Using food as a tool to experiment in democratic innovation, we prototyped a citizen-inclusive Food Council on Dec 11th. at Pakhuis de Zwijger

Type of activity
Date of the activity

Location of the activity
Pakhuis de Zwijger
“A prototype is an early sample, model or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from […]Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one” -Wikipedia-

On December 11th, the stage was set in Pakhuis de Zwijger to “prototype” a food council for Amsterdam. Organized by FARMING THE CITY and Platform Eetbaar Amsterdam in collaboration with Pakhuis de Zwijger, the aim of the night was to explore how a food council could function by setting a working example. Being very common in industrial design, we adopted the concept of ‘prototyping’ as a new format for social innovation.

Twenty-five expert practitioners from different food related fields were invited to take part in this living experiment. Seated around a four-sided center stage, invited members and commentators comprised the first row, with audience members behind them–all together forming what can be called the ‘quadruple helix’–an extension of the traditional university-industry-government ‘triple helix’ that includes a fourth element: society.


Erik Fischer (Foodcenter), Samuel Levie (Foodcabinet),Cor-Jan Tolkamp (Foodcoop),Gaston Remmers (CAH Vilentum hogeschool Almere), Hanneke Noordam (Vrije Universiteit), Han Wiskerke (Wageningen Universiteit / Academie van Bouwkunst), Fred Beekers (Resto van Harte), Margot Alting (Amsterdamse Natuur en Milieu Educatie Centrum), absent due to illnes, Bert Ydema (Urban Green Courts), Piet IJzendoorn (Boerderij Zonnehoeve, Zeewolde), Ed Buijs (Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening - gemeente Amsterdam), Susanne de Boer (Rabobank Amsterdam), Hans Ghijsels (LTO Noord), Jair Schalkwijk (DoeTank), Debra Solomon (Urbania Hoeve), Anouk Gomes (ACHMEA),Drees Peter van den Bosch (Willem & Drees), Joost Cornelis (Van Boer tot Bord), Jonathan Karpathios (Restaurant Vork en Mes, Haarlememrmeer), Ed Nobel (INCOTEC group, Seed Valley), Ellen Mookhoek (De Brede Moestuin), Henk Renting (RUAF Foundation), Jan Westra (Priva, Westland) Peter Poelstra (De Kweker).

Food Councils can be found in several cities in North America and the UK, while also recently introduced closer by in Rotterdam. In Amsterdam, food has been high on the agenda in recent years and today the city is bustling with food related initiatives while the municipality writes a new Food Vision. Given these circumstances, a central question motivated the evening: could a Food Council prove valuable for Amsterdam?

To learn more about what a Food Council actually is, does, and what it can achieve, the night was opened by a live, video Skype call with Mr. Wayne Roberts, founder of the Toronto Food Policy Council, one of the first food councils in the world. Wayne explained:

“The overall goal of the food council is to bring together everybody that is involved with food, from every walk of life, and discuss what is important”.
This is necessary because food is like a Rubik’s cube: you cannot solve the puzzle by looking only at one side. Every side needs to work together to get to a solution. And this is exactly what a food council can do.
Moreover, (by providing an integral vision) a food council can help a local government implement its food policy. According to Wayne, a food council is therefore not a cost for a city, but revenue.
One concrete example of what the TFPC has achieved is to reduce crime rates in a gang-ridden neighborhood by implementing community gardens.
The TFPC meets several times a year, but Wayne points out that the most important things happen in-between meetings. The food council functions as an incubator – accelerating change by making the right connections.

After the introduction from Toronto, it was time to start our own, local food council meeting. Under the professional guidance of moderator Natasja van den Berg, the Food Council was invited to discuss three preselected themes. Each theme was based on prior input given by the food practitioner council members, introduced by two select practitioners, and discussed in three rounds of about half an hour each.

Discussion one: obesity

The first theme discussed was obesity, emphasizing children and low-income communities. Today, in Amsterdam one in four kids is overweight, and in the lowest income areas of the city, only a troubling 2% of the kids are getting a proper amount of fruits and vegetables.

This segment was opened by Anouk Gomes from Achmea, one the leading Dutch health insurance agencies, and Fred Beekers from Resto van Harte, a volunteer based organization that brings people together through food. While obesity is a complex problem that should be addressed at different levels, everyone at the Food Council agreed that education is vital. The problem should be addressed in schools, hospitals and by GP’s. Particularly in schools, it is important to start educating children from a very early age. To facilitate learning at home, both children and parents should be taught about good and healthy food, how to prepare it, where to get it and that it does not have to be the more expensive option, as parent’s practices are often highly influential on adolescent learning and behavior. Along these lines of thinking, children should also learn to listen to their own bodies and not to give in to, for example, junk food and fast-food options. It was agreed by everybody that teaching children (and their parents) about food in a fun and accessible manner is most effective.

Discussion two: raising education and awareness: health and local seasonal food

The second discussion built on concerns regarding obesity, focusing on raising education and awareness regarding health and local seasonal food. Once again, the discussion was opened by two members of the Food Council: Samuel Levie, founder of the Youth Food Movement and entrepreneur at Food Cabinet and Brandt & Levie. and Bert Ydema, who was a teacher at the school gardens for 40 years before founding the company Urban Green Courts. Several issues were brought to the table:

The importance of starting from a really young age.
The need for children to experience a whole growing season, rather than a one time visit to farms.
The need for cooperation between different parties and to make food education part of the school curriculum. ANMEC is currently working on this in partnership with others.
The importance of the social aspect of food and agriculture, as people are often addressed to individually change their behavior, while it’s well known that behavior is socially informed. Therefore addressing the social setting is very important in behavioral change. Educational programs can have a supporting role from the food industry, but should never be ‘owned’ by private companies.

The discussion shared a concern in the importance if awakening curiosity within children, and that it is crucial to catalyze such curiosity at a very early age by teaching not only about food itself, but also how it is produced, about agriculture, and by expelling fears of (different) foods. Many children and parents can learn more on how to cook and prepare meals, and hopefully even to grow food. Perhaps even better, to have people growing food together and make it a social happening–where people get their hands dirty and make themselves proud collectively.

Local Food Chains: a logistical and commercial challenge

Discussion three: local food chains and their logistical and commercial challenges

The last round of discussion focused on local food chains, opened by Erik Fischer, chairman of the Verenigde Bedrijven at the Food Center Amsterdam and Piet Ijzendoorn, owner of De Zonnehoeve, one of the oldest bio-dynamic farms in the Netherlands.

With around 8 farmers a day giving up their business in the Netherlands, today’s situation is upsetting. What we should be working towards, according to Piet Ijzendoorn, is a future where the Netherlands can produce enough food for all inhabitants and still be able to exchange products on the international market (currently the Netherlands is the 2nd largest export country in the world); we should not become dependent on our food supply from agro-food industry. With the food council in agreement, Erik Fischer addressed the need to bundle local food streams and the possibility of using the Food Center for this ambition. The main issues brought to table were:

The possible need of more food hubs (like FCA) in Amsterdam
The need of a hood hub like the FCA in Almere

After the third round, the evening was wrapped up by prof. Han Wiskerke, a ‘Foodscapes’ lecturer at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. He was positive about the night, only wishing there was more time to examine the many complex and interesting issues in greater depth.

In light of the night’s successful discussions, prototyping a Food Council was not a futile idea. We learnt that different actors and initiatives, despite representing different interests and perspectives, tend to agree on the importance of creating a place (physical or conceptual) to connect and share proposals for an overall vision that has the potential to benefit the city, its wealth and most importantly, the quality of life.

As organisers, co-curators, devisors, and co-producers, we have been analyzing the process of creating a new model of consultation, and we are willing to bring this idea forward many steps. Our ambition is to advocate for the creation of a real food council, which would set a general direction for the local actors involved in the food field. In order to do this, the process has to gain more momentum: we need to involve bigger companies, bigger institutions and bigger actors, while incorporating the influential fourth leg of the ‘quadruple helix’–citizen actors. We are not competing with the existing system, we are just addressing necessary problems of today’s human condition in hopes of providing the opportunity to set new standards.

Many thanks to all the participants – members, commentators and audience – for their willingness and commitment to contribute to this experiment!

*Keep track of Amsterdam Food Council's development on twitter #AdamFC

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