Carolyn Steels’ Ted Global talk has been heard over 1 million times and for very good reason. “How Food Shapes Our Cities” is as complex as it is fascinating. Every day, in a city the size of London, 30 million meals are served.
But where does all the food come from? Architect Carolyn Steel discusses the daily miracle of feeding a city, and shows how ancient food routes shaped the modern world. Her superb award winning, provocative book ‘Hungry City’ is the backdrop for probably our most relevant conversation to date.
“Even in my first year I started to realize that what excited me about architecture wasn’t necessarily buildings, which sounds kind of odd.”
It didn’t take long for Carolyn to find out that architecture was more than just buildings to her. In her first year of study she started to realize that people’s relationship with buildings and spaces was what drew her to the discipline in the first place. This kicked off a 20 year exploration and searching of this idea all while teaching and practicing architecture with a goal of interjecting real life into the discourse around architecture, since the human element seemed to have taken a backseat throughout her own studies.
“Well I often say that the railways were the moment when cities were emancipated from geography.”
Cities don’t feed themselves. Grain, cows, sheep and chickens all have to be brought into cities—today as well as a thousand years ago. It’s no coincidence street names like Cow Street and Corn Lane persist to this day, as they were the avenues those kinds of food were carted into the city. The geography of transporting food has shaped London, as markets tend to stay in the same place for centuries. Food and the need to eat it is quite literally the sculptor of cities.
“A very important thing to say actually is that cheap food doesn’t exist…if you cheapen food you cheapen life.”
With further advancements in food transportation came great changes in society. It used to be that only the extremely rich didn’t have to think about food of where it came from—something that the lower classes don’t deal with on nearly the same level today, which is quite extraordinary. But with the ease of access to food came a decrease in the quality of that food, and the life that provided it—an epidemic that is not only killing us, but the planet as well. It’s no stretch to say that the global fate of civilization and the world as a whole are all tied up in our practices and ideologies behind our food.
Carolyn is still hard at work getting people to think about their food and how it entwines with our life and culture, and her new book “Citopoia” will be push this conversation even further when it releases in March 2020.