Why Food and Cities?

Last changed: 07 July 2021
Street food

Rapid urbanization and growth of urban populations means that most people are living in cities, and thus the consumers and consumer culture whose decisions define how the food system may evolve are concentrated in urban areas.

Over time, the physical separation of food production infrastructure and labour located in the rural, and consumption practices located in cities has come to define a rural-urban dichotomy despite these systems being intricately connected. On the one hand, the city has physically encroached upon the rural through urban expansion and symbolically through culture, lifestyle and the globalisation of food systems, yet on the other hand become increasingly detached from food production and the culture of food production.

Cities act as centres of power and decision-making in a globalised and industrialised world, where a few economic and political actors determine the characteristics of production, distribution and consumption. However, new planning and governance arrangements like city regional food systems, as well as food movements and alternative food networks have emerged that seek to reconnect cities to food both physically, ideologically and culturally, offering insights into the social, economic and environmental implications of a global food system centred around a rural-urban dichotomy.  

Cities in themselves are sites of food challenges. Food access, availability and agency are increasingly stratified culturally and economically, shedding light on questions of justice and equality in the dynamics of food production and consumption. Until recently and despite its relevance, the food system has often been invisible to the policies and strategies of government and planning but are now being lifted in debates about sustainability, food security, and food justice.  

The intersection of food and cities offers a site of critical analysis for understanding the planning, functioning and governance of food systems, which operate across multiple scales and across different geographical, social and cultural contexts. Looking at food and cities as interwoven phenomena is crucial for understanding the complexity of these systems and the challenges facing them. The theme of food and cities disputes the separation of rural and urban and emphasises the connection between local and global, using food as an entry point to better understand the interdependencies within food systems that are rapidly changing through processes of urbanisation.  

The Food & Cities project sees cross- and transdisciplinary research as way to better understand the afore-mentioned complexities, challenges and opportunities emerging at the intersection of the themes of food and cities. The project therefore aims to support and strengthen cross- and transdisciplinary collaboration in research and education at SLU concerned with these themes.