Food and urban planning

MorgenTomorrowLast week the municipality of Amsterdam, together with the Netherlands Institute for Planning & Housing and the Ministry of  Housing, Spatial Planning & the Environment, organized and hosted the International Urban Planning Conference entitled MorgenTomorrow. The two-day conference was a combination of plenary sessions in the morning and parallel workshops in the afternoon. I had the honour and pleasure of convening a workshop entitled ‘Food and the City’. Although the food system is, as Pothukuchi and Kaufman (2000) rightfully state in their article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, a stranger to the field of urban planning it was good to see that the conference organizers had put food very prominently on the conference agenda. Not only by means of the workshop I convened but also by means of keynote lectures in the plenary sessions by LaDonna Redmond and Tim Lang. Both are extremely critical about the prevailing food system.

LaDonna is a community activist as well as founder and CEO the Institute for Community Resource Development (ICRD) in Chicago (Illinois). The ICRD’s mission is to rebuild the local food system by building grocery stores that bring access to sustainable products to urban communities of color, organizing farmers markets, converting vacant lots to urban farm sites and distributing local grown produce to restaurants. I was unable to attend LaDonna Redmond’s keynote, but she participated in my workshop and reflected on the different presentations.

Tim is Professor of Food Policy at the Centre for Food Policy of City University London. He has authored and co-authored many articles and books about food policy, especially focussing on the relation between food, health, social justice and the environment. His current work is about ‘omni-standards for sustainable diets’. I attended his keynote lecture and what I very much appreciated about his vision is that, despite the food system being a major contributor to climate change, devising sustainable food systems is not simply a matter of creating ‘climate neutral’ food systems. It will only be truely sustainable if it is able to meet a whole range of sustainability standards (a set of omni-standards as he calls them) in which social and health aspects are as important as economic and environmental ones. What struck me most in his presentation, and which will undoubtedly become the new issue in food debates, is the water footprint of the conventional food system.

Around 65% of all fresh water is used for food production and with growing water scarcity and an increase in water-stressed countries, water use is likely to become the main threat for food production. The table below, of which Tim displayed a part in his presentation, is rather shocking. It shows how much water is needed to produce one portion of a whole range of mainly food products and drinks. It surely makes one (at least is does make me) aware of the urgent need for change.

Portion Litres Portion Litres Portion Litres
Pint of beer, 568ml 170 Cup of coffee, 125ml 140 Glass of orange juice, 200ml 170
Glass of milk, 200ml 200 Cup of instant coffee, 125ml 80 Glass of apple juice, 200ml 190
Cup of tea, 250ml 35 Glass of wine, 125ml 120 Orange, 100g 50
Slice of bread, 30g 135 Bread with cheese, 30g + 10g 90 Bag of potato crisps, 200g 185
Egg, 40g 135 Tomato, 70g 13 Hamburger, 150g 2400
Potato, 100g 25 Apple, 100g 70 Bovine leather shoes 8000
Sheet of A4, 80 g/m² 10 Cotton tee-shirt, medium 500g 4100 Microchip, 2g 32