The ‘Urban Paradox’ solution: Food pathway projects converge in the Netherlands

Last month, Slow Food Europe gathered all 18 Food Trails project partners for a partners’ meeting in the middle of the second year, in Almere – a city 30 minutes from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Why is there? This year, Almere is hosting the Floriade Expo 2022 and its theme: “Green Cities Development”, providing creative, green and sustainable solutions to make green and sustainable cities a reality. This topic is of increasing importance as 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and it could not be more relevant to the Food Trails project.

What are “food paths”, again? “Food Trails” is a four-year project, launched in October 2020, with the aim of stimulating the development of integrated food policies in cities by establishing “Living Labs” in 11 European cities (Warsaw, Tirana, Thessaloniki, Groningen, Grenoble, Funchal, Copenhagen, Bordeaux, Birmingham, Bergamo, and Milan). Supported by various partners including Slow Food, these Living Labs will enable collaboration between cities and their citizens to design food policies that empower their community, make the farm-to-fork journey sustainable, encourage waste-free use of resources, encourage environmentally friendly behavior change and ensure that That people have healthy and safe meals.

So, let’s go back to the “Food Paths” gathering in Almere, where the participants exchanged the question: How to launch an effective urban food policy and track progress towards 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, discussions and informal conversations among all the participants, three main points emerged from their discussions.

  • Or not, Cities have great power to boost the renewal of our food systems, and more in our current context of the food crisis, which cities can help address. They can design and implement policies that will instantly shape the food environments in which citizens live, which means they can accelerate the transition towards healthier, more flexible and sustainable diets relatively quickly! This proximity to citizens enables cities to be real catalysts for change. Making healthy food more accessible, promoting shorter supply chains and local farmers, preparing climate-friendly menus in public canteens and so on. All of these targeted actions and many others can help address the ecological footprint of food!
  • secondly, Most cities face similar challenges and try to achieve similar goals Such as promoting healthier and more sustainable diets, combating food waste, stimulating stronger urban-rural linkages, and working to design better food environments. You know the saying “alone we go faster, together we go further”. Cities need cooperation! Creating and strengthening networks of cities committed to operating according to their food systems can enable them to share experiences and best practices. And that’s exactly what Food Paths and its eleven member cities are doing.
  • Last but not least, Citizens must participate in the design of policy making, and participate in the creation of new policies that will affect them. Stimulating citizen participation is critical to developing a nutritional strategy that meets their needs. Participatory processes, through food councils, for example, are one way to catalyze bottom-up initiatives aimed at creating a social movement for change.

Some questions remain: How can we put youth at the center of urban food policies? How do we engage all stakeholders across the food supply chain to design truly enabling food environments? How do we deal with vulnerable communities and express their needs in concrete food policies?

To achieve a comprehensive and effective nutritional transition, all these factors must be considered: multi-level management, especially robust food strategies at the local level; Stakeholders and citizen participation across the entire food supply chain, strong dialogue and channels of communication with citizens, and strong rural and urban linkages.

In her opening speech, Caroline Steele reminded the Food Trails partners how important the solution to the “urban paradox” is. How can we actually create a communal living space where people can access both community and nature? How do we ensure that everyone lives well without destroying the planet?

Cities are part of the answer. They should strive to become greener, more sustainable, and citizen-friendly! Food is also part of this equation.

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