Leeds’ former food strategy ‘Leeds Food Matters’ lapsed in 2010. In September 2014, Feed Leeds, a network supporting sustainable, affordable and accessible food, made a Deputation to full Council to encourage the development of a new sustainable food strategy for the city. This was approved unanimously, and following an internal exercise conducted by Public Health, the Council duly commissioned Feed Leeds to conduct a ‘Food Audit’ to inform the development of ‘a new strategic approach to food’ in January 2016.
The purpose of the Audit was to provide an overview of the food system in Leeds, reviewing the current evidence on food and its impact on the economy, health and well-being, and sustainability. The Audit process was to identify key stakeholders, local food assets, networks, policy and provision, and was to be structured around the Sustainable Food Cities’ Six Key Food Issues:
1. Promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public
2. Tackling food poverty, diet-related ill health and access to affordable healthy food
3. Building community food knowledge, skills, resources and project
4. Promoting a vibrant and diverse sustainable food economy
5. Transforming catering and food procurement
6. Reducing waste and the ecological footprint of the food system
The Audit and subsequent report was conducted and written over a seven week period between February and April 2016. In addition to building on the internal exercise carried out by Public Health (which is not included in the Audit report – and may be published separately below when permissions are in place), the process conducted desk research to identify existing national and local strategies, available statistics and information on statutory, business, academic, third sector and community initiatives and projects. A stakeholder engagement event was also held.
Time and resources: A full Audit of the whole of Leeds’ food system would require significantly more time and/or resources than was available for this exercise. Not all LCC departments responded to the Audit, and there was also insufficient time fully to find and productively engage with an effective sample of local and relevant national food businesses, though a best attempt was made to reach a representative sample.
Sustainable Food Cities (SFC): The brief required the Audit to be structured around SFC’s Six Key Food Issues. Feed Leeds are supporters of SFC, and agreed that this structure would be fit for purpose, but were not fully convinced by every aspect of the SFC methodology. The Six Issues occasionally fail to address some problems associated with larger, post-industrial cities, and there is a strong focus on local production, which while attractive does not always deliver optimal sustainability, affordability, accessibility and quality. For this reason, the Issues were cross-referenced against Feed Leeds’ own Four Major Themes:
A) Health and Wellbeing,
B) Social Sustainability,
C) Economic / Employment, and
D) Environment / Greenhouse Gas / Pollution.
In other circumstances, Feed Leeds might have adopted a different approach, majoring on these Themes, and if sufficient funds had been available would also have preferred to run the CPRE Food Mapping Toolkit (listed as a future action in the report), which might have delivered engagement and detail currently missing from the Audit.
For these reasons it is important to recognise that the document provides only a partial ‘snapshot’ of the Leeds food system in Spring 2016, and is best seen as one stage in an evolving process, which Feed Leeds aims to develop in partnership with LCC, the University of Leeds (a much larger research exercise is in development) and others.
1. Form a Food Partnership Group
To drive the sustainable food agenda forward it is necessary to set up an independent food partnership group that represents all stakeholders in the local food system. This is the place where food becomes ‘visible’, and eventually that organisation will become recognised as the ‘go to’ place for all food related issues. We recommend that the partnership is made up of stakeholders from Council, business, academia, the Third Sector and communities. (This recommendation is now in hand)
2. Employ a Food Officer
We recommend employing a Food Officer, who would be independent of the council yet with the support of Public Health be able to work across council directorates as well as with business, third sector and community stakeholders. The officer would act as the secretariat to the food partnership group ensuring that the agreed strategic approach continues its momentum. (This recommendation is now in hand)
3. Develop a coherent set of indicators and targets for the Leeds Food System
We recommend agreeing a high level indicator set that can be used for annual reporting on the state of the Leeds Food System, to be expanded in order to take into account indicators and data used by other groups. Through developing an indicator set specific to Leeds would ensure they are suited to the complex health / social / economic / environmental situation in Leeds and its vicinity. (This recommendation is now in hand)
4. Explore Regional networking options
To share data and experience with other cities within the Leeds City Region. (This recommendation is now in hand)
5. Raise the Profile of Sustainable Food Across the City
Through raising the profile of sustainable food there is considerable opportunity to enhance the creativity of the food sector to achieve wider objectives, particularly skills development and job creation.
a. Food Tourism There is an opportunity for food tourism to contribute to a sustainable local economy, providing more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. For example, developing food trails around the city, such as along Chapeltown and Harrogate Road, which tells an interesting social history of immigration and food in Leeds.
b. The Leeds Bid for the European Capital of Culture 2023 [was] in the early stages of development and food [had] not been sufficiently included. On a practical level, everyone coming to Leeds will need to eat, and what better way to show the diversity and dynamism of the city than through its food? Focussing on this bid would enable greater collaboration between academia, business, Council and the Third Sector. (This recommendation was followed up)
c. A ‘Buy Local’ Campaign can be an effective tool to support local shops and producers, while also raising consumer awareness of the importance of supporting the local economy and increasing understanding of the environmental impact of the food system. A Local Campaign would benefit any food tourism initiative, offering further enthusiasm for local food.