Food for thought: how cities shape more than what is on your plate

27th July 2017

By Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan and member of EUROCITIES Executive Committee

Food production has long been considered a rural concern, of little interest to cities. Yet, several cities are waking up to the role that local authorities can play in the development of sustainable food systems.

Although priorities differ from one city to another, several common goals are clear. These range from health and nutrition to poverty, food sustainability, food waste, and from climate change to economic development.

In searching for practical and comprehensive solutions cities’ food strategies look at food production and consumption as one, interlinked, process. As the level of government closest to citizens, cities are well placed to not only reduce resource consumption, but also engage citizens and connect other policy areas and city competencies.

Cities are also cooperating to overcome key challenges such as promoting multi-stakeholder engagement and sustainable local food production, by engaging in city networks like EUROCITIES and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

Food for the people

Cities act as brokers, bringing together civil society, business, and research organisations in a creative space, where innovative solutions can be designed and implemented for a more sustainable food system.

Rotterdam realised the importance of food policy to its economic and social ambitions early on, calculating an annual turnover of €27 billion per year in food related activities. One way that Rotterdam capitalised on this was to create a cluster where more than 6,000 food-related business and research organisations could start-up and prosper together.

When we developed our own food policy in Milan, we involved over 700 people in a public consultation process. This was an important step, which allowed us to collect data and opinions and test pilot projects with the support of citizens and community groups.

Sustainable food chains

One of the main areas of work is about reconnecting cities with their surrounding rural areas, and urban consumers with small-scale food producers. A cities use of green and social public procurement can help shape the food chain in a way that impacts on other areas of citizens’ lives.

Shortening the food chain is important for many cities’ food policy. Paris implemented its ‘Plan Alimentation Durable’ in public canteens. Now 77 percent of the fruit and vegetables served in the city’s canteens are sourced from within 250 kilometres.

Making the food chain more visible to city governments allows us to intervene at different stages, from farm to fork. Gothenburg, for example, is making use of the circular economy by utilising household food waste to produce biogas for the city’s buses.

Thinking in these terms is also important for food security. City-led initiatives and programmes to tackle food insecurity within cities focus on ensuring that everyone has access to decent, nutritious, and safe food.

Food matters

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which has been signed by 145 mayors so far, is the only joint declaration of mayors on urban food policy. My city’s initiative has helped increase the recognition of cities as key actors in food policy and opens the door to more integrated policy development.

At the global level the role of cities has also been recognised in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with several of the 17 SDGs and 67 targets making direct reference to the issues of food, water and cities.

These initiatives show that food is clearly a rising issue in global urban agendas as well as for stakeholders at the local level.

Share your food

Food policy clearly has far reaching consequences for our citizens in areas such as resource use, social inclusion and economic development. Milan is now sharing experiences and learning from other cities through the working group on food at EUROCITIES.

There is clearly more work to be done but through engaging with others we can find solutions to make the whole food chain more sustainable. Cities can surely lead this change by finding the best answers for our citizens.


Registration is now open for EUROCITIES’ annual conference, 15-17 November in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Politicians, decision makers and professionals from approximately 100 major European cities will gather to discuss this year’s theme: the circular economy. For more details, see:


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