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From urban food organizations to food policies

Comparing gazes between Turin and other cities in the global north.

How are urban food organizations evolving in the Global North? Are these forming networks? How should we differentiate these organisations and related networks from urban food movements? How are these organizations working towards the development of local food policies? Starting from these questions, on March 24, 2023, the researchers Alessandra Manganelli, Ginevra Montefusco and Maria Vasile presented insights from their respective work in the context of a seminar organized at the University of Turin.

PunTo: towards a food policy in Turin?

The seminar was promoted as part of a broader process called PunTo Al Cibo: Paesaggi e Comunità Urbane per Nutrire Torino (Urban landscapes and communities for nourishing Turin), which brings together non-profit organizations, academics and public administration representatives, who work on food-related themes in this city. The aim of PunTo is to start a process that can facilitate the development of an urban food policy. Several attempts in this sense were already made in the past. These resulted in the organization of collective brainstorming events as well as the publication of a booklet in 2016 (Bottiglieri et al. 2016), which reports on most of their outcomes.

Several years later, in 2022, to bring back the attention on the importance of local coordinated food actions and food policies, the University of Turin (and, in particular, the Atlante del Cibo di Torino Metropolitana’s research group) proposed to local organizations working on food-related issues to meet again. After developing an updated map of these organizations and their work, next steps include the discussion a joint vision of the role and potential of urban food organizations, what they would like a local food policy to look like, and what should be their contribution.

More generally, as discussed by Alessia Toldo in her introduction to the seminar, debating on contemporary diversity of urban food organizations, movements and policies represent an opportunity to reflect on possible ways forward in Turin. In this perspective, the speakers were invited to share some suggestions, grounded in their different research experiences, with regards to PunTo and its objectives.

Food policies or the hybrid governance of urban food movements?

Alessandra Manganelli introduced her research on Urban Food Movements in Europe and North America, in particular in Brussels and Toronto. Among other things, Alessandra discussed elements of her recently published book The Hybrid Governance of Urban Food Movements, where she developed the concept of hybrid governance applied to the transformative challenges of urban food movements. Focusing on critical “governance tensions”, she highlighted challenges to carve out spaces in which developing food growing practices; to mobilise collective action in order to shape sustainable food organisations; and to co-construct enabling institutional frameworks (Manganelli 2022).

Her reflections included remarks on the (lack of) inclusiveness of some policy processes. Furthermore, she reflected on the need to design institutional frameworks that can preserve the autonomy of grassroots projects and their critical voices and identity. Alessandra also explained how the food policy in Toronto has been undergoing a phase of re-adaptation from 2019 onwards, due to drastic changes in higher level policy institutions as well as the emergence of the Covid-19 that has revamped food justice concerns. This case exemplifies how food policies are difficult to manage with continuity over time. Moreover, it reveals the ways in which they might go through governance tensions and crisis, and how food needs to work out its position on the agenda of local policy makers.

How to include labour and right-to-the-city issues in food policy discussions?

Building on her research on Collective Food Procurement in Turin (Vasile 2023), Maria Vasile focused her contribution on some themes which are central to the work of food organizations, but only rarely discussed at governance level (nor addressed via existing food policies in Italy). In particular, Maria referred to the issue of voluntary (or unremunerated) labour in food organizations. Voluntary labour is in fact at the heart of many contemporary food organisations such as food aid initiatives. At the same time, it should be problematised in relation to the sustainability of such projects, as well as in relation to the issue of work precarity, the importance of employment contracts and social protection.

Maria asked if food policy arenas can be sites where such labour configuration can be acknowledged and critically discussed. She also hinted to the importance of considering how food-related projects play a role in city transformations and might be integral components of top-down urban renewal or gentrification processes. This represents in her view yet another reason for policy integration. For example, food policies should not be discussed separately from urban social planning but tightly related to issues of inclusiveness, building on the perspectives of current local inhabitants.

Analysing the work of Turin food organizations from a feminist perspective

The work of Ginevra Montefusco (2023) similarly highlighted the importance to critically explore food organisations as part of their broader context, and in particular processes of urban marginalization. Building on her recent fieldwork in northern Turin, Ginevra highlighted how different local projects tend to approach jointly the issues of access to food and social inclusion through food aid initiatives and social gardens, for example. By analysing food-related organizations from a feminist perspective, she highlighted how these projects can incorporate quite different perspectives on local resources and needs, as well as people’s sense of place, belonging and visions around the idea of care. Her work, investing the urban margin starting from food organizations, develops a reflection on the transformative power of care in food-related projects in deconstructing fractures based on race, class and gender in a marginalized and multicultural neighbourhood.

In terms of her suggestions for PunTO, Ginevra highlighted the importance of giving the right space to collaborative efforts around the definition of food-related interventions using participatory tools such as countermapping. This is important to start from and build on the ideas of local inhabitants. Overall, her research suggests rethinking researchers and practitioners’ approach around the ways in which needs are discussed, acknowledged and framed, especially in marginalized contexts. Ginevra suggests including people direct gazes, various positions in the design of food projects and evaluation of their outcomes. The research emphasises the importance of cooperation between food organisations to bring together different interventions to comprehensively respond to the material, social and psycho-emotional dimensions of food poverty.

Banner image: 'Atlante del cibo di Torino Metropolitana'


Bottiglieri, Maria, Giacomo Pettenati and Alessia Toldo, eds. 2016. Towards the Turin Food Policy. Good practices and visions. Franco Angeli.

Manganelli, Alessandra. 2022. The Hybrid Governance of Urban Food Movements. Learning from Toronto and Brussels. Springer: Urban Agriculture Series: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-031-05828-8

Montefusco, Ginevra. 2023. Food in the margin. A feminist analysis of Sense of Place in Barriera di Milano, Turin. Master’s thesis, Turin University.

Vasile, Maria. 2023. The silenced paradoxes of urban renewal. Morality, welfare reconfiguration and precarious labour in Collective Food Procurement in Turin. Ph.D. Dissertation, Leiden University. (forthcoming URL).


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