Adopting ethical eating habits is easiest when done by the individual or household. It's less easily done at the institutional level, however that is just what the City of Sydney is doing with its new Ethical Food Guidelines.
The guidelines, adopted in late 2010, make the City's food procurement compliant with its strategic plan -
Sustainable Sydney 2030. Developed in-house, the Guidelines cover food procurement for council catering using council funds and for council-managed events. They do not apply to contracted services such as Meals On Wheels, although suppliers have been requested to work towards compliance with the Guidelines.
The Guidelines complement the City's initiatives in popularising a sustainable food supply, such as its community gardens (through its Community Gardens Policy, adopted in February 2010), the city farmers' market and grant support for initiatives such as the Chippendale Fresh Food Co-op, grants for events organised by Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, the Myrtle Street edible verge plantings and the Peace Park community composting trial.
The Guidelines favour organic, low fat, non-GM, local and seasonal foods, although a means of identifying local foods - those produced within the Sydney foodbowl - is not provided. This will remain a challenge until a 'locally grown-local produce' label is devised and adopted.
Reusable or biodegradable crockery and eating utensils, avoiding bottled water for indoor events and, preferably, for outdoor events (the City has a mobile filtered water trailer where people can fill their bottles at events) and the elimination of non-recyclable packaging are other contents of the Guidelines, as is the selection of appropriate cafes and restaurants when entertaining visitors to the City for council business.
The Guidelines provide information on the impact of the food system as well as on the relationship between food and personal health. Fair Trade beverages are approved although there is a preference for made-in-Australia foods, and palm oil is to be avoided in food products due to its association with deforestation in South east Asia.
Adventurous document for a council
This is an adventurous document for a council.
What is missing is a more detailed exploration of the economic value of buying food products produced within the greater Sydney region. This includes the contribution of regional food production to incomes and enterprises growing, processing, transporting and retailing local foods-the regional food supply chain.
There is no definition of what a local food is, either. With 'locavores' advocating a 160km transportation distance for food (Sydney Food Connect comes closest with its 'food miles' averaging 200-220km each week), and realists proposing that lcoal food is that from the broader region as far south as Kiama, north into the Hunter and Mudgee areas, west to the plains just over the Great Divide, east into the near Pacific fisheries as well as Sydney's suburban and urban fringe market gardens, orchards, poultry producers and mushroomeries, defining just what is local food would be controversial. It will be necessary, however, when it comes time to apply a 'local produce' logo to certify the geographical origins of food products.
There are great gains to be made for regional, sustainably produced foods in institutional procurement policy of the type adopted by the City of Sydney. Pursuing the adoption of such policy, now that the City of Sydney's Ethical Food Guidelines have created the precedent, is something food education and advocacy organisations could successfully engage in.