Urban soil contamination: managing the risks in food projects

Urban does not always mean pollution, and pollution does not always mean health hazards. However, risk analysis needs to be more systematically integrated into urban food policies. This is why a recently published methodological guide takes stock of 10 years of research on the topic and highlights a few key points that any urban policy maker should keep in mind when developing an urban agriculture or a gardening policy.

The limits of a “copy and paste” approach to urban agriculture

With urban agriculture becoming fashionable in developed countries, a small number of iconic examples, from New York to Berlin, are now widely shared at the international level. A paper published in Landscape and Urban Planning earlier this year by Autria-, UK- and Columbia-based scholars invites us to reflect upon the limits of such “ready-to-use” references when they are mobilised by policies or projects irrespective of the local contexts.

The subtle equation of sustainable urban food logistics

Why is it so difficult for farmers operating just outside the city of Chicago to sell to people living there? This was the question that led a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (United States) to explore urban food logistics. Their work, published in a report entitled Regional Food Freight: Lessons from the Chicago Region, unveils the historical trends that led to the consolidation of long distance supply chains at the expense of shorter ones, and the limits of the current food freight system. It calls for a more careful integration of food diversity into urban logistics.

Unnoticed, yet happening: food foraging in the city

Who forages and why? A team of researchers across a variety of Baltimore-based organisations carried out an exhaustive survey to identify what, why, and, for the first time, how much people foraged in the city. This study puts this activity on the radar of urban planners and raises questions regarding the health and sustainability risks and benefits of foraging.

Food waste: raising awareness is important, but not decisive

With as high as 30% of global food being wasted, it is crucial to understand why households waste food. A recent literature reviews shows that, good news, no one is happy to waste food. If households know they should not waste food, then telling them not to do so will therefore not really have an impact. The secret rather lies in understanding, and acting upon, the interwoven set of factors that make people waste food even if they know they should not.

Is local food good for the economy? Looking at the full picture

Is buying local is good for the economy? Two recent academic papers present a methodology to calculate the economic contribution of local food systems to a given economy. They urge to go further than existing, short-sighted analysis and properly assess who wins and who loses from local food policies. They also highlight that local food does not fit well with classical economic theory and that local food advocates should therefore not so much try to demonstrate an overall positive economic impact, but positive externalities.