Cities have historically been tightly connected to their food producing hinterland, and control over the urban food flow was of outmost importance to the local authorities. However, industrialisation, deregulation and other neoliberal policies have emancipated cities from the countryside, and have radically re-framed their role as passive consumers, rather than active players, in the food chain.
Parallel to this, the management of food markets – traditionally the most important place to get fresh and affordable food in a city – has shifted from ‘facilitation’ to ‘policing,’ and increasingly city officials characterize marketplaces as problematic in terms of health and safety, traffic congestion, chaos, and in general illegality. This narrative is fed by the international chain store lobby whose spread is not just the global North, but increasingly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As urban dwellers, then, we are to a large extent ignorant of where our food is coming from – an ignorance that, in some cases, we choose to maintain.
This development has created a global food system that many of us agree is unsustainable in the long term. Problems that result from this manifest themselves not only in rural areas, but also profoundly in today's cities, with increasing rates of obesity and coronary heart diseases amongst the urban poor, but also occasional crises like BSE or SARS that affect all urbanites.
Rather than understanding the city solely as the cause, or the manifestation, of an unsustainable food situation, Freek Janssens aims to re-conceptualise cities as active players in the transition towards a more sustainable food system. In particular, he calls for the attention of professionals to put marketplaces onto the urban agenda, and through that, reclaim their role in re-shaping food flows.