Wayne ROBERTS – Fixing food not only solves food problems

On July 5th, 2014 International Urban Food Network (IUFN) interviewed Wayne Roberts about his latest book Food for city Building, A Field Guide for Planners, Actionists & Entrepreneurs. The original article can be found here: http://www.iufn.org/en/iufninterview/interview-wayne-roberts/

Part memoir, part manual, part manifesto, Wayne’s latest book Food for city Building, A Field Guide for Planners, Actionists & Entrepreneurs, tells what he learned the hard way over decades as one of North America’s leading analysts and practitioners supporting local government programs for local and sustainable food.

IUFN // How would you explain what Carolyn Steel calls in the preface of your latest book Food for city Building a ‘collective coma of the previous century about the true nature of food’?

For the better part of a hundred years, certainly since World War 11, people in most areas of the Global North took leave of their senses when it came to food.  The first sign was that cities thought they no longer had to ensure the local food supply, now that trains and ocean freighters could bring so many refrigerated foods from afar. So suburban sprawl became the norm and few areas took care to protect local farmers from low-cost competitors abroad. After World War 11, processed foods became the norm and people got used to non-fresh foods from afar. Living that far from an awareness of food fundamentals of freshness and locality is a a mental state that could be likened to a coma.

IUFN // Do you think social media are today’s best vectors to help sustainable food re-become a societal change-driver?

Social media is central to the food movement, and it is no accident that both arose at the same time. There are two main reasons for that. One, it is the right price — free — for social movements with few resources. Two, both the food movement and social media have a similar approach to working with people. They provide a platform — be it Google, Firefox or Facebook or Linked In — and let people run with it, rather than telling people what THE answer is. They enable people. That’s especially what a food policy council, where I worked, does.

IUFN // You give huge importance to ground-based local initiatives when starting to shape local food policy. Now, how to scale up (develop greater volumes) and scale out (develop a wider customer base)?

In less than 20 years, we have accomplished something fantastic. We have shown that a relatively small number of people with relatively small amounts of land and other resources can grow sustainable food and sell it to sizable numbers of people.  Even more impressive, we have defined the critical food theme — quality — and forced many in the dominant system to imitate us or pretend to imitate us, as with “greenwashing.” Now we need to set our sights on scaling up, from about 5 to about 20 per cent of the market. That way, more people come to like sustainable food and more farmers and processors learn how to grow and process it. To scale up, we need government contracts to supply schools, universities and hospitals. I believe that should be our main focus for the next five to ten years. And then we will scale again!

IUFN // Is food sensitive planning a part of smart growth?

We can’t have good planning or smart growth unless we’re smart enough to use food as a planning lever. Fixing food not only solves food problems.  Food is obviously also a lever to solve health problems and garbage problems and global warming problems, since a third of waste and a third of global warming emissions come from the food system.  Less obviously, food is a lever for many tough problems that SEEM indirectly related to food. This is where we see the leverage power of food. I’ll give just one example — traffic jams, a six Brandin Cooks Authentic Jersey billion a year problem for my city, Toronto, when the paid time lost in traffic is added up. One car trip in five is to shop for food, which we could dramatically cut by pedestrianizing food retail, making sure no-one lived more than half a kilometer from a healthy and affordable food outlet. One freight truck in five carries food, which could also be cut by localizing food systems. And both changes would be accompanied by substantial growth in youthful employment, making food a lever to solve two huge problems.

IUFN // Even if ‘People don’t need to have the same Brandin Cooks Womens Jersey motivation to agree on a mutually beneficial activity’, we know that the systemic shift towards more sustainability won’t go without conflicts. Would you say that Food policy councils are today’s best infrastructures able Brandin Cooks Youth Jersey to make different communities look in the same direction?

Nothing happens anywhere with anything without differences of opinion or conflicts. That’s one thing sustainability workers share with everyone else. But food-based sustainability campaigns have an opportunity to reduce some of that conflict and resistance. First, everyone eats, and therefore everyone benefits from knowing they will be able to eat in the future, and also will benefit from eating in the future. So no-one is promoting sustainability in order to take something away from anyone. If we can’t create some good will out of that, there’s something wrong with us. Secondly, the benefits of getting food right are so incredible — think of billions in healthcare savings alone — that we can afford to phase changes in while being very generous to people who lose in the short run. Truck drivers will lose out, for example, from a system with less transport. We can ensure them training in a program of their choice, or top up their salary to the level it was before. This is a win-win for everyone, and that’s how we need to plan and campaign.

IUFN // No innovation without assessment. Though, you stress the slow feedback loop from good food decisions. What could be done to make most of the trial-and-error method and move faster towards sustainable food systems for city-regions?

We can go faster toward sustainability by leapfrogging. Leap over the back of the person in front of you, like you did as kids. Find the city that is number one in composting. Do the same, with modifications as appropriate. Find out who is number 1 in farmers markets. Do what they do. Repeat. And share what you learned with people while they’re getting ready to jump over your back. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. We have to do it way more often.

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