Sowing seeds of change: Glasgow’s Food Plan

They say that you are what you eat – that’s true of people, but it’s true of whole cities too. In June 2021, Glasgow embarked on a transformative journey towards a fair, resilient, and sustainable future with the launch of the Glasgow City Food Plan. After two years of implementation, a critical evaluation provides a glimpse into the plan’s achievements, challenges faced, and the strategic course corrections underway.

The roots of the Glasgow City Food Plan are grounded in inclusivity and collaboration. During its development phase, the city engaged lots of different types of stakeholders, creating a foundation with the diverse needs and aspirations of Glasgow’s population. Over 600 contributors, spanning the public, private, and third sectors, shaped the plan through extensive consultations and most are still active via its working groups or the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership.

Long-term outcomes and immediate actions

“The Glasgow City Food Plan laid out the 10-year aspiration for a city food system that is fair, resilient and environmentally sustainable,” says Jill Muirie, Chair of the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership and Public Health Programme Manager at the Glasgow Centre for Population Health. “The overall goal is to enable Glaswegians to eat healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate, good food, irrespective of where they live, their income or personal circumstances.”

The overall goal is to enable Glaswegians to eat healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate, good food
— Jill Muirie

Reaching this goal will be a slow cooking process that Glasgow hopes will gives some long-term outcomes. These include reducing food insecurity, increasing the availability and use of seasonal, locally grown and produced food, reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions arising from the food system, and promoting a thriving local food economy that promotes fair work and ecological principles.

Glasgow’s recipe has been broken down to around 50 short-term and mid-term actions identifying practical steps to address immediate challenges and create a sustainable foundation for the future. For example, the plan recognises the importance of education and community engagement in achieving its long-term outcomes. Actions like ensuring all early years establishments and schools have access to growing spaces and developing research on sustainable food production in Glasgow’s colleges and universities highlighted a commitment to nurturing a generation that understands the importance of responsible food practices.

Harvesting successes

Two years into putting the policy into practice, an interim assessment reveals that despite having to navigate the ‘Three C’s’ — Covid, Conflict, and Cost of living — the plan achieved commendable milestones.

“None of us could guess how further global events such as Covid-19, the invasion of Ukraine and associated consumer hyper-inflation and ongoing economic austerity would further impact on food equity and security,” says Councillor Angus Millar, City Convener for Climate, Glasgow Green Deal, Transport and City Centre Recovery.

None of us could guess how further global events... would further impact on food equity and security
— Angus Millar

For instance, the introduction of Rose Vouchers was a proactive response to food poverty. It provided fresh fruit and vegetables to families in areas where food and child poverty rates were notably high, addressing not just immediate nutritional needs but also fostering community wellbeing.

The City of Glasgow College piloted accredited courses on sustainability and food waste for hospitality students. This equipped future professionals with relevant knowledge and skills and served as a model for integrating sustainability into mainstream education.

The Whiteinch Market development is an example of how community spaces can be transformed into affordable fresh fruit and vegetable markets. Initiatives such as this build on the sense of community and shared responsibility through cooking classes and shared meals while addressing food accessibility.

Other successful actions addressed young children’s health through healthy meals, improved fresh and local procurement practices for the public sector, promoted the most sustainable food shops and places to eat in the city and much more. These thriving initiatives addressed immediate challenges and created a foundation for lasting change.

Nurturing change

While recognising the good work so far, the interim assessment also pointed out some room for improvement. Changes to the overall context since the food policy was launched prompt the need to refresh certain actions, stressing the importance of ensuring that the plan remains adaptable to evolving circumstances. Single actions must however be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

“The Glasgow City Food Plan is a tremendously important area of work, and one from which we believe much can be learned about how the appetite for change amongst individuals and organisations can be brought together to make a real difference in our communities,” says Professor Chik Collins, Director, Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

The Glasgow City Food Plan is a tremendously important area of work
— Chik Collins

Regardless of the collaborative nature of the plan, continuous engagement and buy-in have proven difficult, especially for the industry sector. A key challenge is to ensure that commitment goes beyond the individual and is rather embedded in the organisational culture of all relevant stakeholders.

Regularly celebrating wins and communicating progress emerged as vital strategies to maintain momentum and keep buy-in strong. This can motivate stakeholders reinforcing the value of their contributions. Communication is also essential to reach out to local communities. Mapping small existing organisations and reaching out directly to them could see a spread into groups that the plan has not yet reached.

More crucially, while the issues of food poverty, insecurity, and health are apparent, the ecological priorities of the plan remain less tangible. Environmental ambitions should be spread through all areas of work to ensure that sustainability outcomes do not get overshadowed by more immediate issues.

An integrated approach

From its conception, the City Food Plan aligns with Glasgow’s ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030, a vision embedded in its participation in the NetZeroCities project and the European Commission’s Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities.

The policy’s emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving access to locally sourced and low carbon produced food, and promoting sustainable food production is part of Glasgow’s holistic approach to sustainability. Glasgow’s experience, as reflected in the policy, becomes a valuable case study for other cities aspiring to integrate food policies with larger environmental legislation.


You inspire all of us
— Ring Olesen

“Every city has a different starting point and that’s why knowledge exchange is so important,” said Trine Ring Olesen, Senior Project Manager at Copenhagen’s Catering Consultancy Meyers Madhus during a visit in Glasgow. “Should I give some advice to Glasgow, it would be: work at both local community and Council level and keep up the good work. You inspire all of us.”

Sowing seeds for a sustainable tomorrow

The Glasgow City Food Plan is more than a blueprint for sustainable food practices; it is a living testament to collaboration and community-driven change. From the genesis of the plan, deeply rooted in the voices of Glasgow’s diverse population, to the tangible successes celebrated amid challenges, the journey is proof of the city’s adaptability and commitment.

The achievements and the issues faced underscore the complexity of transforming a food system. As the Glasgow City Food Policy sets the stage for a more nutritious future, the lessons learned offer valuable insights for other cities grappling with similar plans.

The seeds sown in the past two years are beginning to bear fruit, and as Glasgow continues to nurture and adapt, the city stands poised to reap the harvest of a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.

Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer