Illustration: Clare Nicholas
How to feed a city
1st June, 2009
We can continue to squander our resources and react to food crises as they happen, or we can fundamentally change the way the food systems work, says Carolyn Steel
Sitopia is really a state of mind; a way of recalibrating the values by which we live. It privileges food.
Feeding cities has never been easy. On the contrary, it could be described as mankind’s oldest self-imposed dilemma. The problem is that even though people living in cities don’t tend to produce their own food, whether they realise it or not, they still dwell on the land. The resultant distance (in all senses) between city-dwellers and their food is a paradox at the core of civilisation; resolving it is the greatest challenge of our time.
Cities have been around for some 5,500 years, yet for most of that period the number of people who lived in them represented a tiny fraction of the global population. In 1800, just three per cent lived in towns of 5,000 inhabitants or more. Today that figure is more than half. Three billion already live in cities, and a further three billion are expected to join them by 2050. If so many are to be fed on current principles, the threat to global reserves of oil, water, fish, soil and rainforest – to say nothing of the climate change associated with plundering those reserves – is stark.
A few statistics state the case: 95 per cent of the food we eat today is oil-dependent, yet peak oil is imminent; 70 per cent of global freshwater is used for agriculture,...
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