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Corinne Stewart
Eating City University Network Leader

Eating City’s contribution: In the specific context of the opportunities and challenges faced by Alternative Food Systems the potential effect of Sustainable Public Food Services needs to be underlined. We often speak about the leverage effect of Public Food Services in the terms of its dimension. If considered as a whole, it is legitimate to consider it as the largest European restaurant : 90 million meals are served daily within social food services, 1 European citizen out of 5 or 6 are  concerned daily.

The dimension of Public Food Services:

It can be estimated that a city of 1 million inhabitants spends 45 milion euros for school meals and 20 million more for hospitals and care homes… However, we must be aware these are approximate data, for instance in terms of turnover, no NACE code is identifying this activity andcertainly it could be a good start to create one in order to properly assess this economic activity.  Expertise is needed to aggregate numbers of such multi-faceted activity as a whole and to correctly analyse data.

About Green Public Procurement 
Green Public Procurement is a voluntary tool that can used to introduce sustainability in Public Food Services. Regarding its application and the original expectations, it drives a slow process of change, mainly for the following reasons:
– Food is a complex matter and the persons in charge of tenders contents are insufficiently prepared and trained: they would need more time to work on a strategy and would greatly benefit from exchanges with their colleagues.
– To use efficiently the tool of GPP, ideally, public bodies would need to design strategy based on a vision an action plan with short, medium and long term objectives but this is barely the case.

Affordability of sustainable food
It is generally said that sustainable food is more expensive than other kind of food, certainly too expensive for public bodies to afford.
The truth is that in the past 20 years, through the industrialization of production processes public authorities have tended to reduce the money “in the plate” with the consequence of lowering ingredient quality and reducing staff qualifications in the kitchen,.
Fortunately, not everyone has followed this way and the demonstration has been made in several contexts that is possible, within normal budget, to increase service quality taking into account the synergy of sustainable development.This requires a complete rethinking and re-engineering of the service, mainly based on people skills.
Today we live in a world in which machines are becoming more and more intelligent and intuitive and can replace people: but this must not be the case of meals preparation.
If you ask yourself the following question : do you prefer a meal that is prepared by a skilled person, with fresh products or by a robot heating frozen food and mixing powders ?
And now why would you think that if it is not good for you, it should be good for your children at school or your parents who are maybe recovering in hospital?
We also need to remember that most of the gastronomic recipes which are so fashionable today, are at the origin from « poor kitchens » prepared from scratch with local and seasonal food. Therefore, it is possible to prepare good, healthy and nutrious meals based on traditional recipes at a good price, on the condition that skilled persons are in the kitchen.

The new paradigm
No one is talking about dismantling from today to tomorrow what has already been built up : this would be unreasonable. But the trend of innovation needs to change. The first of the class are not necessarily the usual ones. The less is the industrialization level and the easiest it will be to change the paradigm. We have here a renewed opportunity to engage a peer to peer dialogue between the different EU countries for the exchange of good practices.
Transition will necessarily have a cost. That is why the long term vision is so important. We need to shift from a model where food is only a cost to a model in which public food becomes an investment. The money spent to buy fresh food, to train staff (a few percent of the meal price) is indeed an investment to increase local employment, to foster regenerative food production, to promote health, to reduce food leftovers and generally to increase people welfare and satisfaction.
We enter here in a virtuous circle because of the difference between the mindset of a person who invests compared to a person who spends money with no particular expectations of added value.
Indeed, the investor wants to drive change : here is the real strength and leverage effect of Public Food Services.

Why should we need to demonstrate what is already common sense?
The ecological crisis brings Commons at the forefront. If goods are commodities, a good meal that arises from a flourishing food supply chain is certainly even more because it gives added value to environment, health, local jobs, alternative food supply chains, etc. Such added value however is very difficult to assess because of its consistent part of immateriality. We have already spent much time and effort to measure this added value looking for the best indicators to justify any financial/policy effort to achieve the change. Whereas this research is still going on and improving it must not become the alibi for status quo.

Advocacy today is about seriously taking into consideration the idea that Public Food Services could become a real political project everywhere in Europe, a service in the interest of the whole community such as education or health, a service which invests in regenerative food systems, which diffuses welfare and which increases awareness.

Author: Isabelle Lacourt – Eating City