Shaping the way we eat

A food revolution is under way in our towns and cities. New collaborations between consumers and producers are proliferating in recognition of the need to learn from one another when it comes to our day-to-day eating and drinking habits.

The Slow Food move­ment, initi­ally envi­sa­ged as a coun­ter­point to fast food, arri­ved in Switz­er­land shortly before the start of the new mill­en­nium, a time when farmers were begin­ning to market their produce directly, artis­a­nal food produc­tion was brin­ging regio­nal specia­li­ties to our shops, inno­va­tive restau­ra­teurs were redis­co­ve­ring the culinary heri­tage of the Alps and Swiss Taste Week was laun­ched. Over time, raising aware­ness of healthy dietary beha­viours has had a posi­tive impact on the future of the food system.

Urban food poli­cies take off

The gene­ral public’s aware­ness of sustainable and healthy eating has risen shar­ply in recent years. When shop­ping, more and more people are looking for food that is regio­nal, sustainable, healthy and fair trade. A supply of healthy, sustain­ably produ­ced food is a basic neces­sity but – unlike other basic neces­si­ties such as housing – it has not, histo­ri­cally, been seen as part of the urban mandate, and its gover­nance has been left to higher poli­ti­cal eche­lons and ‘the market’. Since the early 2000s, howe­ver, more and more cities have been ques­tio­ning the current food system. Civil society has also been working with local busi­nesses and educa­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­ons to improve our day-to-day eating habits.

Char­ter for an urban food policy

Ever since the ‘Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP)’ of 2015 and the Glas­gow Food and Climate Decla­ra­tion at the 26th UN Climate Summit in 2021, the concept of an urban food policy has been high on everyone’s agenda – inclu­ding in Switz­er­land, where 85 per cent of the popu­la­tion lives in towns and cities. Cities and local autho­ri­ties can make a huge diffe­rence by intro­du­cing targe­ted stra­te­gies and measu­res to make their food systems more sustainable, ensu­ring healthy and sustainable food is served in their schools, hospi­tals, care centres and staff restau­rants and impro­ving nutri­tio­nal aware­ness at local level. 

The rese­arch project ‘Cities as drivers of sustainable food systems’, a joint project run by the Centre for Deve­lo­p­ment and Envi­ron­ment (CDE) at the Univer­sity of Bern in colla­bo­ra­tion with BFH’s School of Agri­cul­tu­ral, Forest and Food Scien­ces (BFH-HAFL), exami­ned the food gover­nance stra­te­gies employed by the cities of Basel, Bern, Biel/Bienne, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, St. Gallen, Winter­thur and Zurich and is evalua­ting the impact and importance of ongo­ing measu­res. The Union of Swiss Cities (SSV) is also invol­ved in this project. In a few weeks, the Union will be laun­ching the ‘Char­ter for Sustainable Food in Swiss Cities and Towns’, outlining the goals and remit of urban food policy. The Swiss Network of Taste Cities and the Fonda­tion pour la Promo­tion du Goût’s Taste Academy are to play an active role in its implementation.

Food forum as a plat­form for urban food policy

When it comes to desig­ning and imple­men­ting urban food policy, appro­priate colla­bo­ra­ti­ons with asso­cia­ti­ons, busi­nesses, educa­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­ons and civil society play a key role at local level. In Basel, Bern and Zurich, colla­bo­ra­ti­ons of this kind are orga­nised as food forums. Food forums bring toge­ther public and private-sector stake­hol­ders at local or regio­nal level, all of them looking for a fair, viable and inno­va­tive food system and commit­ted to good, sustainable food. Special skills and plen­ti­ful resour­ces are requi­red to set up food forums like this and to mode­rate plat­form acti­vi­ties, which include analy­sing systems, iden­ti­fy­ing posi­tive tipping points for system change and deve­lo­ping targe­ted actions based on these. The forums also need to be legi­ti­mi­sed by an agree­ment with the local autho­rity or canton. Nowhere in Switz­er­land satis­fac­to­rily meets these prere­qui­si­tes at present. 

A need for joint deve­lo­p­ment work

The exis­ting food forums will ther­e­fore take on an infor­ma­tio­nal and educa­tio­nal role over the next few years and share their know­ledge with any parties who are inte­res­ted in setting up and opera­ting urban food policy plat­forms in diffe­rent cities and towns. Coope­ra­tion with the Union of Swiss Cities (SSV), the Network of Taste Cities and the Fonda­tion pour la Promo­tion du Goût’s Taste Academy is envi­sa­ged here, as well as with univer­si­ties that are rese­ar­ching urban food policy in Switz­er­land and other count­ries. There is a great need for joint deve­lo­p­ment work in this area of policy and prac­tice as well as for support from foun­da­ti­ons that see them­sel­ves as agents of change within the food system.

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