Why cities are the future of sustainable food

It’s undeniable. We are living in the midst of an urban food renaissance. From farmer’s markets to craft beer to restaurants featuring local ingredients, we as a society care increasingly about what we put in our stomachs.

All these food fetishes can sometimes start to feel a bit ridiculous. Some might say that caring about the provenance of our food is a symptom of urbanite privilege, the latest in a search for #authenticliving. After all, when McDonald’s Canada does an ad campaign about their “local” Canadian-sourced ingredients, and burger joint Carl’s Jr. serves a grass-fed patty with a sexist Super Bowl ad to match, you know that the trend has started to turn on itself.

But I think there’s a lot more to it than that. After a 20th century marked by the rise of industrial food, people are starting to see how much the way we eat affects our bodies, our social structures, and the planet. Cities, where most people live and where much of the world’s economic action takes place, are leading a charge of healing and connection, driven in large part by local entrepreneurs. It’s a trend that persists even though most of our food is not grown in urban centres.

October 16 was World Food Day, a global day of action against hunger. The event commemorates the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945, and this year was special: for its 70th anniversary, the FAO created the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, signed by over 40 cities around the world, including Vancouver. According to the City of Vancouver's press release, “The Pact will commit cities to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, ensure access to healthy and affordable food, and strengthen urban agriculture practices.”

It is powerful to know that our city is taking a leadership role in food policy. While access to nourishing food is a basic human right, the reality is that healthy, fresh meals are a luxury available only to some. Not all of us are instagramming our organic salads. Amidst a federal election in Canada, our country faces major food security issues. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the horizon, the landscape of food production might change not just in Canada but around the world. It’s enough to make me need to relax with a good meal.

I recently had the opportunity to attend RIPE, an annual harvest celebration event hosted by Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. The event was a literal smorgasbord of local food. At stations set up around the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown, chefs from restaurants including Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage, Chef Quang Dang of West, Chef Andrea Carlson of Burdock & Co. and others partnered with local farmers to offer gourmet bites, along with a variety of local libations. These ingredients showcased the unique character and ingenuity of our community’s food entrepreneurs, be they farmers, chefs, winemakers or beyond.

When you look beyond the hype, there is something simply magical about sharing delicious food with a room full of people who care. Vancouver is so often stereotyped as an unfriendly city where no one talks to each other. Food events can have a way of instantly breaking barriers down. In a life where many of our meals are rushed and eaten alone in front of a computer screen, or consumed with the anxiety and guilt that can come with a diet-obsessed culture, eating a big beautiful meal with others is instantly healing. At the dinner, I met old friends and made many new ones. The gala event raised money for the Vancouver Farmers Markets, which runs nine markets around the city, supporting local business and improving food access for many people.

So much food-related activity is happening in our city, it’s hard to keep up. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch of Knives & Forks, a pioneering Vancouver-based community investment co-op that empowers people to invest directly in local food businesses. The launch event featured pitches by local food businesses seeking investment, showcasing an impressive range of diversity, innovation and scale.

RIPE took place just one day before Canada’s federal election. With so many food security issues at stake, the time for sharing a meal felt especially, well, ripe.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. She blogs about urban food gardening at http://abundantcity.net.

Join Rebecca on Roundhouse Radio every Tuesday afternoon at 5:00pm for Fabulous Urban Gardens on “Home” with host Jana Lynne White. Tune in at 98.3 FM in Vancouver or online.

Sturgeon from Chef Ryan Reed of Nomad Restaurant. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

 

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