Cities, like people, are what they eat. The gargantuan effort necessary to feed them arguably has a greater social and physical impact on us and our planet than anything else we do - yet few of us are aware 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 the evidence is all around us (if we knew where to look) that we live in a world shaped by food. Every day we inhabit spaces food has made, unconsciously repeating routine actions as old as cities themselves. Markets and shops, pubs and kitchens, shared meals and waste-dumps have always provided the backdrop to urban life - just as the fields and pastures, farms and feedlots needed to supply them have increasingly shaped rural ones.
London's relationship with food is unique. Variously dubbed the 'New Rome', 'Great Wen', and 'Metropolis of Empire', it has an unrivalled track record as a consumer city. For two thousand years, it has been chomping its way through the world's produce and spitting it out again. So what makes London such an enduring urban phenomenon? Why has the city succeeded where others have failed? The answers can all be traced, one way or another, back to food. The ease with which London fed itself in the past gave it an unusual freedom; one that created an incubator for capitalist consumerism and global free trade. With the world's urban population set to double by 2050 and food prices soaring - to say nothing of the threat of climate change - it is time to reassess London's legacy. We need to create a new urban model - and that means looking again at how we feed cities. Where better to start the process than in London?
Respondents include: Arthur Potts Dawson (Chef and Co-Founder, Acorn House restaurant)
Carolyn Steel is an architect, lecturer and writer. Since graduating from Cambridge, she has combined architectural practice with teaching and research into the everyday lives of cities, running design studios at the LSE, London Metropolitan University and at Cambridge, where her lecture course 'Food and the City' is an established part of the undergraduate programme. A director of Cullum and Nightingale Architects, she was a Rome scholar, has written for the architectural press, and presented on the BBC's One Foot in the Past. Her first book, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction in 2006 (as a work in progress), and is published by Chatto and Windus in June 2008.