Foodprint Toronto | From “Walmartization” to Sitopia


Photo by Ian Muttoo. Nuit Blanche 2009

The relationship between food and the city has been widely researched until now especially by health and food industry , but the potential of food as a metric and a design tool to understand and develop our cities has been scarcely spreaded. That’s why we found highly interesting the events carried out by Foodprint Project in order to make widely known the importance of food in shaping our cities.

From food terminals to the speculative cartographies that can be drawn in any city related with the invisible flows created by food consumption, passing through the infrastructures needed for distribution, Nicola Twilley describes the Foodprint Project saying that is basically an exploration of the ways cities and food shape each other. She also wrote that the “conversations should be a fantastic blend of insight, provocation, inspiration, and speculation, ranging from the evolution of restaurant design to the impact of climate change on Toronto’s foodscape.

Globalization has made possible that the urban landscapes born from food’s flows take a superficial-similar shape everywhere: from the rural areas to the city center or from food terminals to big food markets, cartographies leave similar traces behind. But the idea of going deeper to research and document the differences that lies hidden by this visible flows is really interesting. We can try to answer the question about the relationship between food and urbanism. Nina Marie Lister wrote in the book Food, in reference to the history of the Ontario Food Terminal:

Over the last century, food delivery systems in large urban centers, although largely overlooked by planners, economists, and politicians, have undergone a critical transformation towards keeping the retail giants from gaining complete control of the food supply system […] The rapid expansion of North America’s highway system, combined with the advent of refrigeration, made mass-market food delivery system possible.

The Ontario Food Terminal looks like this in the book:


Pages from the book Food


Hallway image from the Ontario Food Terminal. Source

The project Foodprint Toronto, curated by Nicola Twilley and Sarah Rich is, in their own words, a cross-disciplinary discussion that explores the past, present, and future of food and the city. From the fight for street food to the transportation infrastructure of the Ontario Food Terminal, and from the evolution of school meals to the challenge of scaling up urban agriculture, panelists will explore the forces that shape Toronto’s food and speculate on how to feed Toronto in the future. In this sense we see this event as a serious attempt to live the city as a food-place or Sitopia in the sense described by Carolyn Steel in the essential “Hungry City”.

But, why Toronto? Dr. David McKeown, Medical Officer of Health in the City of Toronto, pointed that there has been multitude of conversations with the community partners about the future of Toronto’s food and this is making possible to develop creative initiatives that are flourishing across the city. It can be read that on the Toronto Public Health’s 2007 report, “The State of Toronto’s Food”, that the food they eat [in Toronto] comes from a complex system of connected activities [production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption and disposal] from “grow it to throw it”. Among the interest to protect rural areas from sprawl, to preserve local food security, this kind of conversations are a good way to understand how cities were developed in the past, its direct relationship with food and try to give some proper answers to this issue in the future.

Sarah Rich adds, in a conversation with Alexander Trevi:

Toronto came in as our second stop mostly through the urgings and generous encouragement of a few of our connections there. One was Tim Maly, who writes the blog Quiet Babylon. Tim came to Foodprint NYC and he gave us a book at the end called The Edible City, published by Coach House Books, which is a collection of essays by Toronto-based writers all about food in Toronto/Ontario, approached from numerous angles. That book [as well as Food] proved to be a great resource and a great way for Nicky and I to dive into understanding the role of food in Toronto. It was immediately clear that many people in Toronto already think about the deep connections between urbanism and food systems, so we felt like the conversations and the audience were there and we had a good opportunity to thread them together in some new ways.


Ontario Food Terminal. Panoramio

Foodprint Project will be a key point in the recognition and change of the current “Walmartization” of food supply model, and a step ahead in the construction of new Sitopias.

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Foodprint Toronto will be held on Saturday, July 31, 2010 from 12:30 to 5.00 p.m. at Artscape Wychwood Barns. The event will be stream on-line, so if you’re not able to be in Toronto, you can follow all the conversations here.


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