Edible cities, cities of the future

16 October 2020

The theme of the food supply, food quality and its distribution in cities is more relevant than ever as the urban population swells.

Firstly because more than half the world population now lives in urban areas. Secondly because it’s in urban areas that social inequality are most sharply felt, in particular regarding access to fresh, healthy food.

The Edible cities, cities of the future forum gave us the chance to discuss this theme with people who work with Slow Food in their respective cities and countries on innovative projects to improve access to food. They also work to shape public opinion and raise awareness of the need to change the currently-dominant food system. What determines the movement of food across thousands of kilometers, its storage in vast warehouses, the sale of foods treated with preservatives and additives to lengthen their shelf-life, packing with lots of plastic and the consequent waste problem?


Dimapur is a city in Northeast India, the largest and most densely populated in the State of Nagaland, with around 250,000 inhabitants.

Here, chef Joel Basumatari runs the Smokey Joes restaurant. Like all good cooks, he knows the producers who supply the raw materials he cooks with, and goes to visit them in the villages surrounding the city. He goes further, too, encouraging them to use sustainable techniques like permaculture, and together they’ve created an experimental vegetable garden. The beginning of their city of the future.

Children at the Hollotolli school.

“Since we started this garden another 15 have opened; we’ve organized a collaboration with a school. In 2019 we organized an event and we were able to create revenue for our farmers. We try to stay in close to touch with the surrounding villages. In the future we’ll try to spread knowledge of traditional agricultural practices ever further. Up until now it’s been a fruitful experience, and we’ve had encouragement from farmers and local people. We try to use the resources that the countryside provides in our dishes, creating new recipes and sharing them with local people. I go to speak with these farmers and encourage them to keep growing traditional foods.”

The city of the future provides lots of examples of cooks active in revitalizing rural areas and creating short supply chains, as well as cooks who are ambassadors of gastronomic biodiversity.


John Kiwagalo, Slow Food Youth Network Africa

In Uganda too the Slow Food network is working to provide fresh products to urban populations. John Kiwagalo, coordinator of the Slow Food Youth Network in Africa, tell us: “We mobilize communities and families to create vegetable gardens (there are 364 Slow Food gardens in Uganda alone) and then we create online platforms to give producers more commercial opportunities. In the region of Manafwa in central Uganda we have a series of Earth Markets. The producers can create direct relationships with consumers thanks to trading and agricultural assistance apps managed by Slow Food Uganda.”

“We work with local governments to encourage citizens to create their own urban gardens, on rooftops even. It’s a measure that helps mitigate the impact of floods, because rain water is better-absorbed by gardens. Cities have an important role to play in the struggle against climate change, and urban gardens provide multiple benefits, from the health, cultural, social and environmental perspective.”


Chanowk Yisrael at Yisraeli Family Farm

An example of the positive power of a neighborhood garden comes from Chanowk Yisrael (USA), the founder of Yisrael Family Farm, a farmer and activist on themes of sustainability and urban resilience.

“I’ll talk to you about Sacramento in California, this place where I started to work in 2005. I grew up in a neighborhood that’s a food desert, but this isn’t the city of the future. There are lots of food shops in my neighborhood, but it’s lacking fresh food. So I decided to start my farm right here. In my family we were used to eating together and so we decided to transform this idea to benefit the community. It was an idea that was challenged from the start: it was illegal to sell our food, so we started a coalition to change these rules. Now we have a market every Saturday to sell food to the neighborhood. From my experience I’ve learned this lesson: we can’t take cities and destroy them in order to rebuild them, we have to find a way to rebuild their food cycles where they’ve been interrupted.”

To rebuild these food systems and shorten supply chains, farmers’ markets have a fundamental role to play in cities.


An example of the positive role that local governments can have when they commit to tackling these issues comes from the ancient city of Izmir in Turkey, on the Aegean coast. Guven Eken, leader of Slow Food Mahal and councilor for sustainability of the Izmir Council, told us that the city has a diversified agriculture thanks to its varied landscape which stretches from the seafront up to 2000 meters above sea level.

“We have a varied agriculture and we can connect rural and urban communities. In the pas there was a real separation between the countryside people and the urbanites, with negative consequences. But this separation is an effect of a contrived mentality, it’s the reason behind a lot of problems. In Turkey we say that when we eat grapes we shouldn’t ask questions of the vine. But in reality we should be doing the opposite: we should be informing ourselves and this is the basis of our work. The local council has worked a lot, in close contact with agricultural cooperatives and unions, to supply the city’s markets. We’ve created three markets where people who want healthy food at a reasonable price can find it. Then there are also the boutique stores, place where people can learn more, where the agricultural practices behind the products are explained.”


A wet market in Hanoi.

In Vietnam, and in particular the capital Hanoi, the role of markets is essential for the development of the city – there are over 400 in Hanoi alone, and the city is constantly growing. Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha, manager of the Livable Cities Program for the Health Bridge Foundation, explains.

“These are places for trade, both formal and informal, food is affordable, but its true value is often not recognized, it’s not cared for. Some have run the risk of converting markets into commercial areas, but research has been done, public opinion has been examined, and we’ve decided to stop the conversion of wet markets into supermarkets. Today the infrastructure is often degraded, but we work with the traders to develop new architectural concepts.”


According to Jeffrey Spangenberg, President of Slow Food Amsterdam and co-founder of the Amsterdam Food Council, the pandemic has caused a 30% drop in the Food Service sector, and these effects will have an impact on the whole system. The smallest-scale companies will feel the effects hardest, and many could be wiped out.

“But there are also some positive changes, like the trend for consuming food at home. For now we’re noticing two changes: supermarkets prove to be great victors in the arena of food supply, and we think this will continue. On the other hand, there’s the growth of delivery. Instead of fighting against supermarkets we should probably learn from them and understand how they were able to dominate the market, we should make use of their experience. It’s important that the cities of the future reimagine spaces: let’s call them supermarkets or regional superhuds, where consumers and producers come together, places that are inclusive and not focused on profit but the goal of feeding people healthy food. We must adapt to the world of digital platforms, we can’t ignore it. We need to be able to use these platforms for distribution, for logistics. That’s the goal we have for Amsterdam.”


Japan is at the vanguard in terms of digital technology.

Taichi Isaku, organizer of the Disco Soup in Japan and creator of the Tabete project, member of Slow Food Nippon, has created a start-up focused on food waste.

“It’s a really pressing issue, we know how much of the food we produce is wasted in cities. Thinking about the future, we have developed this app, Tabete, to put people with an excess of food in contact with people looking for food. It allows restaurants with a surplus to give that food to people in need. The other use is that allows people who are aware of these issues to come into contact with each other. We have around 30,000 users in Japan and we’ve recovered around 16,000 meals since we started the app. We’ve worked with Slow Food and we organize events for young people and the general public. We’d like to make the economic system more sustainable, and we’re pushing the app to companies, not just associations. The app allows people to think about how much they consume, what they buy and this creates behavioral benefits:”

by Paola Nano, p.nano@slowfood.it

Want to explore the theme of food and cities further: come and take part in our forum on October 27: Market Cities: How public markets – the original incubator – can pump life into regional food economies and forge social cohesion.


9 a.m. session

Moderator: Raoul Tiraboschi (Italy)

  • Joel Basumatari (India), cook and founder of the Slow Food Nagaland community for the preservation of biodiversity, Indigenous Terra Madre Network
  • Taichi Isaku (Giappone), Disco Soup organizer in Japan and inventor of the Tabete project, Slow Food Nippon member
  • Lucille Ortiz (Filippine), Masipag (Farmer-Scientists Partnership for Development) National Secretariat under the Research, Education and Training Unit.
  • Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha (Vietnam), Livable Cities Program manager for the HealthBridge Foundation in Vietnam
  • Guven Eken (Turchia), Slow Food Mahal leader and advisor for sustainability in Izmir’s Municipality

5 p.m. session

Moderator: Richard McCarthy (USA)

  • Jeffrey Spangenberg (The Netherlands), president of Slow Food Amsterdam and co-founder of the Amsterdam Food Council
  • John Kiwagalo (Uganda), Slow Food Youth Network coordinator in Africa, expert in online sale platforms for small scale farmers
  • Chanowk Yisrael (USA), founder of Ysrael Family Farm, a farmer who is active in the topics of sustainability and urban resiliance.
  • Vicki Assevero (Trinidad e Tobago), lawyer, member of the Advisory Board of Yale School of the environment and forestry, founder of Green Market Santa Cruz