How Does Food Shape Cities?

Food is a shared necessity – but also a shared way of thinking” Carolyn Steel, Food Urbanist.

Investigating around the topic of food and its relation with society I found this very interesting TED Talk by Carolyn Steel, called ‘How Food Shape Our Cities’.
Carolyn Steel argues that looking at food networks offers an unusual and illuminating way to explore how cities evolved. She starts from the fact that agriculture and urbanism have always been bound together, that they need each other. Food source had always had to be enough large and stable to support permanent settlements. They were surrounded by productive farmland, mainly producing grain.
Looking at the map of any city built before the industrial age is easy to actually see how it is physically shaped by food (see the names of the streets for example). It was very difficult to live in a city like that and don’t know where the food was coming from. They were organic cities, part of an organic cycle where the food was the social core of them.
Then, when the rail arrived everything changed. Before cities had to have small scales to allow animals coming along and easily enter the city net. After the rail, cities were no more constraint by geography anymore. We now live without no connection at all with the source of food we eat every day and we completely lost the bond with it.
But, still: we have to eat, we like it and we need it. It is also an important social urge. Food is almost always shared; people eat together; mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village comes together. We, as humans, are the only animal that cooks. So cooking becomes more than a necessity, it is the symbol of our humanity, what marks us off from the rest of nature. And because eating is almost always a group event, food becomes a focus of symbolic activity about sociality as well.
Steel ends her talk suggesting something really simple but important at the same time: since food is such an important aspect of our lives we can use it as a very powerful tool, conceptual and design tool, to shape the world differently and better. We should use food as a way of seeing. She has a positive perspective about this process starting from the point that this utopia already exist in little pockets everywhere. That has the potential of being the starting point of a bigger change.