Food & Cities — a TED talk by Carolyn Steel

I was poking around TED and came across the talk given by Carolyn Steel, "food urbanist" and author of Hungry City, at TEDGlobal 2009.  It was about how food shapes our cities, and really how the rise of transportation completely shifted the way people in cities relate to food.

What was most interesting to me about her talk was the way she described the evolution of food in cities.  People living in the Fertile Crescent back in the 2nd millennium developed a food system that was large enough and stable enough to support a compact, permanent settlement.  Fast-forward to the 1700s and people were still farming just outside of city limits, walking raw goods and live animals into city centers, and then processing meats and selling goods right in public squares.  Food was an event happening at the core of the city.  The 1800s brought what Steel called the emancipation of city from nature — away from the smell and mess of real food.  With the rise in transportation and refrigeration technology, food could come from further away and meats were being slaughtered away from the city.  Now we get into our cars and go shopping at a super market.  And in this distance from the natural form of food, our society has come to fear food rather than trust and value it.

But what really spoke to the urban planner in me was Steel's argument that food was really the ordering principle of several major utopian visions, namely Thomas More's Utopia and Ebenezer Howard's Garden City.  Even though neither stated this explicitly, when you look at the layout of these visions, food production, trade and consumption are central features in everyday life.

So Steel's proposition to those of us interested in taking local food to the next level is to join up those pockets of local food action.  Use food as a conceptual design too for shaping cities that foster communities of people that take time for food, think about food and plan for food.

Check out other ideas on food at TED.  Another one I found inspiring was Graham Hill's (founder of talk on being a weekday vegetarian.  Maybe someday we'll see a TED speaker from Hawaii out there talking about the local food movement here…