The intersection of local political contexts, urban food governance and local food systems

Tanya Zerbian
University of Central Lancashire
Thursday, 19 May 2022 - 11:00

Given the importance that current food-related challenges pose to our society, the potential of local food initiatives to address sustainability has gained increased academic attention. Nevertheless, research has increasingly demonstrated that local food initiatives might also have adverse effects and thus are limited in fulfilling their sustainability potential. The realisation that local food initiatives are not inherently generating positive changes has led many scholars to argue that the path towards food system transformation needs to be based on the coalition of their dispersed efforts. This emerging literature argues that connected networks of these ‘alternative’ practices – what this paper terms local food systems – can build more substantial collective power concerning the corporate food system and develop approaches that deepen change and include fairer sustainability transitions. However, as many local food initiatives rely on funding and volunteer work, their capacity to work infrastructures for integrated approaches is limited. In this context, influential players – those who can provide resources, such as local authorities – become key in the assemblage of local food systems, particularly if urban food governance mechanisms are in place. However, there is limited understanding of how the specific approaches adopted by local authorities concerning local food policymaking affect the internal dynamics of local food systems and whether this creates tensions within them. The presentation will focus on a recently conducted study that aims to fill this gap by analysing two case studies (Preston, UK and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country). Using urban political ecology (UPE) as a theoretical framework, this study contributes to deepening knowledge on the dynamics between broader local governance contexts, urban food governance mechanisms and local food systems. In particular, the presentation will show how local authorities, by setting specific policy priorities and allocating resources, affect the direction of local food systems and thus the alignment of diverse local food initiatives.

Short CV: 

Tanya is a DTA3 COFUND/Marie-Curie Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire with research interests revolving mainly around sustainable agri-food systems and food security, having a background in community nutrition and public health. She is particularly concerned about how governance and the organisation of food systems and power relations affect food justice and accessibility related to food poverty and the food system. Recent research projects and her PhD project include analysing urban food strategies, local food initiatives’ connections and power configurations in local food systems.