Food Environments that support healthy and sustainable Food Choices
Kantine Zukunft event visitors - group of people

Image source: Kantine Zukunft, 2023

This winter, the FEAST Living Lab and ICLEI Europe member city Ghent in collaboration with ICLEI Europe presented their plan to improve food supply options in low-income neighborhoods at “Kantine Zukunft Talk” (Cafeterias of the Future Chat). The event explored food environments – the spaces where we interact and make decisions on the food we eat.

The conversation boiled down to one deceptively simple question: How far do you have to travel to buy fresh and healthy food supplies? In some neighborhoods you find the next farmers market around the corner – others offer only convenience stores and fast food. We see this in FEAST Living Lab Ghent, where some neighborhoods struggle with fresh food supply. The result is communities, often those also experiencing challenges such as poverty, where an unhealthy diet is the norm.

Image source: Kantine Zukunft, 2023

When an area doesn´t provide healthy and affordable food options within a travelable distance, we call this area a food desert, or say it is affected by food apartheid. The Ghent Living Lab in FEAST is trying to address this inequity by bringing more healthy food choices to just such a neighborhood. The goal is to improve the accessibility of healthy and sustainable food items. The work of shifting the food landscape will be done in cooperation with the neighborhood residents dependent upon local food procurement options.

Ghent doesn’t plan to stop at increasing food access, it also wants to change the local narrative around food, especially in low-income communities. Rather than telling the story that any kind of food, regardless of the nutritional value or sugar intake, is a valuable donation for those in poverty, access and the choice to consume healthy and affordable food will be framed as a basic human right. Shifting the narrative will involve more than words - Ghent is taking action. Through double-payment systems (such as solidarity pricing in restaurants and access to concepts such as community supported agriculture), urban gardening and community harvesting, social canteens and solidarity systems Ghent will enable citizens to choose the food they eat, rather than simply accepting what has been donated. This is important, because food security is not limited to access to safe and healthy food, but also food that is culturally relevant and feeds the soul. Ghent acknowledges that food is personal and wants to build holistic and just food supply systems for all neighborhoods and residents. ICLEI strongly supports Ghent’s approach of stepping away from the charity model, which is stigmatised and can damage people’s sense of dignity, and instead enable free choice for all, so that we can enjoy the pleasures of eating and growing food together.

Within the coming years ICLEI and Ghent will be closely collaborating on how to make healthier and more sustainable diets an option for all citizens. The experts present at the “Kantine Zukunft” Event gave valuable inputs and inspirations for next steps in Ghent and the we took away: We don´t stand alone in de-stigmatising food donation and enabling healthy and sustainable diets through food environments.

Johanna Vordemfelde
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