Opinion

What can the 2017 Food [at] Sydney Series tell us about redesigning our food systems?

The 2017 Food [at] Sydney seminar series explored the multifaceted issues which contribute to food injustice on our campus, internationally, in Sydney’s suburbs and our city, and provided solutions for repairing our broken food system. Below, is a summary of the key arguments and solutions discussed at the four Food [at] Sydney seminars.

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Cultivating our Campus

At the first seminar in the 2017 Food [at] Sydney series, Sinead Boylan from the School of Public Health focused on issues of food insecurity in unhealthy diets explains that the health impacts of climate change are exacerbated by food systems. Sinead explores the question ‘what is a healthy sustainable diet?’ Which emphasized the complexities in eating sustainably and healthily, whilst meeting the nutritional benefits and guidelines. Sinead also highlighted the good things are happening on campus to change our broken food system. Sinead highlights that the University of Sydney could be the perfect place to provide healthy and sustainable food, and discusses the recent seed funding by Healthy Sydney University, for the development of a healthy and sustainable food policy for The University of Sydney, that she is a part of. You can read about the project, in a recent blog by Sinead.

Furthermore, Tracey Ho, sustainability manager at the University of Sydney shared her knowledge on the ways that our University is addressing food insecurity through our community garden on campus. Tracey explains that the community garden was a pilot scheme that was established in 2014, which benefits lie in the positive social outcomes, which include healthy food options on campus, sustainable food production, and that it is local.

Despite Sydney’s successes in recognising issues of food insecurity on campus, it is clear that there is still more work to be done on campus and it brings up questions about how we can incorporate justice to the issues of food insecurity on Campus.

Sophie Lamond, who in focusing on food insecurity at the University of Melbourne, has attempted to understand what could a fair food university look like. Sophie explains that the reality of a lot of university campuses is that you can buy a chocolate bar easier than you can buy fresh, seasonal produce, and this is a part of a system that can be easily changed. Sophie explains that change towards fair food would include more green spaces to grow edibles and the development of food production on campus and by empowering universities to build a healthy, sustainable and fair food system. You can read about Sophie’s research and work on Fair food universities here.

Growing Change

At the second Seminar, the issues of international food insecurity issues were explored, with a discussion between Food [at] Sydney series chair Alana Mann and farmer, activist, and educator, Chido Govera.

In discussing the mechanisms taken by Chido through her The Future Hope Foundation, we were able to see how a grassroots approach to the issue of food insecurity has been successfully addressed through growing mushrooms for female empowerment through Chido’s organisation in Zimbabwe.

At the seminar, Chido explained that the importance of mushrooms for her is that they ‘are building on what works locally. This is an important step in building local ownership of whatever initiatives we introduce in communities.’

The impact of growing the mushrooms is much wider than addressing food insecurity concerns in her community, but incorporates social justice for woman and girls. This intersection of food justice with social justice is an important point to reflect on when we consider the steps that need to be taken when addressing issues of food insecurity on a global scale.

 

Eating in the City

At the third seminar, the panel of experts which included SEI Co-Director David Schlosberg, Rhiannon Cook, Policy Lead for the NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS), and Allison Heller, manager of social strategy at the City of Sydney, who discussed the ways that local governments and organisations are addressing food insecurity in Sydney through food-related urban planning and policy actions to promote food justice.

Rhiannon Cook argues that if we are to address food insecurity in our city, we must stop portraying food insecurity as a personal choice. The food we eat is tied to a set of underlying, socioeconomic, and cultural decisions that individuals make, and Rhiannon and the team at NCOSS are attempting to find out how we can make healthy food choices the easiest choice, which includes taking into account the affordability barriers of food choices. You can find out more about the work that Rhiannon and are doing, by clicking here to read a recent Q&A with Rhiannon.

Allison Heller, explains that the City of Sydney are trying to expose the issue that there is food insecurity in Sydney and highlight that although Sydney is a wealthy city, people here are struggling with issues of food. Like Rhiannon, Allison explained that in the urban context of Sydney, food security is about affordability, nutrition, and the quality of food people are eating. These are growing issues that are predicted to increase as Sydney’s population grows and it is clear that Sydney needs to be restructured to accommodate growth and to address these problems.

The City of Sydney is attempting to address these issues by starting a city farm that is in develop in Sydney Park; the development of food procuring initiatives and food education, and nutrition classes in Sydney community centres. Additionally, SEI is working with the City of Sydney in a project which aims to develop a food business incubator in the city. SEI Co-Director David Schlosberg explained that this will address the issue of food vulnerability, whilst providing economic opportunity through long-term sustainable employment opportunities for vulnerable populations.

David’s talk highlighted that human beings in providing for the basic needs of everyday life, are often completely disconnected from the food system and that this has a lot to do with food insecurity. For David, addressing the issues of food insecurity in Sydney will need to include the involvement of vulnerable Sydney residents in the redesign process, to promote a connection between people and their natural food systems. David argues that ‘we need to get some baseline data on what the residents want, what the residents understand a good, sustainable and secure food system to be. We want to know what people want in terms of skill and education on food and healthy diets.’

Eating in the City showcased the underlying intersectional factors which contribute to the issue of food insecurity in Sydney. As such, it was made clear that we cannot overcome food insecurity without also addressing the factors which hinder vulnerable people from being able to access healthy, affordable and sustainable food on a regular basis.

The Suburban Harvest 

At the seminar, Jennifer Kent discussed the role of urban planning in addressing the ways that urban food production can be harmful to the environment and human health. Jennifer explained that town planners can address environmental, social and health issues of food insecurity through the planning function of land use regulation, including land use zoning. ‘Good planning can help to protect peri-urban agricultural lands, encourage farmer’s markets, roadside stalls, and community gardens, prevent the co-location of fast-food outlets and schools, and regulate food advertising environments’ said Jennifer. You can find out more about this by reading a recent blog by Jennifer.

Ananth Gopal shared details of his PhD research which focuses on the ways that Karenni refugees in Wollongong have adapted their practices to grow traditional foods in Australia. Ananth explained that these landless farmers were given opportunities to develop ecologically sound social enterprises, which is subtly transforming how urban agriculture is practiced, whilst providing marginalised groups the opportunity to feed themselves. ‘It’s a testament of what grows when newly arrived peoples are given a fair go to demonstrate some of their expertise’ said Ananth. You can read more about Ananth’s research in this blog.

Laura Fisher, post-doctoral fellow at Sydney College of the Arts, shared examples of Australian farmers engaged in the practice of ‘regenerative agriculture,’ which attempts to build carbon-rich soils; nurturing plant diversity; developing their land’s capacity to withstand droughts, floods and climate volatility; and make minimal or no use of chemicals to promote environmental sustainability. Laura explains that she is exploring instances where the relationship between urban farming and regenerative agriculture are being practiced locally. Laura further discusses regenerative agriculture, in the local context in a recent blog.

Lastly, Brian Jones explored the role of technology in urban agricultural production and waste reduction to promote sustainability and success for urban food system production. Brian explained that there is a growing trend towards the industrialisation of urban food production, and technological advancements are a way that urban producer can help urban businesses be efficient and compete with large scale industrial farms to establish effective production, whilst growing and eating locally.

The Suburban Harvest seminar highlighted the importance of eating local as a mechanism for sustainable food production and consumptions, as well as highlighting the significance of learning from and including other cultural approaches to urban farming to promote just and sustainable urban food systems and production.