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  • Writer's pictureVítor Soares Miceli

The paradigm of the contemporary big city as a consumer and producer of food

Vítor Soares Miceli [1]

The way we occupy space, through the current cities of so-called late capitalism, is proving to be highly destructive to the natural spaces made up of forests, rivers, and environments that support and sustain life not only for our species. Generally speaking, our cities have become a huge pollution-producing machine (around 70% of greenhouse gases are emitted in urban areas, according to the World Bank (2010)) and a potential driver of social inequality scenarios that are closely related to climate change. It is worth pointing out that these climate change scenarios are not faced in the same way by different social classes, in other words, these impacts have a social character and it is therefore appropriate to call them socio-environmental impacts (ORTIGOZA; CORTEZ, 2009).

In turn, according to a study that reviewed the urban diet of around 100 cities, food is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases and land use change, especially on the urban bangs (GOLDSTAIN et. al., 2017 apud IPCC 2019, p. 505). In this way, thinking about the urban diet turns out to be an interesting approach when we think about environmental impacts.

We also see that "adapting the urban food chain represents a major challenge and requires radical changes" (IPCC, 2014, p. 568). According to data from the FAO (2012), maintaining current (and predicted) patterns of consumption, production, possible improvements in productivity and the current situation of food waste, we need a 60% increase in the volume produced today to adequately feed the entire human population in 2050.

In these large contemporary cities, fresh food is generally supplied through the production of their green belts (which have extreme socio-environmental importance), but little or almost nothing is produced on a larger scale within the urban perimeter. It's also worth pointing out that access to fresh food, which is therefore richer nutritionally, is not equal across the urban territory, especially in peripheral locations:

The lack of places to buy F&H [fruit and vegetables] (...) was reported by the majority of interviewees, as well as insufficient supply (...), which led to a lack of these foods. The small number of establishments selling fresh food was considered an obstacle to healthy eating practices (TARRICONE, M. et al. 2018, p. 435).

In this way, we have a clear affront to food security and food sovereignty[2], concepts that permeate discussions relating to food and its forms of production, and which are considered extremely important (FAO, 1996) and are goals that are sought to be achieved in policies, plans and laws. Food security aims to ensure that there is a minimum consumption of calories in order to maintain human existence with quality of life, without nutritional deficiencies. The concept of food sovereignty, on the other hand, means that nutritional needs must be met in line with what a given people culturally grow and eat, without the imposition of products that are not part of local eating habits.

However, we still find around 1/6 of the global population in a situation of malnutrition, even after decades of the so-called Green Revolution, which initially aimed to eradicate hunger, but which ended up boosting predatory economic concepts by inserting food logic into market fluctuations and little productive diversity. Therefore, we must try to break away from the dynamics of hyper-specialized food based on these premises, commodities, which do not guarantee universal access to quality food; on the contrary, they hinder it.

Therefore, designing more green spaces, which can be food producers in the urbanized fabric, has enormous nutritional potential, and can also allow better use of ecosystem services, making it possible to reduce urban stress on the environment and on individuals (NAGIB, 2018). Cities like Sofia and Cairo use gardens as mechanisms for environmental improvement, for example.

Based on what has been discussed and presented so far, it is necessary to go into the aspects of food production within the urban fabric, understanding the potential of these places, the urban gardens, or at the limit that is usually called peri-urban, with the peri-urban gardens. The possibilities for cultivation within the urban fabric are usually characterized by being in places of urban "leftovers", land that is difficult to use and/or market reserves, places where there is real estate speculation or that are awaiting public investment, adding value to the surroundings. They are also characterized by being built in public squares and on land under transmission lines, due to the legal impossibility of construction (ROSTICHELLI, 2013). We therefore have great potential for occupying urban land with productive sites.

As an example, in a survey carried out by the Instituto Escolhas (2020), 60,000 hectares of land available in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region would be enough to provide more than 20 million people with plant products, creating approximately 180,000 direct and indirect jobs in the production of these foods, through the typology of Family Commercial Agriculture.

In any case, it is worth pointing out that this production can be based on what is advocated by a Sustainable and Resilient Food System (SAS), due to its qualities, being a concept developed and defended by the FAO, together with researchers on the subject, producers and civil society, as well as the technical body itself, serving as an important motto for the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We highlight the relevant aspects of SAS:

  • Increase access to healthy and nutritious food in urban, peri-urban and rural areas;

  • Generate work in suitable conditions for all those involved in the food chain, especially family production;

  • Promote the interconnection between urban and rural spaces through the proper management of resources and the relationship between producers and consumers;

  • Increasing resilience against extreme climatic events and reducing dependence on resources from other regions (Instituto Escolhas, p. 15, 16 apud FAO, RUAF, 2015).

  • We also find that a good approximation to what can be found in the territory is made by analyzing economic data, since unfortunately in lower-income populations, food insecurity scenarios are greater: "the dimensioning of the population 'vulnerable to hunger' measured by the level of family income reflects the understanding, undoubtedly important, that hunger and poverty always go hand in hand". (Maluf, 2006, p. 9-10).


It is also worth noting that there is a clear need to redesign human diets globally. Diets based on animal products (meat, eggs, milk) have a greater environmental impact (IPCC, 2019). Diets based on plant-based products have a smaller ecological footprint and better public health indices (IPCC, 2019), as well as having a greater relationship with animal rights. Therefore, we conclude by pointing out that:

far more numerous were the deaths caused indirectly by hunger, because the systematic lack of food causes deadly diseases: the victims were so weakened that illnesses which, in other circumstances, might have developed favorably, in these cases determined the severity that led to death. The English workers call this social murder and accuse our society of practicing it continuously. Are they wrong? (ENGELS, 2010, p. 63).


BANCO MUNDIAL. Cities and climate change: an urgent agenda. Washington: Urban Development & Local Government, v. 10. 2010.

CORTEZ, ATC., ORTIGOZA, SAG., orgs. Da produção ao consumo: impactos socioambientais no espaço urbano [online]. São Paulo: Editora UNESP; São Paulo: Cultura Acadêmica, 2009.

Declaração de Roma Sobre a Segurança Alimentar Mundial e Plano de Ação da Cimeira Mundial da Alimentação. FAO. Roma.1996.

ENGELS, Friedrich. A situação da classe trabalhadora na Inglaterra; tradução B. A. Schumann; supervisão, apresentação e notas José Paulo Netto. Boitempo. São Paulo. 2010.

FAO, WFP, e IFAD. The State of Food Insecurity in the World: Economic Growth is Necessary but not Sufficient to Accelerate Reduction of Hunger and Malnutrition. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP), FAO, Rome, Italy. 2012

INSTITUTO ESCOLHAS. Relatório: Mais perto do que se imagina: os desafios da produção de alimentos na metrópole de São Paulo. URBEM; Porticus. São Paulo. Novembro, 2020.

IPCC. Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. 2014

IPCC. Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)]. In press. 2019.

MALUF, R. S. Segurança Alimentar e Fome no Brasil: 10 anos da Cúpula Mundial de Alimentação. CERESAN, Relatórios Técnicos, 2. 2006.

NAGIB, Gustavo. Agricultura Urbana como Ativismo na Cidade de São Paulo. Editora Annablume. São Paulo, 2018.

Rostichelli, M. Entre a Terra e o Asfalto: a região metropolitana de São Paulo no contexto da agricultura urbana. Dissertação de mestrado apresentada para a Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciencias Humanas da Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo. 2013.

TARRICONE, Mariana Garcia, et. al. Acesso à frutas e hortaliças em áreas periféricas da Região Metropolitana de São Paulo. Demetra. V. 13, N. 2. Rio de Janeiro. 2018.

[1] Texto se baseia em pesquisa desenvolvida para Trabalho de Conclusão de Curso do autor para a Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade de São Paulo, no ano de 2021, com título Planejamento metropolitano e produção alimentar: mudanças climáticas, segurança alimentar e governança de recursos entre o rural e o urbano. Disponível em <>. Acesso em 11 mar. 2023.

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