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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Street food and urban and periurban agriculture and horticulture: perspectives for a strategic coalition towards food security

Stefano Marras
Stefano MarrasUniversità degli Studi di Milano-BicoccaItaly

Dear FSN members,

I thank you for all your valuable and interesting contributions to this discussion about the actual and potential connections between street food and urban / peri-urban farming.

Street food is result of the world urbanization as well as of structural or transitory economic recessions, both in developing and developed countries. The growth of urban dwellers and shrinking economy prevent large segments of the population (in particular vulnerable groups such as women, migrants from rural areas, foreign immigrants, ethnic minorities, elderly people, children) from accessing the formal waged labor market. For them, self-employment and micro-entrepreneurship, especially in the food trade sector – which require low start-up investment and overheads, and no formal training – become viable income-generating options.

At the end of the chain, street food responds to the increasing demand for nutritious and inexpensive food, not only (and not primarily) by the poor, but most of all by the growing middle- and lower-middle-class urban commuters. All in all, street food participates in alleviating urban poverty and ensuring food security for millions of people in urban areas around the world.

Nevertheless, criticalities (and criticisms) regarding street food safety and quality challenge the sector that is often deemed dangerous to public health as potentially contaminated by environmental pollutants and prepared in poorly sanitized conditions (this is often true in poor countries).

Within this framework, after decades of policies aimed at discouraging street food vending, local authorities in many countries, often under the aegis of FAO, recognized its great usefulness and right to exist, and started implementing policies (mostly including food handling training programs, some technical support, little infrastructural provision) aimed at improving the hygiene standards. The focus of such interventions, nonetheless, is still stuck on safety issues. Nutritional, as well as social, cultural, culinary, economic, urban, and environmental dimensions are rather neglected by policy makers.

If we want to effectively and deeply support the development of this important and long-lasting sector, we need to broaden the policies’ reach and objectives in a holistic and systemic perspective; we need not just to tackle criticalities, but also to emphasize and support the potentials of the sector itself (eg. small-scale vendors’ inherent space-time flexibility should be aided, since it enables to stock up when needed, meet customers’ demand just in time, minimize waste; also, it allows plug-in and pop-up events that revitalize underused urban land) and the existing and possible fruitful connections between street food and other sectors (eg. urban farming, school and community gardens, sustainable design, tourism).

Many of your contributions prove that synergic, fruitful, largely informal coalitions between street food vendors and urban farmers are already in place in many regions. There are two-way relationships based on mutual exchange of services and products.

Small-scale urban farmers’ proximity to the city gives them two comparative advantages. First, shorter transportation and less refrigeration translate into fresher and more nutritious products. The use of these ingredients helps street food vendors to build a positive image of themselves, meet the consumers’ growing demand, regardless of their socioeconomic level, for quality street food, that is, not just safe food but also healthy, nutritious, sustainable, slow, local, traditional, zero mile, zero waste food.

Secondly, urban farmers’ proximity to the city allows street food vendors to stock up directly from them. By cutting transport, packaging and storage costs, and no need for middlemen, urban grower who can earn more, while street food vendor who can spend less to buy the ingredients, and in turn the consumer, who can have nutritious, fresh food at a fair price.

Finally, the vendors and farmers can make exchange agreement, and feed food waste back into the farmers’ land or stables.

I believe that by supporting and stimulating a synergetic coalition between street food vending and urban farming we can achieve not only safer but better street food: a food that is able to ensure the immediate and long-term health of consumers, but also to meet their ethical and cultural needs, while supporting biodiversity and local economy.

Hoping that this discussion will be the basis for further reflections on this topic, I thank again all, wishing you happy holidays and a happy new year!