Solving the “Urban Paradox”: the Food Trails Projects Meets in the Netherlands

Rebecca R. Ammons

Last month, Slow Food Europe met up with all 18 partners of the Food Trails Project for the mid-year 2 partner meeting, in Almere – a city 30 minutes away from Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

Why there? This year, the city of Almere is hosting the Floriade Expo 2022 whose theme is: “Growing Green Cities”, presenting creative, green, and sustainable solutions to make green and sustainable cities a reality. This topic is of growing importance as 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050, and it could not be more connected with the Food Trails Project.

What is “Food Trails”, again? “Food Trails” is a four-year project, launched in October 2020, with the aim to stimulate the development of integrated food policies in cities by setting up “Living Labs” in 11 European cities (Warsaw, Tirana, Thessaloniki, Groningen, Grenoble, Funchal, Copenhagen, Bordeaux, Birmingham, Bergamo, and Milan). These “Living Labs” which are supported by different partners, including Slow Food, will enable the collaboration between cities and their citizens to design food policies that empower their community, make the farm-to-fork journey sustainable, promote a zero-waste use of resources, encourage environmentally friendly behavior change and ensure people have healthy and secure diets.

So, back to the “Food Trails” gathering in Almere, where participants exchanged around the question: How to launch an effective urban food policy and track progress toward sustainable food systems? Together, they discussed innovative solutions to old and new challenges related to urban food systems:

  • food environments
  • food identity and social inclusion
  • local and regional food
  • food for a healthy planet

After several days of workshops, conferences, debates, and informal chats between all participants, three main takeaways emerged from their discussions.

  • First, cities hold a great power to enhance the regeneration of our food systems, and even more in our current context of food crisis, which cities can help tackle. They can design and implement policies that will immediately shape the food environments in which citizens live, which means they can accelerate the transition towards more healthy, resilient, and sustainable food systems relatively quickly! This proximity to citizens enables cities to be real catalyzers of change. Making healthy food more accessible, promoting shorter supply chains and local farmers, setting up climate-friendly menus in public canteens etc. All these targeted actions and many others can help tackle the environmental footprint of food!

 

  • Second, most cities are facing very similar challenges, and try to achieve similar goals such as encouraging healthier and more sustainable diets, fighting food waste, stimulating stronger urban-rural linkages, and acting to design better food environments. You know that saying “Alone we go faster, together we go further”. Cities need to team up! Establishing and strengthening networks of cities committed to acting upon their food systems can enable them to exchange experiences and best practices. And this is exactly what the “Food Trails” project and its 11 member cities are doing.

 

  • Last but not least, citizens must be involved in policy-making design, and co-create the new policies that will affect them. Stimulating citizens’ involvement is crucial to developing a food strategy that meets their needs. Participatory processes, through Food Councils, for example, are one of the ways to stimulate bottom-up initiatives that aim to generate social movement for change.

Some questions remain: how can we place young people at the center of urban food policies? How do we engage every stakeholder through the food supply chain to truly design enabling food environments? How do we engage with vulnerable communities and have their needs expressed in concrete food policies?

To create a comprehensive and effective food transition, all these factors need to be considered: multilevel governance, especially strong food strategies at the local level; stakeholders and citizen’s involvement across the whole food supply chain, dialogue and strong communication channels with citizens, strong rural and urban linkages.

In her opening speech, Carolyn Steel, reminded the “Food Trails” partners how important it is to solve “the urban paradox”. How can we indeed create a common living space where people have access to both society and nature? How do we ensure everyone lives well without destroying the Planet?

Cities are part of the answer. They must strive towards becoming greener, more sustainable, and friendlier to citizens! And food is also part of that equation.

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