Householders and planners want to fill the urban food bowl
MORE and more city-dwellers are asking where our grub comes from, how it’s grown and how we fit into the chain, says Trevor Budge, associate professor of planning at Latrobe University.
“There’s a groundswell of people who are trying to rediscover their connection with fruit and vegies as something you produce yourself,” he says. “It’s partly a reaction to prices and security of supply, but also a rediscovery of the importance of food more generally.”
Last month, in a keynote speech at Melbourne’s State of Design Festival, British architect and writer Carolyn Steel argued that food has always been a critical influence on our cities and our daily lives, whether we noticed or not.
The author of Hungry City: how food shapes our lives, Ms Steel says pre-industrial cities were laid out according to the way the food arrived. “Initially, cities were fed largely from their surrounding hinterlands. If you wanted to eat meat, the animals walked in. So there were old slaughterhouses, fisheries and wholesale markets organised by the city.
“In the post-industrial world we’ve had a big transition to supermarkets controlling the food supply chain,” she says.
As cities grow larger, she says, we get further and further away from the sources of our sustenance, which makes it hard to account for the true costs of production.
“Food and agriculture together account for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions currently, so if you’re talking about the environment, you have to talk about food.
“It has to be part of everything, from how we design houses to how we design cities. We don’t need to grow all our food in cities, but what is the right balance between urbanity and rurality?”
She says householders should try to establish networks with local producers through initiatives such as farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, as well as grow their own greens.
“Low-density suburbia is just fertile land that has houses on it. So there’s capacity for people to do fairly serious home food production in their gardens,” she says.
“We live in a world shaped by food; we just don’t realise it, so Coles and Woolworths do it all for us. We have monopolistic control of the food system and you can’t create a democratic society with a non-democratic food system.
“If we want to confront issues such as climate change, peak oil, resource depletion and population growth, we need to ask ourselves, what is a good life through food? Food is an incredibly powerful way of questioning how we should live – there’s only so much to go around.”
These questions are also preoccupying local planners. Recently, Mr Budge contributed to a significant report on food-sensitive planning and urban design commissioned by the Heart Foundation.
Like Ms Steel, the report argues that an equitable, sustainable food supply must become a priority in the way our cities run. That could mean everything from easing by-laws on keeping chickens or bees and planting edible nature strips, to guaranteeing a mix of fresh food retailers close to all housing developments.
“With food, a whole lot of issues come together – around quality, security, the price of energy, climate change and health,” Mr Budge says. “It hits so many buttons and if you look around the world, these concerns aren’t going away.”