Why and how to develop urban food policies?

Cities play an important role in ensuring the wellbeing of their citizens. This includes providing clean water, clean air, better local transportation, and healthy food for everyone. While food has not traditionally been seen as the responsibility of local authorities, this view is changing.

“It has been increasingly recognised that food makes significant contributions to the fabric of our cities, to economic life, to social life, and to the environment,” said Prof. Paul Milbourne from Cardiff University at the inaugural episode of the Food Trails ‘Midday munchies’ series back in March. “Given this significance, it deserves policy recognition.”

Cities are not only more aware of their role in creating sustainable food systems, but they are also increasingly taking active roles in improving both food production and consumption for a greener, healthier, and more inclusive future. Through projects like Food Trails, local governments have been able to experiment and collect experience and expertise on why and how to develop urban food policies and they are eager to share it and exchange with peers to take food policies to the next level.

The ‘Midday munchies on urban food policies’ online series does that by providing a platform for exchange between Food Trails cities, and other municipalities and stakeholders outside the project. It creates an opportunity to inspire, learn and encourage cooperation to solve common challenges in urban food systems.

After setting the scene with the first episode explaining ‘Why developing urban food policies?’, the following episodes answered questions related to urban food systems in conversation with one expert and two cities of the Food Trails project. It also showcased the successful solutions and best practices developed within the project to promote sustainable urban food systems, and invited participants online to join the discussion.

How to engage citizens and foster behavioral change?

The second episode focused on the importance of engaging with stakeholders to shape comprehensive urban food policies. “Food is already on the local agenda, its currently, in most cases, not yet coordinated in terms of integrated food strategies and action plans,” said expert and partner of the Food Trails project Stephanie Wunder, Head of the Sustainable Food Team at the think tank Agora Agriculture. “If we want to move to a more integrated food policy,” added Wunder cities must map existing activities and actors working on food issues, develop strategies involving stakeholders and citizens and involve them in pilot projects. From the city’s experience, Funchal presented how they organised multiple focus groups with local stakeholders involved in food-related activities. This collaborative approach allowed to build trust among participants and was crucial in developing the city’s first urban food policy.

Groningen, on the other hand, implemented food education initiatives, including cooking classes in schools and evening programs, to teach children about healthy, plant-based eating and aiming to change behaviours and habits from an early age.

Which tools support cities in developing and implementing an urban food policy?

In the third episode, the ‘Midday munchies’ moved on to present two tools and frameworks developed during the Food Trails project that helped cities start their food policies: the Food Policy Action Canva and the Theory of Change. The Food Trails partners found that these tools were key for the early stages of policy development, mainly serving as a foundation for thorough planning.

Erns-Jan Prosman, Researcher at the Politecnico di Milano, explained how the project partners took inspiration from the business model canvas and adapted it to food policy development. “Food policy becomes the desired change cities want to see,” he said, and the canvas helps define how it should look like to be feasible and viable in each local context. The Theory of Change then supports cities to go a step further and identify indicators that will help the local administration monitor and evaluate the impact of their actions.

Nadia Tonoli, from the Municipality of Bergamo, shared how the Food Policy Action Canvas provided a clear picture of the city’s existing food initiatives. The tool helped the municipality see how they could support and collaborate with stakeholders to boost Bergamo’s food movement.

In a similar way, Mette Svendgaard Høgholm, testified how the Municipality of Copenhagen used the Theory of Change to not only map what was already happening in the city but also to draft a detailed action plan. This plan included steps to involve different actors and set impact indicators to measure the strategy’s success.

Speakers stressed that the most crucial point in developing food policies is to start the process and then to understand that it is not set, but evolving over time and needs continuous adaptation, improvement and involvement.

How to work on food waste prevention and reduction?

Alice Casiraghi, Food Trails Crosscutting Manager on Circularity explained how food waste reveals deeper problems within our food systems. From overproduction and inefficient supply chains to consumer habits and inadequate policies, food waste highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to how we produce, distribute, and consume food.

To tackle this issue, cities like Warsaw and Birmingham, need to act as a bridge between different local stakeholders to co-create solutions.

Both Food Trails project partner cities presented the different projects they set up, in collaboration with researchers, citizens, community gardens, or small restaurants to tackle food waste holistically. For example, Birmingham has connected people to collect and transforms food scraps into compost for urban gardens. Warsaw has worked on improving the donation of food surplus from small restaurants to the food bank as well as optimising the storage and distribution of these donations so as to minimise food waste at all stages of the process.

Joining the conversation

With four episodes already concluded, the month of June will be dedicated to more in-depth learning about food systems and urban food policies. From food procurement to local quality food production, from finding ways to finance cities’ food solutions to ensuring access to healthy and quality food for all, the upcoming episodes offer a lot of food for thought.

Want to know more about what your city can do to develop sustainable food initiatives? Join the next four episodes of the ‘Midday munchies’ and tune in every Tuesday of June to learn more about what the Food Trails cities developed when implementing urban food policies.

4-Jun, 12.30 – 13.30 CET | How do we use food procurement to foster more sustainable and inclusive cities?

11-Jun, 12.30 – 13.30 CET | How can a city foster local and quality food production?

18-Jun, 12.30 – 13.30 CET | How to finance cities food ambitions?

25-Jun, 12.30 – 13.30 CET | How to ensure access to healthy and quality food for all?  

Watch all previous ‘Midday munchies’ episodes

This article first appeared on the eurocities.eu website.

You might also enjoy