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250 by 2050 / Healthy People + Healthy Planet

How London’s foodsystem embraced complexity, made people healthy, transformed lives, inspired 250 cities to do the same and saved the planet

Photo of Victor Lanel
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Arup

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large company (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Supported by expert colleagues (large company): Malcolm Smith - Arup Fellow; Andrew Harrison - Director; Heleni Pantelidou- planetary boundaries & circular economy; Martin Shouler - integrated water management; Caroline Field - resilience, security & risk; Xavier Aldea Borruel - city resilience; Michael Muller - economic development; Victor Frebault - economics; Jonathan Han - smart cities & supply chain resilience; Neil Harwood - ecology, landscape & biodiversity; Erato Panayiotou - waste management; Anna Lawson - renewable energies; Marcus Morrell, Alexander Alexiou - foresight As well as: Vincent Doumeizel - Director Food Programme at Lloyd's Register Foundation (small NGO); Kim Wilkie - strategic and conceptual landscape consultant focused on regenerative farming combined with human settlement (other) and Christopher Leow - Urban farmer, Chef & Social entrepreneur from Singapore

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.arup.com/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

London

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Greater London, capital of the United Kingdom, (total area of 1,569 km^2) plus catchment area and indirect influence on its global foodshed.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We have selected London and its foodshed because it is our home. It is where we live, eat, cook and get together for a meal. We love and feel part of London's diverse culture and food scene. We work for Arup in Fitzrovia, in the heart of the city, along with more than 2,500 of our colleagues, and we are passionate about solving its most complex challenges. Our team is as diverse as London, with members born in London, Yorkshire, Chile, India, France, Germany, Netherlands, Argentina and Australia; with backgrounds in urban design, architecture, environmental science, economics, infrastructure engineering, foresight, transport and logistics.

As members of the Fitzrovia Partnership and the Camden Climate Change Alliance, we are actively engaged in shaping our community and reimagining our neighbourhood. We also work with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Mayor of London, local councils as well as land owners and developers on a variety of issues to improve our city. Through our work, we are involved in the city's infrastructure, buildings and places as well as advisory services on issues such as biodiversity, ecology and climate change.

As a partner in London’s Wild West End initiative, we developed a network of green corridors throughout London’s West End, connecting new and existing areas of green space via green roofs, green walls, planters, street trees and others. Our firm has collaborated on the creation of some of London’s most loved landmarks, such as the Millennium bridge, the Gherkin or the London Eye. And we supported the GLA’s resilience team as part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative to understand the city’s food system as one of the focus areas for London’s resilience strategy.

Working with its diverse communities and stakeholders across its supply chain and its entire foodshed, embarcing complexity, it can transform its food system. London can be a leader of change.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

London is a diverse global city with over 35% of its inhabitants born abroad, comprising of 270+ nationalities that speak 300+ languages. This is reflected in the great variety of flavours, colours and smells that make up the London cuisine and is now a globally recognised destination for great food.

There are also a large number of community gardens, allotments and other food-growing spaces. It is estimated that over 1 million meals are grown in the city and London is already home to many grass roots organisations focused on food such as Sustain, the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the Food Foundation, City Harvest London, FoodCycle or Food For All, working on improving London’s food system. There are also some leading edge growing companies exploring high-tech food production systems such as Growing Underground in Brixton or GrowUp.

London - like the rest of the UK imports around 45% of its food from overseas, including around 28% from Europe. This means it’s food shed - the area where its food comes from – is at any one time a global continuum of places more less serving the city’s food demand.

The city is vibrant, has a rich diverse culture and a hectic pace of life which is reflected in the many fast food and take-way outlets. Eating lunch at the desk is isolating and contributes to loneliness which impacts both physical and mental health.

Many people working in London live in the surrounding rural regions and towns where some of its food is grown. There is a clear urban rural divide, politically, socially and economically. Areas around London culturally and socially are much more homogeneous. However, there are big economic disparities. Desirable rural locations with good public transport links to the city are often affluent where else the agricultural communities are often deprived and lacking investment and opportunity.

London has one of the best public transport systems in the UK and at the same time suffers from congestion and poor air quality. While in a temperate climate with regular rainfall, the south east of England as a whole is under water stress

Like many big cities, London also faces significant challenges. There is inequality is worse in London compared to the rest of England, with 50% of London’s wealth earned by 10% of households. Relative poverty is exacerbated by the high cost of housing and there is a strong link between low incomes and food insecurity and health inequality.

London is a member of the C40 and signatory to the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. It has recently published a new food strategy and is recognised for its leadership in international food networks and expressed its desire to continue to be a leader in green food jobs, skills and education. This means any positive change to London’s food system is likely to inspire other cities around to world which could drive global transformation in the food system.

See a map of London's food system here: https://peperkoekdam.kumu.io/london-food-system-2020

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1569

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

9300000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment

High environmental impact: at 13%, food is the second largest contributor to London’s consumption-based emissions and has a disproportionate ecological footprint.

Biodiversity loss: agriculture contributes to pollution and biodiversity loss with over 56% of the UK's species declining in the past 50 years.

High wastage: 1/3 of food produced is wasted. Packaging further increases food-related waste.

Diet:

Nutrition inequality: affordable, accessible food is often unhealthy, particularly in poorer areas. Children from poorer boroughs are 2x likely be obese compared to the richest.

Obesity: poor diets are a driver of the highest obesity rates among children in England: 38.5% of London’s 10-11-year olds are overweight or obese, facing an unhealthy adult life.

Poor lifestyles: convenience food and time pressure means Londoners often eat food with poor nutritional value, in isolation, leading to health problems and loneliness.

Economics:

Food insecurity: inequality leads to vulnerable citizens having limited access to food - 21% of Londoners are classified as food insecure, & there is a rising use of foodbanks.

Challenging livelihoods: jobs in the food sector are undervalued & zero-hour contracts are common, resulting in job & income insecurity.

Vulnerable supply-chain: London’s food supply relies on “just in time” delivery, lacking reserves, and over 45% of it is imported from overseas, making the system highly vulnerable to disruption.

Culture:

Lack of awareness: producers & consumers are distant from each other and the system is opaque. People are prevented from making informed food choices by not knowing how food is produced or where it comes from.

Skills loss: attracting young talent into the agricultural and food sector is challenging - the average age of a British farmer is 59.

Loss of culture: access to traditional ingredients of culturally diverse dishes is limited; communities turn to unhealthy alternatives.

Technology:

Unsustainable farming practices: agricultural practices use non-renewable resources such as fertiliser and pesticides and increasingly GMOs, depleting soil health & biodiversity.

4th industrial revolution & future jobs: robotics & automation threaten up to 82% of food sector jobs unless new opportunities are found.

Lost potential: benefits of linking the human biome to diets creating healthier outcomes cannot be harnessed yet as evidence and understanding is in its infancy.

Lack of information: lack of traceability and accountability in the food system prevents consumers from making good choices.

Policy:

Biased food policy: current policy treats food as a commodity and incentivises low prices at the expense of human and planetary health.

Smaller businesses disadvantaged: the single focus on low cost leads to centralising market power by a few large corporations leaving little room for smaller enterprises to compete.

Siloed governance: current governance structures deal with health, economy & environment as separate rather than interlinked issues.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Environment:

Food licencing: licences require food to be grown naturally & free of agrochemicals. This reduces water pollution, improves soil health & captures carbon whilst restoring biodiversity.

Farm-free food: novel sources such as insect protein, meat grown in laboratories or sustainably farmed kelp will enable Londoners to choose truly sustainable foods.

Circular neighbourhoods: localising food production creates a sustainable, closed-loop system, recycling nutrients & balancing resource flows. Waste is a thing of the past.


Diet:

Localisation: closer food production & processing means we enjoy fresher food with higher nutritional value leading to an overall healthier population.

Availability: a sophisticated distribution network of home deliveries, farmers markets and PHP stores will mean healthy food is available for everyone.

Community cooking: support for community kitchens means the joy of cooking and eating together is valued again.

Urban farms & foraging: using edible plants & fruit trees to replace ornamental gardens in public places will allow citizens to forage for healthy food & become closer to nature.


Economics:

Smart food: new institutions will ensure that vulnerable citizens have access to fresh & healthy food, reducing inequality.

Food citizenship: closer connections between consumer, producer, land and sea, mean value & benefits are shared equitably.

Local Economic Development: localisation of production builds a more complex and diverse food web with more small enterprises, creating a resilient food system.


Culture:

Linking people & place: food citizenship and localisation establishes a strong bond between consumer & producer. Londoners will know where their food comes from and how it was grown.

A farming renaissance: restorative farming models will provide opportunities for young farmers without barriers of tenure or capital costs.

Diversification: growing demand for variety will create opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide ingredients London’s diverse communities.


Technology:

Licencing: smart licensing will incentivise renewable food growing methods including innovation in high tech farming and novel foods, creating new jobs. 

Sensors: wearable technology will help citizens understand their dietary needs and make healthier choices.

Blockchain: innovation in satellite & block chain technology increase transparency and accountability.


Policy:

Level playing field: treating food as an essential need not a commodity underpins policymaking, ensuring a sustainable link between human and planetary health.

Embracing urban complexity: complex flows of food constituents from ingredients to waste will empower all actors in the food system, create opportunities for smaller companies and achieve a fairer distribution of benefits.

Integrated policymaking: new institutions such as Food for London & innovations such as the PEAR smartcard mean health, poverty and environmental issues are addressed holistically.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By 2050, London’s food system played a major role in reversing climate change and mass extinction while improving the health its citizens.

The simple message of healthy people - healthy planet inspired other cities to adopt similar policies, creating a scale of demand that transformed the food system globally.

Inspired by its diverse communities, London embraced more complexity in the food chain. Working with local and global entities, producers, distributors, consumers as well as health and waste managers, it developed policies incentivising a more diverse and resilient food web. Food for London ensures universal access to healthy food for all. The approach is underpinned by 5 key principles:

Food Citizens -Closing the gap between consumers and producers, empowering people to make better choices creating a fairer distribution of value across the system, a healthier environment and better new livelihoods.

Localisation -Activating smaller resource loops by localising production, distribution and processing, making the food system the ultimate circular economy, moving from large scale to smaller scale, diverse and connected web of facilities for urban growing, distribution and recycling

High-tech to Natural - Supporting natural food production, without agrochemicals, with "farm-free" food grown in controlled environments, making bio-diverse farming feasible

Food as Medicine - Making food the essence of life not a commodity, where “Nutritional Value” replaces “Calories”, leveraging the potential of human biome to create personalised food products, enabled by wearable technology and agencies ensuring fair access

Diversification - Embracing diversity, both cultural and natural varieties, through micro production, making food more enjoyable and system more resilient

See the newspaper attached to our submission for an illustration of this vision!

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

By 2050, London has achieved its ambitious vision for a comprehensive, sustainable food system. First proposed in the 2020’s, the new food vision played a major role in reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere, reversing mass extinction, and improving the health of citizens across the globe, all while creating a more equitable food system. 

London in 2050 is the premier example of a successful food system, inspiring more than 250 global towns and cities to work together to redesign their own food systems. The resulting scale of demand for food produced, processed and distributed in line with London’s principles revolutionised the global food system, improving the livelihoods of farmers across the globe.

Looking back, the transformation seemed almost inevitable. Cultural movements such as the extinction rebellion introduced citizens to the idea that saving the planet and looking after oneself go hand in hand. People became more health conscious. Deeper connections between consumer and producer sparked new trends such as “food as medicine” that were championed by cultural influencers.

Building off these movements, the biggest step change came when London elected a mayor on the bold platform of tackling London's obesity crisis together with climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality, all through new food policies. The slogan “healthy people - healthy planet” resonated with voters, giving the mayor a huge mandate that enabled sweeping system overhauls. 

Drawing inspiration from the diversity and vibrancy of its communities, the city started to actively promote more complexity in the food system. It worked with entities across the food chain from producers to consumers to waste recovery services. It brought together health experts, environmental scientists, school children, farmers and supermarket owners to explore a more multifaceted and resilient food web with smaller-scale components. A support system to ensure access to healthy food was created and, thanks to Food for London (FfL), Londoners now have universal access to healthy, sustainably-produced food.

London’s approach was underpinned by five integrated principles:

Food Citizenship: In 2050 Londoners are food citizens. A strong web of consumer, producer, land and sea work to protect the planet and ensure fair access to healthier food. Value and benefits are shared equitably between food citizens. In pursuit of healthier diets, Londoners increasingly ordered their food directly from farmers. Supported by FfL and an online platform launched in 2027, they became more connected to the web of food production. This generated fairer pay across the food chain, improving the livelihood of producers. Community-supported farming became common, replacing traditional supermarkets, some of which transitioned to Planetary Health Plate (PHP) stores - the concept of arranging and selling food in line with the Eat-Lancet report. As private car ownership declined, food citizens in Hackney were first to claim disused parking for new community farms – a trend that spread rapidly. Building off Copenhagen’s 2019 program, local authorities planted edible plants in parks and along streets, allowing people to forage.

Localisation: Driven by the need to decarbonise and build resilience, alongside a growing demand for fresher, more nutritious food, food production is localised. This created a sustainable, closed-loop system where nutrients can be recycled. As a result of the food citizen movement, by the 2040's people became increasingly aware of their food consumption as part of the cyclical transformation of a natural resource: a digested apple becomes nightsoil, which provides nutrients for the trees that grow the apples. This clarified for Londoners the otherwise abstract concept of circular economy, allowing them to apply the principle to other parts of the economy. London's food system became a "just circular economy", balancing resource flows at the local and global level. 

Localisation reduced food miles, with several positive effects. Londoners enjoy fresher food with higher nutritional value while reducing cost of transport and storage. Varieties are no longer bred for shelf life and there’s less need for refrigeration or preservation techniques. When Cross Rail was extended in the 2030’s it transported food from Kent into the city. Following Dagenham’s example, London boroughs formed Fresh Food Partnerships with neighbouring counties, encouraging farmers to sell their produce directly in local markets. Some big retailers responded by replacing their larger stores with sub-local distribution centres close to consumers now accustomed to home deliveries. In 2032, Croydon was the first borough to install a smart city loop, a pneumatic distribution network connecting local distribution centres from where goods are delivered by electric bikes.

High-tech to Natural: Under London’s licensing regulations introduced in the 2020’s, food sold in London must be grown or caught naturally. Land-based farming in the whole of London's food shed will be natural and regenerative, eliminating all agrochemicals and focusing on soil health. As a result, the microbe content in the ground increased significantly, providing more nutrients and trace minerals to the plants, which produce more nutritious food. Microbes absorb a significant amount of carbon, turning farming from a major source of GHG emissions to a means of carbon capture. Healthy soils can also store more water than compacted, depleted soils, cooling the atmosphere, alleviating flood risk and making farming more drought resistant. The absence of agrochemicals decreased pollution in water systems and increased previously low biodiversity on farmland.

The best regenerative farming models rely on mixed rotational grazing with arable farming where livestock provide the natural replenishment of the soil. Young local graziers were able to help arable farmers rebalance their land, creating start-up opportunities for non-landowning young farmers without preventative capital costs.

Spotting opportunities to form early partnerships with London’s food citizens and participate in the lucrative export to London, some farmers in Costa Rica started to grow bananas naturally. As they stopped using pesticides and earned fairer wages, their health and livelihoods improved.

Certification for naturally-producing farms anywhere in the world became quick and cost-effective through a partnership with NASA and the use of block chain technology. Satellite imagery establishes soil quality and microbe content, while blockchain technology offers transparency, ensuring food meets standards.

The transition to natural farming was in part made possible by new high-tech farms and novel food products such as insect protein, sustainably-farmed kelp or “Farm-Free-Foods” like proteins fabricated in laboratories. While those technologies were in their infancy in the 2020’s London’s licensing rules created an opportunity for the sector to thrive. High-Tech farms utilise below ground sites like in Brixton as well as redundant retail units to grow food in controlled environments. Using LEDs and nutrients recovered from London’s drains, a large variety of herbs and salads now grow directly in the communities.

Food as medicine: This idea evolved in parallel to our understanding of the human microbiome. It was popularised in the late 20’s by a youtube channel called “Shíliáo” (the ancient Chinese concept of “food therapy”) run by a Taiwanese Chef. Nutri-meters integrated in wearables became popular and “calorie counting” was replaced by “nutritional value”. This created a shift in eating habits and reduced meat consumption. Unsustainably produced meat was replaced by high quality meat from homegrown stock supporting natural farming.

Analysis of everyone's personal microbiome enables citizens to tailor meals for their needs. The combined impact of lots of these food system changes means Londoners are significantly healthier, reducing pressure on the National Health System. FfL, which was created to ensure provision of healthy food for Londoners most in need, launched schemes such as the PEAR smartcard, a cost-neutral scheme based on the idea of the beetroot bond that allows people to choose healthy food paid for by the savings in healthcare. The poorest Londoners benefitted the most from the new food system as their physical and mental wellbeing improved significantly. Just as the mayor had promised, food became a significant equaliser. The approach of treating food not as a commodity, but as an essential need ultimately led to the creation of the National Food Service (NFS) in the 2040s.

Diversification: As London's growing population become more health conscious and diverse, so did the food they desired. Heritage varieties previously discarded due to shorter shelf life enjoyed a comeback. The rise in variety and the diversified demand created an opportunity by the early 2030’s for many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to grow and sell produce. A rise in SME permeated throughout the supply chain, creating a diverse, resilient food web in London. To support this, FfL collaborated with Transport for London (TFL) to leverage the existing transport infrastructure for food distribution, ensuring the complex network of growers, processors and distributors did not suffocate the capital in traffic.

London’s food system inspired many cities across the globe to adopt similar policies and collaborate. When C40 created the F250, bringing together cities to collaborate on developing local policies, the aim was to sign up 250 cities by 2050. Originally led by the wealthier cities, cities in developing countries joined quickly as they realised healthy food meant healthy people, and benefits far outweighed the required investment into education and healthy food production. Soon the F250 reached critical mass leading to a global transformation in food production and consumption.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website
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Team (9)

Victor's profile
Mahivi's profile
Mahivi Vazquez Tarducci

Role added on team:

"Mahivi is an environmental engineering with experience in environmental management, sustainability and research. She became passionate about sustainable food systems after conducting a research on the Environmental Impacts of Food Trends in Central Argentina. As part of her role at Arup, she looks after the environmental management system and she works in a multitude of initiatives to improve environmental performance and reduce Arup's carbon footprint."

Stephanie's profile
Stephanie Robson

Role added on team:

"Stephanie is a climate change consultant with 8 years' experience in the environmental sector. She is passionate about the food system and natural environment, and the interrelationships with human and planetary health. She has been part of projects to research & model how cities can reduce consumption-based emissions, and has also looked at the relationship between city resilience & food systems in London. Stephanie has enjoyed working with such a diverse & imaginative team for this submission!"

Emily's profile
Emily Graham

Role added on team:

"Emily is a sustainability consultant, who recently graduated from studying International Studies and Global Sustainable Development, where her interest in food systems sparked. Her role is to help guide Arup to meaningfully contribute to the SDGs by strategically driving internal transformational change."

Eike's profile
Eike Sindlinger

Role added on team:

"Eike is an architect and urban designer with more than 20 years’ experience in working multidisciplinary design environments developing small extensions with greenhouses to large scale urban masterplans around food. He was an advisor to a national food security programme, integrating water, energy and logistics system to enable food growing and processing. He has developed food related strategies for urban masterplans and has herded cows in Toxteth (Liverpool) as part of an award-winning project"

Sachin's profile
Sachin Bhoite

Role added on team:

"Sachin is an urbanist who promotes systems thinking and innovation to solve urban issues like sustainability, health and resilience. He has 15 years of experience working on large urban initiatives including design, research and strategic planning in Europe, Asia, Americas, Africa and Australia. Recently, Sachin led Arup work on the City Resilience Index supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and being used in over 160 known cities globally."

Ian's profile
Ian Carradice

Role added on team:

"Ian is a civil/water/environmental engineer with over 30 years experience in multidisciplinary infrastructure design for city and regional scale projects including new and existing cities, parks and land and water remediation. He has worked throughout the world and has a particular interest in providing sustainable and resilient solutions."

Pedro's profile
Pedro Contrucci

Role added on team:

"Pedro is an Urban Designer at the Arup International Development group. Architect by training and MSc in Urban Design at UCL The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Pedro has experience in large and mid-scale architecture, infrastructure and urban design projects in South America and has collaborated in academic participatory research, post-disaster reconstruction processes like the 2010 earthquake in Chile and more recently in community-led urban interventions in Yangon, Myanmar."

Spencer's profile
Spencer Robinson

Role added on team:

"Spencer is a Consultant in Arup’s International Development team. He is an early-career urban researcher with a focus on the capacity of humanitarian interventions. Previously, Spencer has worked on projects commissioned by the UN, DFID and Australian Aid, in the United States, South Africa and Sri Lanka respectively. His work with Arup currently involves developing a framework for critical infrastructure resilience, on behalf of the Green Climate Fund."

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Photo of Jonathan Han
Team

Well put together! Come 2050, there will be many major challenges across the metropolises across the world where there's only a finite amount of resources that we can make use of. Great read and like the Food for London initiative!

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