During the first week of the course Food health and society, the students set on to analyse Urban Food Strategies, each of the six groups having their ‘own’ city. They received classes in what ‘policy’ is and had to apply the ‘what’s the problem’ approach by Carol Bacchi. The key idea is that policies are not neutral or objective but that how the problem is represented – what is brought to the fore and what is left out – is constructed in social context. It is therefore important to ask who’s problem is represented and how discourse has intended and unintended effects.
We had an interesting afternoon with student presentations trying to compare the various ways in which different cities such as Toronto, Bristol or London present problem and solution in their Urban Food Strategies. As has been noted in the agri-food movement literature, there is much more focus on food security in the United States and Canada than in Europe and the framing of the food strategy examples of the US and Canadian cities were very much focused on alleviating hunger and access to nutritious, or fresh, or healthy food to underserved neighbourhoods. The Toronto strategy says that Toronto is ‘poised to lead the way’ as the most experienced and long standing partnership between government and civil society around food and health. Which is clearly visible if one compares how many concrete actions at neighbourhood level by the dozens of community food organisations are supported by the strategy.
However, ‘food security’ is not always what it seems to be. This became clear when looking at the fifth ‘strategic objective’ of the London Food Strategy which is also on food security. However, a close read revealed a very different framing of the problem. The fifth objective said ‘to develop London’s food security’ which turned out to be focusing on London as a food system, not on problems of unequal access to food on individual or household level. Indeed, the objective relates to worry about ‘disruption of fuel supplies, human and animal diseases’(p35) and other emergencies that can cause the chain logistics to collapse. Also Looking at who needs to become active in London formed an interesting contrast with other examples; “In 2016, London’s residents, employees and visitors, together with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, will take responsibility for the health (…) resulting from the food choices that they make” (p11). The effect that this representation produces is that every Londoner is able to make the ‘right’ choices which is not likely we learned from the other cities’ focus on access and affordability.