Screen shot 2015-10-22 at 12.13.03 PMGovernment – and the policies and priorities at various levels – plays a central role in shaping the sustainability and equality of a city’s food system. Oxford presents an interesting case study to explore food system ‘governance’ because of its unique demographics: nearly one-third of Oxford’s 150,000 residents are not native to the UK, 9.5 million tourists visit the city annually, and yet there are serious economic inequalities in a city with such high costs of living and education levels (14% of the city’s geographic areas amongst the country’s most deprived). This study reflected both citizen initiatives and local government authorities, and involved 16 interviews with members of the Oxford City Council, the Good Food Oxford Network, and specific local food initiatives as the basis for the analysis.

One of the major limitations to a sustainable food system is lack of integration of food system considerations into legal frameworks. “Capacity” was a commonly cited issue, especially at a government level, due to understaffing, poor knowledge of the topic, and economic concerns dictating projects undertaken. A separation of important and interrelated policy areas between county and city councils adds a further barrier. For instance, Oxford City has no control over health and countryside planning, yet those are central to a food system policy. Moreover, the city’s Sustainability Strategy, Low Emissions Strategy, and Carbon Management Plan do not address food issues.  

In terms of locally-led initiatives, Oxford was characterised as hosting an abundance and variety of community food initiatives. The dissertation hones in on the Good Food Oxford Network as a means of linking these initiatives to each other and to policymakers. An interesting critique of the food community in Oxford was how exclusive it was, but that the Good Food Charter has presented an opportunity to mainstream and be a catalytic force for broader food system change.

Ultimately, the dissertation concludes that food issues are transdisciplinary and thus have a challenge finding a jurisdictional home, as well as a low visibility particularly in an urban setting. This articulates the importance of making clear linkages between food and other sectors like energy, water, and transportation, and could make it more palatable to policy-makers who are concerned with the management and wellbeing of these sectors.

Kliem, L. 2014. Creating Edible Futures: Exploring Oxford’s Governance Capacity to Move Forward Towards a More Sustainable Food System. Dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Nature, Society, and Environmental Policy. Oxford: School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.