Hungry City is a book about how cities eat. That’s the quick definition. A slightly wordier one might that it’s about the eternal engine driving civilisation. Feeding cities arguably has a greater social and physical impact on us and our planet than anything else we do. Yet few of us in the West are conscious of the process. Food arrives on our plates as if by magic, and we rarely stop to wonder how it might have got there.
But when you think that every day for a city the size of London, enough food for thirty million meals must be produced, imported, sold, cooked, eaten and disposed of again, and that something similar must happen every day for every city on earth, it is remarkable that those of us living in cities get to eat at all. Food shapes cities, and through them, it moulds us – along with the countryside that feeds us. Every day we inhabit spaces food has made, unconsciously repeating actions as old as cities themselves. We might think that take-aways are a modern phenomenon, but 5,000 years ago, they lined the streets of Ur, one of the oldest cities on earth. Markets and shops, pubs and kitchens, diners and waste-dumps have always provided the backdrop to urban life.
Hungry City follows food’s journey from land to city, through market and supermarket, kitchen and table, waste-dump and back again, to show how food affects all our lives, and impacts on the planet. The final chapter asks how we might use food to re-think cities in the future – to design them and their hinterlands better, and live in them better too.