Can food rebuild our communities?


At this time of unprecedented societal change, food can be both a saviour and source of stress. So for our latest U+I Think event, hosted digitally in partnership with the Festival of Place, we invited Carolyn Steel, author and leading thinker on food and cities, to explain how food remains central to addressing the predicaments of our urban, digital age.

Carolyn’s latest book, ‘Sitopia’ (Greek for ‘food place’) explores the connection between food and society, arguing that food is the fundamental tool for connecting people and places. As the Covid-19 pandemic upends life as we know it, what could a food-based future look like, as we rebuild our communities?

Her presentation began with a whistle-stop tour through history, highlighting how food has shaped our lives and landscapes for thousands of years. Cities and towns rely on the countryside to provide them with food, and maintaining this symbiotic relationship between the two remains one of the greatest challenges of the modern age. As 68% of the world’s population is expected to be urban by 2050, agriculture is struggling to sate our increasingly hungry cities, causing catastrophic damage to the planet in the process.

Many of the issues we’re currently experiencing around food (access, security, quality) were already problematic before the Covid-19 pandemic. This crisis has highlighted that we need to work more closely with nature and address divisions in society to ensure quality, sustainability and democracy within the food chain.

So what’s the answer? Eating organic produce, consuming less meat and dairy and minimising waste is a good place to start. But for the property industry, we need to make space in our cities to support the growth, distribution, sale and consumption of food. It’s not enough to create mixed communities and only think about where people will live. We should consider where they are working and spending their leisure time. Eating is central to this.

After all, food places themselves – markets, cafés and restaurants – are about far more than the food itself. They are places for us to relax, socialise and connect with one another: the very essence of a sitopian society.

You can watch the full event here and buy a copy of Sitopia here.