these pioneers have been able to detect the capacity of food-related projects to strengthen social cohesion and create a social bond, on top of many other benefits. Indeed, not only food can become a thread that connect all the main competences of the cities related to urban environment, economic development, education, solidarity, culture and leisure, health, politics and governance, but it can also give consistency to a synergic osmosis between cities and adjacent territories.

Historically, food has been a pivotal factor in the political construction of Europe, as Common Agriculture Policy has been one of the pillars of the European Union. Therefore, as food and drink industry is the largest EU manufacturing sector in terms of turnover and employment, it is not a utopia to think that sustainable food systems could become major assets of the Europe 2020 strategy of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.