There simply can be no topic of more significance today than how food shapes our lives and is an integral part of who we are….indeed we are literally what we eat and we live in world moulded and dominated by food.
Who can forget in the early days of Covid 19 lockdown—the pathetic sight of people scrambling for the last bag of pasta, and the aisles of empty shelves where once was your favourite fruit and vegetable?
Carolyn Steel is a leading thinker on food and cities and her first book Hungry City received international acclaim, establishing her as an influential voice in academia, industry, and the arts. Her Ted Talk ‘How Food Shapes Our Cities’ and has been downloaded 1.25 million times.
We first spoke to Carolyn in her London flat nearly a year ago, and today I am delighted to welcome her back, to chat about her stunning new book ‘Sitopia’ – How food can save the world. Carolyn asks possibly the biggest question of all: ’’What makes a good life?’’ A question most of us would say, we haven’t had time to answer. That is of course until now, when time for many is pretty much all we have. Sitopia is Greek for food place and in her deeply researched and wide ranging book, Carolyn assesses why we fail to value food which in turn has led to ‘’climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion, declining fish stocks, pollution, anti-biotic resistance, diet related disease’ and dare I say it—Covid 19.
If there ever was a time to build a fairer more resilient society, now is probably the best time to start, so that we can all lead happier healthier lives. This is Your London Legacy.
“I often say to people the food you eat is the future you.”
Carolyn admits that she is not some serial book writer churning out pages for the sake of cash—her book Hungry City took 7 years for her to write. This attests to her dedication to the thought and research she puts into each line she pens. And on the surface—feeding cities and people seems like an easy thing, fast food is cheap after all, isn’t it? Carolyn argues adamantly that no food is cheap, it simply has the illusion of being monetarily cheap while it is actually eroding the planet and the way we view life, work, and the systems that govern them all.
“What would the world look like if we internalized the true cost of food—if we actually valued food again. And it’s revolutionary—it’s a revolutionary idea.”
Carolyn was one of those people who refused to use Skype before Covid—but she’s adjusted and learned, and it has opened her eye to the opportunity Covid has opened up. Time. Time to think and value things again like baking, pickling, making healthy food yourself. Time to contemplate what food is: food is living things we kill so we can live. It’s a shocking way of looking at, but completely true. Time to contemplate the bonds between where we live in cities and where food comes from the country, and our access to that country to understand our food.
This could be one of our last chances to lean into the truth about our survival and the planet’s survival. Understanding our economic systems and what work really means in a capitalist society (trying to reduce the labour cost to zero) we have to look to what is actually going to sustain us; relationships, connection, and the planet itself and that which comes from it. I applaud Carolyn for her bold critical thought about some of the most basic necessities civilization needs and how to progress our society coming out of crisis.