Urban food policy – a new iPES-Food report

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.28.01 PMThe International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food) yesterday released a superb report What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen: Insights from Five Case Studies. You can access the reports here.

The five cities are Belo Horizonte, (Brazil) Nairobi (Kenya), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), The Golden Horseshoe (Toronto and neighbouring districts) and Detroit (U.S.A). Each city had its own recipe of successful initiatives to transform the food system. This diagram is from Belo Horizonte’s “Municipal Secretariat for Food and Nutritional Security” (SMASAN) summarises their main strategies.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.01.15 PM


The report gleaned “enablers” of effective food system action from the 5 cities (pages 74 – 75).

1: Background and base-line research has been carried out to inform the policy.

2: Impacts are monitored and new data are collected throughout implementation.

3: Policy is continually or regularly reviewed and renewed.

4: The necessary policy powers and responsibilities exist at the local city government level.

5: Policy at the national level is supportive.

6: The ‘institutional home’ of the policy lends it strategic importance and/or provides channels of influence.

7: A governance body has been established to oversee the policy, that promotes accountability and efficiency.

8: Multiple city govern- ment departments are engaged with and committed to the policy.

9: Policy is developed through participatory process, involving both communities and city government (regardless of top-down or bottom-up origins) and actors across the food system.

10: Conflicts and ideological differences between actors are acknowledged and managed.

11: Part-funding is provi- ded by city government.

12: Overall funds obtained are su cient for implementation.

13: There are no restrictive conditions attached to funding.

14: High-level political commitment from city government is secured and leveraged.

15: Political commitment transcends electoral cycles.

I am grateful that we have international organisations like this to research food systems initiatives across the planet and shine the light on successful models of change.



Food Folly

Food was in the news last week highlighting a woeful lack of vision and leadership. If the consequences weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. They represent a failure of the industrial food system and of the health and political orthodoxy.

1. More sugar?

SOSThe Ministry of Primary Industries wrote to the sports drink manufacturer SOS Hydration warning that “a food sold as an electrolyte drink base must contain no less than 50g/L (grams/litre) and no more than 100g/L of various sugars”. That’s a minimum of 10 teaspoons of sugar! SOS Hydration only contains 10 g/L exposing them to a $100,000 fine.

The SOS director Tom Mayo claims MPI’s food code is based on discredited science. You can read and hear more about this at Radio NZ. The SOS website also explain the science behind their products.

2. Junk food advertising

When it comes to advertising, the deck is stacked. On the one hand, you have the smartest marking minds crafting messages for greatest impact. On the other hand, you have children, docile from perhaps hours of viewing and impressionable. A recipe for manipulation. And what are they being sold? Junk food. Recent research published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal analysed over 10,000 advertisements on 3 channels in New Zealand. About 1800 were about food. More than 1200 contained products that, according to the World Health Organisation, should not be marketed to children. Nearly 90 percent were shown at peak viewing times for children.

The lead researcher, Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, calculated 2 million impacts per hour between six and seven p.m., based on the number of ads and the number of children watching. The new advertising code will probably have no impact on these figures. Read and hear more about this at Radio NZ

This video features U.S. advertisements but they products and ads. are similar here. So are the catatonic stares.

3. Dementia on the rise

At the other end of life, dementia is on the rise. Over 60,000 people suffer from dementia in New Zealand and this is expected to triple in the next 30 years (Radio NZ).

The WHO is about to a draft Global Action Plan for combating dementia. Here is the draft. There are seven actions. To the cynical eye, they look more like a plan to increase health and research budgets than to make a significant difference.

For example, there was no mention of nutrition in the document, only 2 references to food – and that was about the daily sustenance rather than any thing about therapeutic values and no mention of inflammation.

Somehow, the food policy miss isn’t working. The regulators are going after the wrong people.

The Northland Food Policy Network is underway!

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 7.56.37 AM.png

These are the people that gathered at Northland Inc’s Orchard on Saturday 27 May for the inaugural meeting of the Northland Food Policy Network. Saba Issa skilfully facilitated the meeting first leading us through an exploration of why we were there. Five main motives emerged:

  • Supporting community based food systems projects, facilitated at the local level.
  • Supporting local growers and farmers ensuring the succession and growth of food production here.
  • Educating and communicating around food awareness.
  • Helping to create policy that supports sustainable food systems and fighting policy that doesn’t, from International down to whanau level.
  • Building a local network that exemplifies collaborative leadership, great engagement, communication and networking, and unity of purpose.

Policy action

We identified three policy areas to focus on, each led by sub-groups.

One group will seek questions from the network to pose to all general election candidates and disseminate the results to help voters identify the candidates who support sustainable food systems.

Sugar is the focus of a second group, who will work with health agencies and other Northland institutions to reduce the availability of sugar.

The third group will focus on supporting food producers with their first priority dealing with the advent of food safety plans to ensure that they don’t place too much burden on smaller producers.

He Kai Ora Tonu

He Kai Ora Tonu is the Māori name for the network given by Dr Benjamin Pittman. A rough translation is, vital, living, growing, healthy food in perpetuity. Ora means at once living, life, health with an inference of sustainability.

The meeting was characterised by a strong sense of shared purpose and the optimism for positive change.

Aotearoa Food Policy Network

This week the Aotearoa Food Policy Network was born!

While we have been working on plans for a food policy council in Northland, there has been activity happening around the country. People and Groups in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, the Bay of Plenty and Auckland have, or are forming groups focussing on food policy.

The Northland Food Policy Network has its inaugural meeting at The Orchard, 85 Cameron Street, Whangarei.

The national network will initially work together through a Loomio site. It is in the very early stages of development, so nothing is finalised yet, including the name. Collectively, we will have more impact to support advocacy to influence changes to food policy and accelerate the shift to sustainable food systems.

What is policy and how do we change it?

How change happens duncan greenOn the cusp of establishing a Northland Food Policy Council (or whatever we might call it) I have stumbled across a book that has thrown a lot of light on the policy universe. In How Change Happens, Duncan Green shares his knowledge as a long-time advocate for change. The book is available for sale, but is also free on Duncan’s website. The complexity of the policy environment is perhaps best expressed in the author’s quote of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are the hardest”.

This poses a compelling challenge for New Zealanders. Our nation is less than two centuries old. But hopefully we aren’t in for another three centuries of hard work. After all, we have the legacy of tikanga, British law and a broader and deeper legacy pieced together over humanity’s long social evolution.

Two pathways – global and local

Two trends encourage. The first is the growing body of international policy ranging from law to aspirational statements. Two highly relevant to sustainable food systems are the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Economic Ethic. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems are also shaping policy discourse at the global level. This trend seeks to distill universal values and principles to guide our peaceful and prosperous development.  For example, the Global Economic Ethic  advocates of the “principle of humanity” as the ethical yardstick for all economic action based on sustainability, respect, fair cooperation and the Golden Rule. These are underpinned by basic values for doing business globally:

  • non-violence and respect for life
  • justice and solidarity
  • honesty and tolerance
  • mutual respect and partnership.

The other emerging trend is toward greater local autonomy and self-determination. While hegemonic forces herd us like sheep towards a bland global consumerist culture, there is an encouraging shift in the opposite direction towards localism. Ideally, the most basic social unit, the family, will have autonomy to act within the broad parameters of evolving global policy.

global and localIn the context of food, ideally families will have choice to eat food that nourishes without their perception being clouded by commercial considerations – especially the rapacious food and medical corporations that privilege profit over health and well-being.

Valuing pluralism

According to Google, pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” In New Zealand, almost two centuries on from the birth of our nation we are struggling to come to terms with pluralism. Nineteenth century assumptions of European superiority created homogenising conceptions of right and wrong. Some are still clinging to a Eurocentric view of the world. From this perspective the only valid law comes from Western sources and the maxim “one law for all” dominates.

Before Europeans arrived here, Māori society functioned on its own indigenous policy framework – tikanga. The Māori Dictionary’s definition of tikanga embraces a range of synonyms for policy and related social regulation:

“The correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol – the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.”

Tikanga is itself pluralistic as it varies from place to place, and the authorities are the people of any particular location. Many Pākehā have struggled to accomodate tikanga in an unwavering belief in “one law for all” (as long as they get to determine who makes those laws). An example is the justice system. Although Māori constitute 15% of the population, they account for 51% of the male prison population. But attempts to develop the mare-based justice system are stymied by the “one law for all” mantra. Duncan Green observes that “customary (indigenous) law is often about making peace and reconciliation, rather than establishing guilt and redress” (page 104). Customary law can also be brutal. Duncan green advises us to both avoid a “west-is-best bias and a naive romanticism about the woking of customary systems” (page 106).

However, we can achieve a greater synergy between these two traditions in ways that best serve local communities. Can you see a future where this is the case? Do you pass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

There are signs of hope as co-governance agreements between Māori authorities and the crown become more common. The recent determination of the Whanganui River as a legal “person” is an encouraging sign. Is this any stranger than a corporation being a legal person (as they have been for the last 150 years)?

The interaction of the various actors involved in developing food policy in new Zealand will be greatly enhanced by Māori input. Ever since the accelerated alienation of their land in the mid 1800s, Māori have engaged in the struggle for justice, working through the courts and government. Their longer-term view of investment, focus on kaitiakitanga and commitment to retaining the land make them a powerful constituent of the food movement.

This is an attempt to explore some elements of policy. More will follow.

Is the food policy pasture greener in New Zealand?

Anne_Palmer-reducedBy Anne Palmer

Program Director
Food Communities & Public Health Program
Center for a Livable Future
Johns Hopkins University

Anne was a keynote speaker for the Local Food Northland Conference in February this year. In this post she reflects on her time in New Zealand. See the original post here.


A failing dairy industry. Streams polluted by animal manure. Consolidated food retail, inadequate slaughter facilities for small – and medium-size producers, the list goes on. Where am I? New Zealand. Yep. Before I stepped foot on the soil, I was cautioned that I should not believe the “cleaner, greener” moniker. I’m not sure if it was heartening to blow up the myth and realize we are all suffering from industrialization of the food system, or just depressing that problems in the food system are dispersed so far and wide.
The solutions are dispersed, too. Back in September, Peter Bruce-Iri from Local Food Northland invited me to New Zealand to keynote and participate in a two-day food conference. He had studied the food council model and wanted to introduce it as part of a larger strategy for rebuilding the Northland’s regional food system. It took me about 30 seconds to make my decision (even with my carbon footprint in mind). How could I say no to New Zealand? Peter suggested additional connections for me to make my trip even more meaningful, including a webinar for the Good Food Network organized by Emily Dowding-Smith from the Sustainable Business Network and a workshop with Healthy Families Rotorua, arranged by Jasmin Jackson.The original plan was to hold an advance food-foraging event that would provide food for the conference. (I imagined myself in an Omnivore’s Dilemma scenario, but the wild boar would remind me of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web). That plan was thwarted by regulations that prohibit the sale of food that has been “caught wild.” Nevertheless, thanks to Ian and his sous chefs, I gained three pounds in eight days. And every pound was worth it. Even though we were unable to forage for our meals, most of the delicious food was sourced locally.

I spent my Saturday morning at the Whangarei Growers Market with Jeff Griggs, a co-founder of the Local Food Northland endeavor. Jeff is an American who immigrated to New Zealand many years ago and now farms avocados and cut flowers, along with other produce like kiwifruit outside of town with his dog, Ted. The oldest growers market in New Zealand, Whangarei Growers Market regulates that you can only sell what you grow, and Robert, the market manager and 70-year-old farmer, explained he has no problem tracking down the offenders because the produce looks different. I watched him collect the $20 stall fee from vendors while we shopped for Luisa plums, blueberries and lavender products. (Note to self: organize trips based on seasonal harvesting schedules).

After the market, Jeff invited me to join the weekly Whangarei Transition Town meeting at the local library where residents discuss ways they can improve self-sufficiency at the local level. Originating in the UK in 2006, the Transition Towns movement seeks to address peak oil and climate change, and challenge the notion of unlimited economic growth. We had a lively discussion about school gardens, people’s eating habits, electric cars (thanks, Ross) and more.

handsome frog

And now on to the conference. Close to 100 people gathered at the marae (including students from North-Tec, growers, public health professionals, chefs and researchers) for the powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome. Whangarei’s mayor, Sheryl Mai, also welcomed us in Maori. Participants lined up to touch foreheads and noses with the planning committee, a Maori greeting called hongi, which symbolizes sharing the breath of life. As a lifelong hugger, this was a reverent experience.I talked about the various food movements in the U.S. with a special focus on what is happening around food policy councils, why policy is important and how the various food movements are working together to activate change. (One participant told me he never thought policy was important until he heard me. Best compliment ever.)

Over the two days, we heard from Peter about the features of a sustainable food system and importance of scale-appropriate policy. Ruth Marsh introduced the Vermont Farm to Plate framework, which Local Food Northland has been using to guide their regional effort. Rangimarie Price talked about how Maori principles on sustainability are embedded in the local food strategy. Jeff discussed how to connect and build a network for collaborating. There was a lively discussion about the role of chefs and restaurants in supporting local producers. While some of the larger cities have capitalized on the farm-to-table concept, in smaller cities like Whangarei, chefs are sourcing from local growers with very little or no marketing efforts.

I joined the policy discussion for the small group breakout and heard Regina, a NorthTec student and single mom who is working with faculty on various food endeavors, bemoan the demise of her kitchen garden this year because she is going to school full-time and raising her four children. I have heard this same conundrum in many focus groups and community meetings in Baltimore; doing the “right thing” frequently falls on the backs of those who have the least amount of time.

On Day Two, we heard from renowned nutrition scientist Barbara Burlingame about sustainable diets and nutritional superiority of native bananas versus the Cavendish variety that is ubiquitous in supermarkets around the world. Northland has a variety that reminds me of passionfruit, and there are discussions about reviving that industry. (Lucky for Northland, Barbara just moved back to Wellington and joined the faculty at Massey University after 16 years at FAO in Rome as the deputy director of the nutrition section). Dr. Melissa Gilbert, an integrative medicine doctor, discussed her efforts to get patients to grow and eat from backyards. Dr. Laupepa Va’a from the district health board talked about food recovery efforts in Northland. A diverse panel of growers debated the challenges they face from a policy and climate perspective, while another panel focused on the role of food hubs in rebuilding distribution systems. Clive McKegg, the third leg of the Local Food Northland founding members (along with Peter and Jeff), wrapped up the conference by discussing how the Local Food Northland’s mission “to establish Northland as a centre for growing and processing tasty healthy foods in ways that build community cohesion, increased economic resilience, improve health outcomes and enhance the natural environment” can be actualized in their collective efforts. I left inspired and remain inspired as I witness the conference follow-up on the Loomio online platform, designed by a New Zealand company.

After my time in Whangarei, I traveled to Rotorua, which was challenging. I liken this part of the journey to the 80s classic movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (think Buses, Cars and Hitchhiking). Lucky for me, Hayley, another conference attendee, was scheduled on my flight and she took the reins to get me to my destination that day. I strolled around Rotorua’s thermal lake, careful not to step in a bubbling hole, and enjoyed the hotel’s thermal pools while preparing for the second workshop.

Jasmin Jackson from Healthy Families Rotorua invited me to meet with groups from Rotorua and Tauranga who have been engaged in food and nutrition activities in their area and want to expand to policy. About 45 people attended the workshop, many from the public health sector. Healthy Families, working in 10 locations across New Zealand, is a national initiative that seeks to create health-promoting environments in the community and is involved with food policy efforts in other parts of the country. We talked about the opportunities and challenges associated with local food policy and ideas for strengthening their network. Even with the central government driving most legislation, I learned that New Zealand’s regional government structure offers options for organizing, especially around regulations for small-scale growers, land use, distribution networks and public health. I heard several participants talk about the importance of policy being informed by research, opportunity to expand public health mapping to other food system components and the need to better understand existing supply chains to improve distribution.

I travelled 23 hours to find myself in a beautiful location (since this is a food policy blog, I did not talk about the beautiful beaches, frolicking dolphins or the rails-to-trails bike ride, but those were also remarkable) that is facing many of the same issues we have in the U.S., albeit at a different scale. It is a scale that may serve them well as I witness the conversations among the conference participants already deciding how to move forward. I invite them to share their challenges and successes with us here in Crazy Town, where microwaves spy on you.