Food systems are critical to urban resilience

By Patricia Ballamingie
July 15, 2018

Thanks to the international networking of FLEdGE PI Alison Blay-Palmer, FLEdGE researchers and partners were invited to present a panel on Building resilient food systems: Policy across multiple scales at the ICLEI World Congress 2018, held in Montreal, June 20-22.

Since ICLEI’s inception, urban resilience and sustainability have largely been framed in terms of climate change mitigation and adaption. But as food system scholars and practitioners know, food serves as a portal to those and so many other related socio-economic and environmental issues. And cities play a crucial role in achieving food security, optimizing health and advancing environmental sustainability. Food production and food access programs target predominantly urban populations; urban, peri-urban, and rural areas remain closely interrelated; and the municipal level proves the most effective and efficient for many food policies and programs to occur.

Food entered various ICLEI presentations; the following are illustrative snippets:

  • In the opening plenary, Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), stressed: “We need to transform how we eat, and how we produce it.” To that end, she explained the GEF will begin work on Sustainable Cities, with grants for food security work.
  • In her keynote address, Severn Cullis-Suzuki (environmental activist, speaker, television host, and author) described “growing urban farming movements as one of the hippest niches for young people to get involved in.”
  • In a session on Local Resilience: A multi-scale transformational process, Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, stressed: “By developing our economies, we ensure we can feed our people.”
  • In a session on Improving Nutrition in Urban Areas: The role of good nutrition governance, Dominic Schofield, Canada Representative for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), contrasted the 805 million people who go hungry (plus 2 billion who survive on diets lacking in vitamins and minerals) with the 1.9 billion who are overweight or obese. He further stressed that chronic malnutrition not only impacts disease resilience, but also human capital—resulting in permanent impairment.

Examining food policy governance at municipal and national levels.

The FLEdGE panel, Building resilient food systems: Policy across multiple scales, examined food policy governance at municipal and national levels. In this interactive session we shared research insights in order to stimulate a conversation with audience members about multi-scale food policy and governance.

  • Lori Stahlbrand, Health Policy Specialist with the Toronto Food Policy Council, described working on Toronto’s refreshed Food Strategy, and on issues of foodshed, urban-rural alliances, pollinators, and institutional procurement.
Lori Stalbrand discusses Toronto’s Food Strategy at the ICLEI World Congress 2018. Photo: W. Roberts

Did you know that municipal food policy councils are recognized as a Canadian innovation, with the Toronto Food Policy Council as a pioneer in the field?

  • Rotem Ayalon, who now works with Montreal United Way, participated on behalf of Montreal Métropole en santé, which is supporting the new food policy council in the city. Ayalon discussed the importance of collaboration, described supporting policies that promote a sustainable, equitable food system, and noted that the new council offers advice, infrastructure and financial support for regional initiatives. The council comprises members from municipal government and civil society.
Rotem Ayalon ICLEI 2018
Rotem Ayalon discusses the creation of a new food policy council in Montreal. Photo: W. Roberts

Did you know that both the Toronto and Montreal food policy councils are signatories to the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact?

  • Patricia Ballamingie delineated why a national food policy must support (and be informed by) municipal food systems actors. She stressed that regardless of scale—whether municipal, provincial, national or international—effective co-governance increases both deliberative democratic process and urban resilience.
Trish Ballamingie ICLEI 2018
Patricia Ballamingie discusses the importance of municipal food systems actors for a national food policy. Photo: W. Roberts
  • Eve Nimmo and André de Lacerda shared lessons from Brazil in supporting local producers and ecological initiatives, emphasizing sustainable agroforestry. They further reflected on government policies and programs that bring local food into schools and low-income areas—benefiting children, families, institutions, and producers.



Discussion that ensued with audience involvement:

  • A representative from Nutrition International questioned how to facilitate food policy councils in “developing” countries. [We noted that while these models work well in a Canadian context (and elsewhere), they are not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, and should be assessed for their appropriateness on a case-by-case basis. A representative from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition echoed our reply, noting that in some places there are existing structures that can be adapted for better urban policies, rather than starting a FPC from the ground-up.]
  • An audience member asked whether policies include the issue of food waste. [In response, Patricia Ballamingie cited local initiatives aimed at mitigating food waste, such as Ottawa FoodSharing and Hidden Harvest; and legislation in France banning supermarket waste and compelling large food retailers to donate unsold food.

Did you know that in Ontario, the Donation of Food Act, 1994, a Good Samaritan law, limits the liability of a donor acting in good faith?

  • An audience member reflected that in Denver, Colorado, >40% of retail food is purchased at Walmart or Target, yet the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council is comprised mostly of representatives from grassroots organizations, most of whom do not produce food. They asserted that big ag, and big food retailers, should be part of these food policy councils. [In response, Lori Stahlbrand noted that the TFPC members do not directly represent their sector, but rather pursue the goals of the charter.]

Moving forward, our goal as a research collaborative will be to formally encourage food systems thinking in discussions of urban resilience, governance, and related policies. We are grateful to ICLEI personnel, Tory Okner (Head of Strategy and Partnerships) and Thiago Soares Barbizan (Food Systems Officer), for their support, and look forward to working with them in the future!