Food Council (state/regional/local)


Food Council (Food Policy Council, FPC) brings together different stakeholders of the food system in order to diagnose and improve the local food environment. Food Councils are a vital part of a community’s food system. They enable community members to have input regarding policy and various initiatives that affect the local food system. Councils can also represent a meeting place for community members wishing to engage with other individuals equally as passionate about the local food system. Councils can also work on the societal aspect of food, by building consumer awareness, designing policies, or launching community efforts around healthy eating. Food councils, or food policy councils, are a vital resource for local decision-makers who wish to support a community food system. Because the council is connected with multiple community groups, leadership can easily ascertain the priorities of the community regarding their local food. Since FPCs are locally embedded initiatives, they can differ in their aims, members, forms and prerogatives. Some of the tasks a food policy council might oversee include: starting a breakfast or lunch program in a local school district, creating community gardens, introducing gardener networks or food sharing initiatives, promoting or initiating emergency feeding programs such as soup kitchens or food banks, organizing farmer’s markets, launching food hubs, advocating for healthy eating to combat obesity and associated diseases, increasing food access in food desert areas in a variety of ways, encouraging nutritional education in schools and communities, and supporting local food processors. For the most part, these initiatives focus on improving food security, diagnosing and reflecting on existing challenges and possibilities, offering recommendations, coordinating different programmes and strategies, designing and implementing food-related policies, supporting local farmers and producers, addressing sustainability issues, and building resilient food system communities and regions. They may also be active in food education at various levels, food aid and development programmes and food-related aspects of other policies, e.g. migration policies, public health, local economy, transportation etc.  

FPCs are usually founded within a defined territory, e.g. on a city, county, regional or state level; but they can also be built for/within other kinds of organizations. Some FPSs are founded and operated by governments or local authorities, yet many others grow as bottom-up initiatives.  

One of the most distinctive features of FPCs is their multi-actor membership. Councils include the representations of diverse groups and interests, e.g. government officials, local business owners, producers, farmers, food science experts, public health professionals, schools’ representatives, NGOs and more. As an umbrella organisation, FPCs negotiate, discuss and coordinate various policies and interests in order to efficiently secure the right to food, food security, food justice, sustainability goals etc. They should be regarded as a tool for food democracy, food sovereignty and citizen empowerment, as theyredefine and redesign the power relations within the food system.  FPCs recognize the economic, social, cultural, and environmental diversity of food systems; they consider sustainability, public interests, and values, rather than only market factors, to be the main drivers of food systems transformations. 

The following are a few of the resources made available through food policy councils: collaboration with community leaders and experts in various agricultural fields, links to government policymakers, lobbying manpower for soliciting change, access to support (social, economic, etc.) for idea implementation, voicing needs, values and concerns. Lastly, they also allow for the opportunity to discuss pressing issues and receive feedback about current initiatives, often coming directly from the source. 

The earliest food policy councils were founded in North America in the early 1990s (e.g. US: City of Hartford Advisory Commission on Food Policy established in 1991, Toronto FPC, 1991, Marin Food Policy Council established in 1998). Since then, the FPC model became increasingly applied in other regions or state agencies (e.g. Norway, Finland), integrating fragmented food-related strategies: agricultural, public health, environmental etc. In the United States, the John Hopkins University Center for Livable Future is mapping and working with FPCs to better integrate food policies. In Europe, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact works on implementing the FPC’s framework and more sustainable food systems. 

FPC are not to be confused with: World Food Council (WFC) – an organization from the United Nations (UN) established by the General Assembly in December 1974 upon the recommendation of the World Food Conference. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, the WFC was designed as a coordinating body for national ministries of agriculture to help alleviate malnutrition and hunger, and to facilitate the development of new agricultural techniques to increase food production. It was also created, partly, to check the power of developing countries in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The activities of the WFC were suspended in 1993 (absorbed by FAO and World Food Programme). 

FPCs are directly related to the sustainability goals, as they aim to develop an integrated, multi-actor perspective for food system transformation. They have evolved as a critical response to market-based development strategies with more and more centralized power positions. Nowadays, most FPCs recognize not only the interests of diverse groups, public health aims and cultural values, but also planetary health and socio-ecological resilience as part of food policies. - research project aimed at translating the worldwide Milan Urban Food Policy Pact’s vision and collective commitment to integrated urban food policies into measurable and long-term progress towards sustainable food systems in Europe. In 2014, the Mayor of Milan decided to launch an international protocol aimed at tackling food-related issues at the urban level, to be adopted by as many world cities as possible. The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was signed on October 15, 2015 in Milan by more than 100 cities. It represents one of the most important legacies of the Milan EXPO 2015.

Toronto Food Policy Council: established in 1991, it has a successful history in urban initiatives like community gardens, food markets, urban farming, green roof programme etc: (Blay-Palmer 2009) 

Food Policy Networks at John Hopkins Center for Livable Future: a project that supports the development of effective state and local food policies in the US through networking, capacity building, research, and technical assistance. They work directly with food policy councils, national organizations, and other groups seeking to improve the food system through public policy.  

Active food policy councils in the US since 2020. Source: FPC 20202 Census Report, Food Policy Network at John Hopkins Centre for Livable Future 

Blay-Palmer, A. (2009). The Canadian pioneer: The genesis of urban food policy in Toronto. International planning studies, 14(4), 401-416. 

Harper, A., Shattuck, A., Holt-Giménez, E., Alkon, A., & Lambrick, F. (2009). Food policy councils: Lessons learned. Oakland, CA: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy., Chicago.

Schiff, R. (2008). The role of food policy councils in developing sustainable food systems. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 3(2-3), 206-228., Chicago. 

Stierand, P. (2012). Chapter 5 Food Policy Councils: recovering the local level in food policy. In Sustainable food planning: evolving theory and practice (pp. 369-387). Wageningen Academic Publishers.