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).