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How Change Happens: Inspiring Examples from Urban Food Policy

Many of us in the world of food policy are excited by what is happening in cities. Hundreds of municipalities are developing and delivering policies to improve the food system. Fortunately, extensive efforts to document them means we know a considerable amount about what they are doing—a whole host of activities, including improving public procurement, building greenbelts to address climate change, training organic gardeners, enabling rooftop gardens, innovating strategies to reduce food waste and improve food safety, cutting down on trans fats, introducing soda taxes, eliminating marketing in sports stadiums, and tackling food insecurity.

We know a lot less, though, about how cities are managing to do all this. When change—especially policy change—can be so extraordinarily difficult, how have cities actually made it happen?

This was the question behind a new report released this week from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). Looking in depth at four cities—Nairobi (Kenya), Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Detroit (USA), Amsterdam (the Netherlands)—and one city-region, the Golden Horseshoe (Canada), the report explores the nuts and bolts of policy making. Based on interviews, it shares the insights of people who have made urban food policies happen, so that others can make food policy happen in their cities, too.

Our findings? Cities are undoubtedly innovators in food policy but that this innovation happens through often quite mundane processes. It’s not always exciting; it happens mainly behind the scenes, but it matters a great deal for getting stuff done.

In Nairobi, for instance, we uncovered the fascinating story of how urban agriculture went from being perceived as a blight on the city to an asset that is positively...

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