"Food is a measure of how well or how badly we are doing as a society, and it should be measured by how well the poor are doing, not the rich.”

- Geoff Tansey, Panelist and Chair of the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty and Curator of the Food Systems Academy

Food plays a pivotal role in dealing with some of today’s most significant problems.

The Sustainable Food Cities programme, led by the Soil Association Sustain and Food Matters, helps cities and towns to take a joined-up approach to tackling some of today’s most urgent food-related challenges. Everything from food poverty and a burgeoning epidemic of diet-related ill-health to the disintegration of local food economies and environmental damage such as the rapid degradation of our soils, water, air and biodiversity. With 90% of UK citizens expected to live in urban areas by 2020, our attitudes and actions could not be more important in securing the future health of both people and the planet.

Sustainable Food Cities

50x Cities Number of Sustainable Food Cities across the UK

Food impacts every single person every single day, 3 meals a day

This means that we can all contribute to using food to tackle the challenges that we face. By taking an integrated approach to the transformation of our food system and culture we can all contribute to helping , secure the health of people and our planet, as well as facing social and economic challenges head on by creating jobs and prosperity. Sustainable Food Cities enables people to work together, across a city to tackle sustainable food issues head on. It gives everyone an opportunity to work together to create a place where sustainability and health in their food system is at the very heart of where they live. This means that every city combats the challenge of sustainable food differently, creating a programme that is unique to them. It is a movement for change by the city, for the city. Sustainability is a broad concept and this programme recognises the individuality of the direction that each city will take it in, rather than trying to get every city to reach a specific destination. What does remain the same in each city, are the 6 key issues that each programme tackles. But what are these issues?

2. Tackling food poverty, diet-related ill health and access to affordable healthy food

The most important thing about a city is its people. But our citizens are facing rising levels of food-related inequality, with many being affected by problems such as hunger, obesity and diet-related ill-health. Our Sustainable Food Cities are working to understand the root cause of these problems and to make affordable, healthy food available to all. One of the most inspiring success stories to date is the “Food and Fun” programme developed by Food Cardiff. Launched to prevent children going hungry in the school holidays, the project was awarded £500,000 by the Welsh Government this year. And the project has had even more of an impact than just activities and a free hot lunch. The scheme’s most effective strategy is to give all of the schools involved ownership of the project. Each school is able to input their own ideas and open up the unique resources they have to offer. Teaching assistants reported gaining a sense of confidence and fulfilment from independently leading their own activities, which ranged from sport and craft to first aid, English language and nutrition classes. As for the children themselves, the scheme has been a resounding success. Children spoke of forming closer friendships and better bonds with their peers, and they said that they looked forward to each day’s activity. One parent admitted that her daughter never did any activities during the school holidays before. Many parents added that the scheme made food last longer at home, and activity leaders confirmed that children were eating significantly more healthily than they would have done otherwise. The scheme is set to go out to wider Wales this year, covering 31 schools across 21 sites.

4. Promoting a vibrant and diverse sustainable food economy

If sustainable food culture is going to work in the long term, it shouldn’t just benefit the public and the planet, but also the businesses that buy into it. Sustainable Food Cities help the local economy to prosper by supporting a vibrant and diverse range of sustainable food businesses, from restaurants to shops to growers. The programme also encourages established businesses to switch to sustainable suppliers. In 2010, The Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency developed Greenwich Kitchen, an incubation centre offering free food business training to help new sustainable food entrepreneurs to get off the ground. So far, this initiative has helped over 40 new food businesses get off the ground to date. The secret to their success is a three-pronged approach, combining free training, free use of the kitchens, and access to stalls at local markets. Many of their trainees have since gone on to much greater heights. Christina Reynolds gave up her job to start her own food business, investing all her savings in premises which she could not afford to keep. Greenwich Kitchen’s free premises provided the vital springboard needed to get her business off the ground, and Feast Food is now a highly successful events catering company employing a large team of people. The founder of Elvira’s Secret Pantry started out attending the kitchen on her days off. Her gluten-free Italian baking is now stocked by major suppliers such as Selfridges and Planet Organic. Greenwich Kitchen’s excellent reputation means that companies have started using them to procure caterers from their list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

6. Transforming catering and food procurement

Almost 50% of all food is eaten away from home, so where caterers source their ingredients is a big deal. If we can persuade our schools, hospitals and workplaces to buy their ingredients from sustainable sources, we have the potential to make some really large-scale changes. The Bath and North East Somerset Local Food Partnership have done just this. By putting caterers in touch with local and ethical suppliers, they’ve converted the local Council, a leading live entertainment venue, and even the diocese of Bath and Wells to sustainable catering. Not only that, but they’ve earned their schools and educational institutions some prestigious food accreditation. Bath Spa University has achieved the Soil Association’s Silver Food For Life Catering Mark for the sheer breadth of its sustainable food policy and action plan. This plan includes serving seasonal menus, sourcing food from local growers, and extends to educating staff and customers in sustainability practices. Not to mention tap water drinking facilities, cage-free eggs, organic milk and sustainable fish and meat. And their fair trade policy earned them a Gold Award for Best Faritrade University in 2015. Other sustainable caterers are starting their customers off young – Snapdragons nurseries have achieved a Gold Food For Life Catering Mark for their work sourcing sustainable food and promoting healthy eating. They were also awarded Nursery Chef of the Year Award in 2014

1. Promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public

There’s no point in having a great food action plan if no-one knows about it. That’s why promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public is one of the most important first steps in creating a Sustainable Food City. Each Sustainable Food City is engaging and educating people of all backgrounds, spreading the word about how our relationship with food can make a big difference to our health, to communities and to the environment. Bristol Food Connections hosts a city-wide food celebration that brings together Bristol’s food community and its citizens. The festival has grown rapidly over the years, and helped Bristol gain a Sustainable Food Cities Silver Award in 2016. The next Food Connections Festival will be in June 2018. Bristol Food Connections is unique in that it’s the only food event in the UK focussing specifically on engaging the public, rather than networking or promoting local businesses. The festival’s ethos is to foster a good food community across the whole city. One of their most successful projects is a series of events called ‘Cook n’ Converse’, where communities get together with people of influence, such as local councillors. They make food together, sit down and eat, and discuss food issues.Another is ‘91 Ways’: named after the 91 languages spoken in Bristol, this series of community cafés started with a single event at Bristol Food Connections. During this showcase of Somalian food, the discussions of local Somalian women sparked an inquiry that linked obesity levels with the number of fast food outlets children passed on their way home from school: a perfect example of conversation leading to action. 91 Ways has gone on to celebrate a whole range of cultures, and act as a catalyst for important conversations about food.

3. Building community food knowledge, skills, resources and projects

Sharing knowledge is a vital aspect of a Sustainable Food City. Innovation and action at the grassroots level can only happen when groups and individuals work together to pool their resources and expertise. So it’s important that communities feel connected, valued and able to take control of their own initiatives. Cambridge Sustainable Food started out as a grass-roots organisation, and has gone on to unite the whole city, connecting: growers, businesses, councils, NGOs and even the health and education sectors. It runs a wide range of community initiatives, including free cookery courses, communal growing spaces, and a produce box initiative. CSF’s most unprecedented success has been the Cambridge Pumpkin Festival, which has grown rapidly since its inception in 2015. The citywide event draws on the excitement of Halloween to enthuse families about sustainable farming and to help people become more aware of the issues around food waste. According to the organisers, many families didn’t even realise that pumpkins could be cooked. Even foodies were surprised by the pumpkin’s potential, demonstrated through a fantastic range of workshops and stalls. The key to the festival’s success is the diversity of the organisations involved, from the local council to a CSF member’s father, who painted a pumpkin cut-out board for funny photo opportunities. In 2016, they attached a pop-up farmer’s market, which drew in even more customers and provided valuable revenue for local growers. In fact, 2016’s festival involved around 20 different community organisations and 30 different businesses, attracting over 2700 attendees. Numbers are only set to increase in the coming years.

5. Reducing waste and the ecological footprint of the food system

It’s been estimated that food waste costs UK families £700 a year – in fact, almost half of all food is thrown away . Not only is this costing us money, it’s also costing the environment. And it’s not just waste – the way food is produced, packaged and transported also has a significant ecological footprint. Sustainable Food Cities across the UK are working hard to make this process more efficient and are tackling the needless disposal of good food. The People’s Fridge in Lambeth was launched in 2016. London’s first community fridge follows the example of similar setups in Spain, India, Germany and Frome, Somerset. The initiative provides a way for market traders, food businesses and the public to share their excess food with those who really need it. And with volunteers and local traders checking and cleaning the fridge each day, the quality and safety of the food on offer is guaranteed. Local traders have gone above and beyond the call of duty to supply the fridge. Every two days, the staff of Ritzy Cinema in Brixton take time at the end of their day to walk across Brixton and drop off a variety of delicious surplus cakes. This is a completely staff-lead initiative that the employees decided upon with no external prompting. And once a week, an anonymous, very high-end bakery drops off bags of exquisite gourmet sandwiches. The people who use the fridge range from “freegans” to citizens who would otherwise be going hungry for days. One man, whose unemployment benefits failed to last the two-week cycle, would start using the fridge every ten to eleven days after receiving his benefits. Without the fridge, he would have gone without food – proof that initiatives like these can cut food waste and improve lives in one fell swoop.

Sustainable Food Cities

is a multi-partner programme led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain and funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation which is supporting towns and cities across the UK to develop transformational healthy and sustainable food programme.

Follow us on twitter

Soil Association
Follow us