Georg-Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies

POSTER Die Stadt und das ErnährungssystemRichtig


The relation between the food system and the constant growing urbanization all around the world is mostly seen in one-sided terms of how the expansion of the urban represents a challenge to feeding the cities. This is understandable when one considers that the city is the one that seems to be undergoing complex and rapid changes, while the food system often seems less dynamic. People keep moving to the cities but the route that food takes “from the field to the kitchen” has apparently not transformed much. The whole chain that builds the food system, from the production, to the processing, to the distribution, to the preparation, to the consumption, and finally to the disposal (see Beardsworth and Keil 1996; Goody and Goody 1982; Sobal et al. 1998) seems to be related to the city in a troublesome way.

Concerns about the resistance and sustainability of the food system against the background of industrialization, overpopulation, and urbanization have been expressed for more than two centuries (see e.g. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 1974; Malthus 1798; UN-Habitat III 2017). Many even argue that there is a capacity threshold in food production (Schmid 1992, quoted in Janowicz 2008:8). Therefore, many researchers ask questions such as: "How can states feed the megacities (especially in the Global South)?"

These are pressing questions, as urbanization does pose a huge challenge to the food system as we know it today. However, this view on the interdependence between urbanization and the food system should not be the only one. This classical perspective hides important nuances because it always defines the food system as the independent variable. In order to break away from this, progressive research in this field must also ask how the food system influences urbanization processes. In the current cycle of the Student (Urban) Research Group, we would like to turn the question around to gain different insights into urbanization.

Analyzing the city through the perspective of food is a good opportunity to expand our vocabulary in knowledge production beyond European and US-American standards. As Gupta (2012) has shown using the example of globalization: "by focusing on crops and cuisines, one can uncover some of the dynamics of the colonial phase of globalization"(ibid.:42). In urban research, this perspective could thus not only prove its relevance to the design of conceptual instruments but also to promote a decolonial language. We find a connection to Gupta's perspective in the works of Jennifer Robinson (2004) and Ananya Roy (2013): the common distinction between cities of the Global North and cities of the Global South creates a divide. While in the former, i.e. "global cities", models, theories and policies are conceived, in the latter, i.e. "problematic mega-cities", conflicts are diagnosed and solutions are prescribed (Roy 2013:820). We believe that the relationship between the food system and the city is strongly rooted in this knowledge divide. And the fact that so many scientists ask how to feed the ("poor") cities in the Global South is a manifestation of it.

So, in this project, we want to ask the inverted question: How does the food system affect urbanization processes? We understand that urbanization in its core definition, i.e. the growth of cities, is a global phenomenon. It is similar with the food system. Although it has been a global network for centuries (Gupta 2012), it has increasingly become more dependent on global processes (Beardsworth and Keil 1996). But despite these general global characteristics, we want to address a specific context of the interplay between urbanization and food systems, that occurs mainly in the Global South. We seek thus, borrowing Ananya Roy’s (2014:17) concept, to contribute to a broader epistemological production, "worlding the South". In view of this, we would like to focus on "informal" urbanization processes and on alternative community-based food systems in cities of the Global South.

The Student (Urban) Research Group is currently looking for students who want to write their master's or bachelor's thesis within the framework of this project. All participants will deal with one city of the Global South and with the above-mentioned question. We will have two open meetings on October 15th and 22nd at 5 pm (location: to be confirmed) to answer questions and jointly determine the further course of the project. If you have any questions/comments or are interested in taking part in the project, please contact us at



Ananya, Roy. 2014. „Worlding the South.“ In The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South: Routledge.

Beardsworth, Alan and Teresa Keil. 1996. Sociology on the menu an invitation to the study of food and society. London: New York.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1974. State of Food and Agriculture 1974.Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Goody, Jack and John Rankine Goody. 1982. Cooking, cuisine and class: a study in comparative sociology: Cambridge University Press.

Gupta, Akhil. 2012. „A different history of the present: the movement of crops, cuisines, and globalization.“ In Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food, and South Asia, eds. Tulasi Srinivas andKrishnendu Ray. Berkely: University of California Press.

Janowicz, Cedric. 2008. Zur Sozialen Ökologie urbaner Räume: Afrikanische Städte im Spannungsfeldvon demographischer Entwicklung und Nahrungsversorgung. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.

Malthus, Thomas Robert. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the FutureImprovement of Society. London.

Robinson, Jennifer. 2004. „Cities Between Modernity and Development.“ South African GeographicalJournal 86(1):17-22. Roy, Ananya. 2013. „The 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory.“ Andamios: Revista de Investigacion Social 10(22):149-182.

Sobal, Jeffery, Laura Kettel Khan and Carole Bisogni. 1998. „A conceptual model of the food and nutrition system.“ Social Science & Medicine 47(7):853-863.

UN-Habitat III. 2017. „New Urban Agenda.“ In A/RED/71/256*. New York: United Nations.