The Hungry City – how food shapes our cities, our houses and our lives

One of the most interesting things about Foods and Cities is the great number of aspects it touches: fair trade, dietary habits, cooking skills, urban planning, regional development, community involvement, North-South relations, economy and agriculture, but also sustainability at a local and global scale.

As my thesis was dealing a lot with the topic of global impacts of local actions, I was very interested in how food can be used to address the (un)sustainability of people’s lifestyles in cities. When interviewing some experts, two of them suggested to me the book “The Hungry City”, by Carolyn Steel. I had never heard about it, so I was quite surprised when two of my three interviewees recommended it to me.

It was a great tip! After I finished the thesis, the first thing I did was to borrow the book from the library, and to spend some hours reading it in the park.

Post-thesis relaxation, last summer.
Post-thesis relaxation, last summer.

The author of the book is a British architect, who looks for the first time at cities from the perspective of Food. (Watch her Ted Talk.) She tells the story of how food shapes our lives. Not only in terms of health, but of the city itself.

Did you know that in London, the streets through which food entered the city centuries ago, are still nowadays some of the main traffic streets? Before industrialization, food was brought in from the surrounding region by foot, or from faraway places by boat. Can you imagine all the chicken, cattle, goats, crossing the streets every week, in direction to the markets where they were sold?

“If you look at the map of any city built before the industrial age, you can trace food coming in to it. You can actually see how it was physically shaped by food, both by reading the names of the streets, which give you a lot of clues. Friday Street, in a previous life, is where you went to buy your fish on a Friday. But also you have to imagine it full of food. Because the streets and the public spaces were the only places where food was bought and sold. “

Carolyn Steel, TedTalk

Steel gives glimpses of how food was prepared, sold, transported and enjoyed throughout the centuries – which is also the story of how our relation to food changed with times.