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Currently, food systems around the world are characterized by unsustainable patterns and dysfunctionalities. The way human societies produce, transform, distribute, consume, and waste food represent key areas of potential intervention where we can reverse our unsustainable trends. Food systems are ...

Currently, food systems around the world are characterized by unsustainable patterns and dysfunctionalities. The way human societies produce, transform, distribute, consume, and waste food represent key areas of potential intervention where we can reverse our unsustainable trends. Food systems are increasingly acknowledged to be among the main drivers of humans’ testing our planetary limits, and focusing on the food system governance is gaining centrality in our societal run-up towards a sustainable future.

Although a focus on food is fundamental at all levels of governance, particular attention has to be placed at the city level: as hotspots of the world population and the place of consumption for most (79%) of the food produced worldwide, cities are expected to play a central role in food systems’ sustainability in the near future. Social factors of city lifestyles are rapidly transforming food habits in urban areas, also transforming food production and distribution systems, leading to increased adverse environmental impacts. Still, local governments are not adapting governance processes and policy frameworks fast enough to be able to address the whole set of concerns related to food systems. Focusing on cities, thus, provides opportunities for (re)connections, (dis)locations and (in)justices to be reworked at the city level via institutional, policy, and governance processes, and ultimately calls for the development of guidelines for sub-national and local governments to take actions towards developing more sustainable food systems.

Several urban policies have the potential to directly or indirectly affect food systems to a great extent. From land use planning, mobility or energy policies to social justice, health care, or employment policies at the local level, impacts on food security, equity, and sustainability are clear. Nevertheless, food policies in cities are rarely devised in connection with other policies (e.g. territorial planning, rural development) and with different levels of action (e.g. via mechanisms to ensure coordination and collaboration among various levels of governance), and thus lack a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and multi-stakeholder perspective. Despite recent efforts to support city leaders in playing a strategic role in developing sustainable food systems and promoting healthy diets for all, research shows the lack of knowledge on the governance processes and actors involved at the subnational level, and their main gaps and impacts.

The governance of food systems in cities is key to reversing the current unsustainability in our food systems and favors a sustainable food transition. As such, the aim of this Research Topic is to shed light on the vulnerabilities of our urban food systems around the world and to provide a comprehensive picture of whether the current governance arrangements and public policies at the city level are properly equipped to mitigate the key drivers of food system unsustainability or cope with it in a systemic way, to ultimately contribute to the livelihood of local communities.

Given the need for a system-wide perspective, we would like to encourage collaboration among disciplines, especially bringing together social science and natural science. We thus encourage submissions from multi and trans-disciplinary groups of authors to provide comprehensive local-scale assessments of the following aspects:
• Current dysfunctionalities and risks in city food systems, in order to understand where such food systems stand in terms of resource demand, unsustainable patterns, governance, and policy gaps;
• Best practices for governance processes and policy interventions, civil society and multi-stakeholder mobilization for urban food governance,
• Case studies on the coherence of local policymaking, particularly in a context of multi-level governance, to share information and knowledge, raise awareness, enhance technical and institutional capacity and regulation, and deliver strategic local policies;
• Failures to address a systemic approach to urban food policy and governance and how to envision a better future to ease sustainable urban food transitions, especially in a post-COVID-19 recovery.

This Research Topic intends to bring into discussion different key food systems issues for cities across the globe, and provide an assessment of policy readiness and policy gaps across the world.

At the basis of this Research Topic is the understanding that a shift is necessary from the current focus on agricultural policies to the consideration of food system policies at large, and that this must be coupled with a renewed focus on urban level food sustainability. Such a system-wide approach to food sustainability should be coupled with a new way of dealing with food sustainability in cities in a trans-disciplinary way, at multiple levels of governance and with multiple stakeholders.

We thus welcome submissions of Original Research, Reviews, and Systemic Reviews that jointly investigate food-related risks and policy gaps at a local level in specific case studies or those which analyze existing literature at the wider geographical level (sub-national, national, and supra-national).

Keywords: local policymaking, urban policies, urban food systems, Food systems, food policy, public policy, food system governance, multi-level governance

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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