In December 2014 Sustain (formerly the Food Alliance) was engaged by the City of Whittlesea to work with key members of the Healthy Together Whittlesea team to prepare a Food Systems Background Report. The principal aim of the Report was:
To describe the local food system and determine its quality by identifying and critically assessing its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
A further key aim of the Report was to audit the existing data currently held by and available to the City of Whittlesea as regards the local food system, and to identify key data gaps and possible sources for addressing those gaps.
A major motivator for the conduct of this action-oriented and participatory research was the high and increasing burden of dietary-related ill-health in the City of Whittlesea. Tasked with making ‘healthy choices the easy choices’ for the residents of Whittlesea, the Healthy Together Whittlesea team were keen to uncover and begin to address, in a systematic manner, the root causes for dietary-related ill-health in the municipality; and ensure the collaborative development of a sustainable, resilient and healthy local food system for all residents.
The original intention was that the Food Systems Background Report would be a key document used by the City of Whittlesea in the development of a Local Food Systems Strategy. While the development of such a Strategy or Food Policy is still under consideration, the Food Systems Background Report has provided an important baseline and reference point, documenting in a thorough, systematic and integrated manner the sustainability of the local food system in Whittlesea across the four dimensions of Ecology, Economics, Politics and Culture.
This Food Systems Profile represents the accumulated results of discussion and analysis undertaken by staff across several departments at the City of Whittlesea, as well as an external stakeholder. It shows that the local food system, whilst relatively strong economically (owing to Whittlesea being a major hub of food manufacturing in Melbourne), considerable challenges exist across the other three domains. We summarised the findings in the Background Report as follows:
Economically, food is an integral part of a balanced production and exchange system. Growing, processing, and providing food can generate sustainable employment. The City of Whittlesea has a dynamic and expanding food-processing sector. However, there remain other economic areas that need focussed attention in the municipality. Common to many cities in Australia and across the world, inequities in access to good food are associated with basic problems in the local community. Setting up or supporting exemplary small-to-medium food enterprises is one way amongst many of responding to this issue.
Ecologically, living in a sustainable environment that enables availability and access to nutritious food has a direct relationship to better health outcomes. Adequate fruit-and-vegetable consumption, for example, can decrease the risk of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Yet most Australians, including over 95 per cent of people within City of Whittlesea, do not consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. Growing food locally can, for example, contribute to changing this problem.
Politically, the City of Whittlesea has taken the laudable step to develop a food strategy that attends to the whole food system. The Healthy Together Whittlesea team and other Council employees are acutely aware of the critical issues that affect a vibrant food system. They are clear about what the Council can directly change, what it can influence, and what is beyond its jurisdiction. The City of Whittlesea could thus take a local, statewide and national lead in this area. That is, Whittlesea could become a city that consciously treats food as a central part of its social life. In political terms, this means building questions of the vitality of the food system into the centre of its policy-making.
Culturally, the people of Whittlesea already take food very seriously. This provides a strong basis for taking action in the area of food. Even this cultural strength does not yet translate into more than an emergent and inchoate civic (political) engagement with food issues in the local area, the signs are promising.
To access the full report, please follow this link: Food Systems Background Report: City of Whittlesea: Full Report