Meeting of the EUROCITIES WG Food in Birmingham 8-10 February 2017

Birmingham hosted its first meeting of the EUROCITIES Food working group on 8-10 February. Participants included: public health experts, social workers, city councils, agricultural experts, environment and sustainability experts and urban planners from the cities: Almere, Ghent, Lyon, Porto, Venice, Milan, Utrecht, Athens, Edinburgh, Preston, Turin, Venice, Gothenburg, Milan and Birmingham.

The meeting was an opportunity for the participants to share their similar problems and concerns about public health and nutrition and to inspire and learn from each other in terms of tackling obesity, helping citizens live a healthier life as well as care for the environment in reducing waste and recycling. Three of the strategic outcomes for Birmingham City Council include; a healthy happy population, safety and opportunity for all children and a great future for all young people.

The group is now deciding how to use the information shared to identify key thematic areas with the ultimate aim of making an impact on policy and future funding.


The Programme

Wednesday 8 Feb at 18.30 at University of Birmingham: Prof Janice Thompson described grass roots initiatives to encourage diverse communities to make healthier food choices and led a discussion to the barriers/challenges to healthier, more sustainable food systems in cities.

Thursday 9 Feb at 9.00 at the Library of Birmingham; Councillor John Cotton opened the meeting and discussion topics included: food production & food supply, instruments of government, public sector innovation, social & solidarity economy and awareness of food waste.

PM lobby priorities of the WG towards the EU were discussed as well as concrete objectives for 2017-2018. The session in the library was followed by a visit to the City Kitchen. Dale Guest (Business Manager) and Wayne Edge (Head Chef) explained the philosophy of the leading provider of non-education services to schools in Birmingham. The day was concluded with a reception at  Harborne Food School.

Friday 10 Feb consisted of a tour through Birmingham. Andy Street, who is running for Mayor this year, introduced everyone to Birmingham shortly. The tour went along the Canal, to the top floor of the Cube, though China Town , the Bull Ring Indoor Market, the Bull Ring Shopping Centre and to the Great Western Arcade.

The three-day-meeting was a great chance for the EUROCITIES members to share ideas concerning Urban Food Policies and common issues the cities are facing, such as obesity.

One of Birmingham’s strategic priorities is to be a healthier city. Birmingham has the third highest rate of obesity in the UK: over 25% of its population are obese. Unfortunately children are no exception, which is one particular concern because obesity in childhood tracks into adulthood with all its associated risks. A survey in 2006 showed that 12% of 5 year olds in Birmingham and the West Midlands are overweight and around 10% obese. At age 11, 40% are either overweight or obese, with up to 60% in the Edgbaston ward. Obesity is dangerous it is associated with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and hyperlipidaemia. Additionally on average being obese decreases life expectancy by around 10 years. The participants agreed, this is an issue that should be tackled by educating the children in school, who can then, if necessary educate their parents about healthy nutrition. City Kitchen Chef Wayne Edge was particularly keen to emphasise this at the City Kitchen visit.

Another issue discussed was: can healthy food be grown in polluted cities? As a solution for this, city gardens were suggested and participants from cities that already work with projects like this, shared information how this works and how it is being managed.

Waste and recycling is an issue in every city that was represented at the meeting and there are very different, interesting and inspiring solutions. One of them was a practice in Venice, where people can refill their water bottles in public for free, in order to reduce plastic waste.

The networks ultimate goal to identify policy recommendations and funding priorities will help ensure a longer and healthier life of European citizens.