Social justice has a rather hidden presence in the analysed UFSs. Of the social justice-oriented food concepts raised in the introduction, only food sovereignty (15 mentions in 4 UFSs) is faintly touched upon. More general social justice-oriented words—e.g. just(ice) itself (only 3 mentions in 2 UFSs), equity/equitable (9 mentions in 5 UFSs), (in)equal(ity/ities) (10 mentions in 6 UFSs)—can each be counted without running out of fingers. Does that mean that European medium-sized cities do not care about creating a more socially just food system? Or do they simply approach the social justice theme with different vocabularies? This subsection highlights the explicit and implicit ways UFSs do seem to include a social justice perspective based on Fraser’s three ‘what’ dimensions (redistribution, recognition and representation) and discusses some issues and obstacles we encountered in the analysis.
What explicit social justice-oriented vocabulary do European cities use? With regard to redistribution, ‘access(able/ibility)’ (57 mentions in 11 UFSs), and to a lesser extent ‘available/ility’ (31 mentions in 13 UFSs) and ‘affordable/ility’ (13 mentions in 3 UFSs) are concepts which frequently turn up in the UFSs. Paying the farmer a fair price, shortening food supply chains and buying fair trade products can also be placed within the redistribution dimension of justice as they mean to redistribute income. Arguably, these economic interactions partly relate to recognition as well; for paying a higher price also demonstrates appreciation and challenges existing hierarchy structures and value patterns. Another example of the recognition dimension of justice can be found in the various UFSs that describe food projects which offer marginalised groups, e.g. people with a disability or distance from the labour market, a place to visit, work and/or socialise. Finally, words such as ‘participation/ive/ory’(64 mentions in 13 UFSs) and ‘inclusion/inclusive’(14 mentions in 8 UFSs) are featured frequently, illustrating the representation dimension. Moreover, three UFSs are developed by FPCs, in which a wide variety of food system stakeholders are represented, two UFSs are coordinated based on similar types of working groups, and two UFSs include plans to set up an FPC.
Two observations require our attention. First of all, terms such as ‘accessible’, ‘fair’ and ‘inclusive’ are often squeezed into sentences which also include sustainable, healthy, resilient, tasty, prosperous, local, environmentally friendly, organic, etc. A good example of such a sentence is one of the main objectives of the MUFPP, which is often repeated in UFSs of cities that have signed the MUFPP: “We will work to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people in a human rights-based framework, that minimise waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change”. Explanations of what ‘accessible’, ‘fair’ and ‘inclusive’ mean and how urban governments plan to operationalise these terms into targets and plans tend to be missing in most UFSs. Secondly, besides the explicit references discussed above, many of the coded social justice-oriented references are of a more implicit nature (e.g. adjectives such as ‘responsible’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘collective’, or verbs like ‘supporting’, ‘promoting’ or ‘encouraging’). All contain a link to redistribution, recognition or representation, and focus on supporting, empowering or including a group of people to ensure everybody can participate in food practices and food interactions, but the actions are not necessarily framed as being socially just.
With these two observations in mind, the following subsections will dive deeper into the coded material, to see how resource allocations, value patterns and decision rules are being altered and for whom.
As stated in the methodology, we have coded text references to food-related resources and services that the urban government or described initiatives are in some way providing, facilitating, managing or co-creating in order to achieve more socially just outcomes. Below we will demonstrate how the seven categories we identified—food, land, pay, social capital, knowledge, voice and infrastructure—can be positioned alongisde Fraser’s three dimensions, how they are present in the analysed UFSs (paragraphs below) and how they are discussed in urban food governance literature (Table 2). Infrastructure, pay and knowledge are all linked to two dimensions. How these three categories are split is indicated in parentheses and illustrated in the examples and questions below.
The categories coded under redistribution demonstrate how urban food systems are driven by complex forces of supply and demand. Material resource allocations frequently discussed in UFSs include:
Infrastructure (physical). An urban food system relies on physical hubs and transportation networks that enable the allocation of food and mobility of people. Not everybody has equal access to this infrastructure. References in this code mainly relate to guaranteeing diversified retail options for urban inhabitants. Urban governments for example establish, promote or protect local markets and artisan businesses where producers and consumers can physically meet one another. Bristol has set out to “strengthen the wholesale, brokerage, and delivery infrastructure that supports the independent food sector logistic”. Additionally, various UFSs describe the infrastructural needs in facilitating more sustainable food procurement at hospitals, schools and other public institutions. In total, we coded 104 administrative (see representation) and physical infrastructure references in 14 UFSs.
Food. In the UFSs it is often stressed that healthy, fresh, local, fair, organic and/or sustainable food needs to be accessible for all inhabitants. Accordingly, the supply of these types of food products to or in the city is increased, streamlined and/or promoted. Additionally, the redistribution of food surpluses to people in need and social non-profit organisations has been a recurring ambition or current practice in the analysed documents, for example in the UFS of Vitoria-Gasteiz: “develop a municipal programme that leads to greater use of food surpluses, in coordination with the major producers of these surpluses (which result from imminent expiry dates or deficiencies in packaging) and with parties in need of these products (food banks, social services, non-governmental organisations, etc.)”. Of the seven resources and services categories, food was coded the most (233 references in 16 UFSs).
Land. A vital, but scarce resource needed for food production is land. A number of urban governments in our sample described and intention to play a pro-active role in restoring agricultural land and help small farmers, urban gardeners or food initiatives with land acquisition. Six UFSs discuss ways of connecting landowners and seekers. Others create public gardens where citizens, especially the more vulnerable groups, can come to visit, grow and harvest. Grenoble for example mentioned that they are working on developing “shared and freely accessible plots, gardens and orchards”. Finally, there are two cities that experiment with temporary land use conversion for urban agriculture. Land was coded 67 times in 11 UFSs.
Pay (compensation). Only the income that is earned through food-related professions is considered in this code; it does not cover income disparities on the consumer side. References coded in this node for example include shortening food supply chains so the farmer, producer or processor of the food is payed a better price. Additionally, many of the analysed cities are part of fair trade networks, and want to stimulate their citizens and collective caterers to purchase products with a fair trade label to support farmers and production workers in developing countries. Finally, cities mention the creation of employment as an argument for supporting food businesses or programmes, e.g. in Bristol: “If Bristol were to lose this resource it would result in a significant loss of local jobs and in turn cause a domino effect for thousands of producers throughout the South West and further afield, and for hundreds of caterers and independent retailers.”
The ways we grow, produce, process, eat and value food are also distinctly cultural, which is reflected in the recognition categories. Below we outline three immaterial resources that can play a role in altering institutionalised value patterns in urban food systems:
Pay (appreciation). Besides paying money, food-related labour can also be valued by paying food providers respect and attention. In that regard, redistribution and recognition may reinforce each other and are both needed to challenge existing hierarchy structures and class inequalities (Fraser 2000). In the analysed UFSs, food projects based on volunteers were often mentioned, but there was no particular attention for how such work is or needs to be valued. We did find references that foreground acknowledging and valuing the work of professional food providers: e.g. in Ghent: “In what way exactly, you ask? By showcasing the producer and his work in shops, at the market, in magazines, online, etc. The result? Consumers will show more respect and appreciation for the people producing our food.” In total, i.e. in terms of both compensation and appreciation, the resources and services category ‘pay’ includes 113 references in 15 UFSs.
Social capital. In the UFSs in our sample, it is only modestly highlighted how food brings people together. With 64 references in 13 UFSs, social capital is the least coded category. It covers the distribution of opportunities for people to socialise and practice their cultures and traditions. In various UFSs, urban gardens are presented as multicultural places where different social groups can meet, which increases social cohesion. The city of Geneva also bears in mind cultural diversity: “In multicultural cities, and in the face of increasingly standardized food, eating well must take into account the particularities and diverse food heritages.” Finally, social food events are presented as a way to get people, e.g. the elderly, out of isolation.
Knowledge (learning). After food, knowledge is the most frequently referred to category in terms of resources and services to share, circulate and promote (143 references in 16 UFSs). Concerns are raised whether urban inhabitants, especially children, know what is a healthy and sustainable diet and where and how their food is produced. In addition, the competences urban gardeners and local farmers need to operate productively and sustainably and for (home) chefs and collective caterers to serve affordable and healthy meals are considered as skills that can be learned. For example, one of the five pillars in the UFS of Grenoble is called “Inform, raise awareness. The city provides the reader with a list of what they have been doing in terms of cooking workshops, education programmes and knowledge exchange platforms to stimulate knowledge development.
Finally, urban food systems are defined by power relations and decision rules, related to the representation dimension. We found that three elements are particularly emphasized when it comes to fostering representation and equal say in urban food strategies:
Knowledge (transparency). Urban governments stress that they want their citizens to be able to make informed decisions with regard to food engagement. Many cities facilitate awareness campaigns and events and explain or introduce food-labelling systems in order to make information about the food system more accessible to the public. For example Montpellier: “The Metropolis and its partners have noted that the final consumer is not familiar with the seasonal nature of local products and that there is a need to know where to buy good and/or local products. The idea therefore emerged to offer a reference point to the citizen in his conquest of a more local consumption and to help him to reclaim his food.”
Voice. Many of the analysed UFSs are developed in collaboration with other partners, by FPCs and/or based on processes of citizen meetings, surveys and workshops, indicating that the urban governments are providing stakeholders a voice in decision-making. For example, in Donostia—San Sebastián: “It is proposed to establish a committee of experts on the Food Strategy to advise on and support programmes and actions. A participative process will be opened so that the agents, as well as the citizenship can participate.” The category ‘voice’ was coded 83 times in 15 UFSs. Although the vast majority of the references concern the UFS trajectory itself, there were also a couple of references to democratic procedures and project co-ownership in external projects. Also, in some UFSs citizens are invited to vote or provide ideas about what food activities they want in a public space, or even to temporarily take over certain public services from the urban government, like the maintenance of public green. As observed earlier, decision rules stating how words like ‘inclusive’ or ‘participative’ have been operationalized often remain undefined, which makes it difficult to assess to what extent citizens can really participate in decision-making on equal terms.
Infrastructure (administrative). This category concerns food-related support platforms and regulatory structures in the urban food system. It includes references to infrastructure that guides, connects or facilitates certain food initiatives and networks, but also examples of regulations being altered to stimulate desired development or behaviour. Many cities also provide funding opportunities for entrepreneurs or citizen initiatives, provided they meet certain qualifications, like in Bruges: “The city of Bruges has organized a competition to support its sustainable food policy. Several projects were financially supported within the framework of “Klimaatneutraal Brugge 2050” (a climate neutral Bruges by 2050).”
We have validated the relevance of these seven categories—or ten if you count the categories we split up—by triangulating them with urban food governance literature. Table 2 summarizes the categories by rephrasing them as questions and features a number of prevalent academic concepts and literature references examining these resources and services. Several of these concepts are not discussed in the UFSs we have analysed, indicating that there might be some significant gaps between research and practice in Europe in terms of knowledge and priorities.
As explained in the methods section, we have developed a radar diagram to visualise to what extent each of the resources and services receives attention in each UFS (Fig. 2). Based on the distribution of priorities, i.e. the shapes of the diagrams, we were able to group cities together. There are those diagrams with one, two or three resources or services not receiving any attention (category A: Basel, Cordoba, Rennes, Tours and Uppsala), those that tick all the boxes fairly evenly, scoring two or three on nearly all resources and services (category B: Bristol, Ghent, Geneva, Grenoble, Groningen and Vitoria-Gasteiz), and those that address all categories, but show a strong tendency towards a couple of resources or services specifically (category C: Bruges, Donostia-San Sebastián, Ede, Montpellier and Nantes). The allocation of cities across these categories appears to be quite random in terms of size and geographical location, i.e. cities from the same country do not all end up in the same group and there are both smaller and larger cities present in each group. It is noticeable that the five cities in category A tend to have relatively concise UFS documents, whereas the cities in categories B and C tend to have more comprehensive and longer UFS documents. Also, the UFSs in the category B tend to be oriented towards a number of abstract objectives, while the UFSs in categories A and C seem to be more project-based and practice-oriented.
In Fig. 3a, b and c, we zoom in on three cities, one from each category, to provide case-specific insights into the coded material behind the diagrams. The UFS of Cordoba is an example of a city in category A, for both land and infrastructure are not touched upon. Also, no descriptions of current practices were identified for this UFS. The focus is mainly on three resources and services: pay (due to its elaborate coverage of the advantages of shortening food supply chains and choosing fair trade in their ambitions and motivations), voice (since the publication is mentioned to be a product of a participatory process) and knowledge (because the UFS emphasizes its function to inform the reader on how to contribute to a more sustainable food system). All in all, it is more of an information booklet than a policy document; the responsibility to act is mainly placed with the citizen, not the municipality itself. The UFS of Ghent clearly fits category B; it is a relatively long document with many multi-layered ambitions and descriptions of projects that are already taking place. Access to food is a central theme in the document; it is approached fairly explicitly and from various angles. For all resources and services categories multiple references were found. Finally, Fig. 3c shows our assessment of the UFS of Donostia-San Sebastián, a city in category C. The spider web shape is skewed towards food, voice and knowledge, and hence mainly covers the representation dimension of Fraser. Notably, this UFS touches upon the social justice theme quite explicitly in the description of current practices and the UFS trajectory, but less so in its future ambitions.
Healthy meals for whom? Education of whom? A fair price for whom? Decision-making by whom? These questions need to naturally accompany discussions of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of justice. Who is (supposed to be) benefitting from the existing and planned initiatives, programmes and policy measures in the UFSs?
Based on the obtained list of in-vivo target group codes, we designed a classification structure (Fig. 4). We distinguish main categories that indicate on what grounds a target group is defined, and sub-categories that cluster the corresponding in vivo codes. The categories are listed in order of occurrence, based on the total number of coded references. Some target groups fall into multiple categories, e.g. children from low-income households, or rural farmers. The material coded under ‘unspecified’, are references in which cities make no distinctions as to who to reach out to, e.g. for/of/with all, everyone, people, inhabitants, citizens, society, you, etc. The material coded under the various ‘from all/no matter/throughout’ sub-categories are references that do cover the main category, but do not opt for one specific sub-category. For example: ‘from all backgrounds’, ‘no matter where they live’, ‘throughout the food supply chain’, ‘young and old’, ‘rich and poor’, or ‘public and private’. The codebook is not “exhaustive”; it only includes those target groups that are mentioned in the analysed UFSs.
As the list indicates, target groups are mainly defined across the food supply chain, organisational structures and generations. Notably, the UFSs do not often distinguish target groups by backgrounds, lifestyles and geographical areas. That is an interesting finding, as these are categories that (especially North American) food justice scholars (e.g. Alkon and Agyeman 2011; Bradley and Herrera 2016; Cadieux and Slocum 2015; Clendenning et al. 2016; Glennie and Alkon 2018; Gottlieb and Joshi 2010; Passidomo 2014; Slocum and Cadieux 2015) tend to emphasize. Possibly, intersectional, racial and class-based inequalities are less present or less publicly discussed in European food governance. Or perhaps European cities tackle such inequalities more implicitly in their UFSs, by articulating policy measures as being directed to or beneficial for ‘all’. After all, the main category ‘unspecified’ includes 151 references in 15 UFSs. If one would also count the ‘from all/no matter/throughout’ codes, the total of unspecified target groups even adds up to 189. We also identified numerous references that do not even mention a target group, for instance: “Our focus is on strong social cohesion and more social employment. Education must maximise our efforts in the long term. We also need sound knowledge building on access to food, among other topics, so as to develop well-founded actions.” (Ghent). After unspecified, the most mentioned target groups are children (68 mentions in 13 UFSs), farmers and producers (58 mentions in 16 UFSs) and citizen initiatives and start-ups and young entrepreneurs (together 45 mentions in 13 UFSs), reflecting a focus on food education & school meals, fair food supply chains & urban–rural linkages, and local social economy & community cohesion, respectively:
“Involve every school in the ‘Healthy Schools’ approach to food and make food growing and farm visits part of every child’s education” (Bristol)
“Fair trade means that farmers in the South receive a fair price for their product. It also means that the products have been made in people- and environment-friendly conditions.” (Bruges)
“We choose to help pioneers and early adopters by connecting, supporting, facilitating, being involved and guiding them” (Groningen)
Target groups are approached in three distinctive ways: Firstly, those who are supported, i.e. when the target group is provided with resources (focus on redistribution). For example: “Tours Metropole will have a tool that will simplify the acquisition of agricultural land to make it available to farmers.” (Tours). Secondly, those who are empowered, i.e. when the target group is provided with opportunities (focus on recognition). For example: “The Severn Project, a Community Interest Company founded in 2010, produces 300 kg of top-quality organic salad leaves per week to sell commercially, and provides education, training and employment for socially excluded individuals.” (Bristol). 3) And thirdly, those who are included, i.e. when the target group is provided a seat at the table (focus on representation). For example: “Following on from the efforts of the federal government, the Canton of Basel-Stadt is launching a Food Waste Round Table with representatives from production, processing, retail trade and social institutions.” (Basel).
To give an idea of how individual cities address target groups, we return to the three cities discussed in the previous sub-section. For Cordoba, only sixteen references to target groups were identified, mainly producers and workers in fair trade chains (6 references) and those who were involved in some way in the food policy publication (6 references). The former are mainly approached from the lens of recognition and the latter clearly falling in the representation dimension. The remaining four target groups, ranging from shops to non-profit organisations, receive support (redistribution). For Ghent many different target groups were identified, most commonly farmers, urban gardeners, consumers and social initiatives, as well as many references within the unspecified category. All three dimensions are targeted: most target groups were stated to be(come) included in food (policy) practices (representation, 45 references), followed by targets groups that were supported in terms of improved access to resources (redistribution) and empowered in terms of interaction and development opportunities (recognition) (both around 25 references). For Donostia-San Sebastián around fifty target groups were identified. Most target groups (27 references) relate to representation. Both citizens and food sector agents are stated to be(come) included in local alliances to develop, implement and reach food policy objectives. Moreover, various projects are mentioned in which socially excluded groups (7 references) are supported (redistribution) and empowered (recognition).
When looking at the other cities in categories A, B and C, the identified target groups are different for each city in terms of characteristics. Patterns can be identified in terms of quantities: category B and C cities tend to have more references to target groups than cities in category A. Also, in terms of coverage, category B cities tend to have references to target groups in ambitions, current practices and UFS trajectory descriptions, in all ‘what’ dimensions and in most target group categories listed in Fig. 4. Whereas in category A and C cities target groups tend to be more unevenly dispersed across dimensions and categories.