London’s Food Web–a Londoner’s Perspective

By Vivian Winterhoff (London). In her sharp, premiere post Vivian introduces us to the London food system from a very intimate perspective–her own. She takes her own food web as a jumping off point to answer some of the most relevant and critical questions we can ask ourselves as food consumers: “How would the system need to change…if more people ate like me?”

London is supposedly a global city. And I, supposedly a global citizen, live, eat, sleep and work in London. How global then is my impact in food terms? What system is in place to satisfy my current and future demands? Am I an average Londoner? If not, how would the system need to change, if at all, if more people ate like me? Who are the people operating in this system whom I am affecting by demanding that particular kind of sugar, tea, type of potato etc. And how is it that these products are (mostly) where I need them to be when I “demand” them? Most of the time, what I want is available, no matter what the weather or season. That is pretty amazing!  

London is a city of 8.3 million people[1] and growing (“at the 2011 Census, London’s population was 8.17 million, making it the most populous European city”[2]) and 1,572 sq km (607 sq m) big[3]. How is it that I and the majority of other Londoners can find almost anything we want, from just about all corners of the globe, in this one tiny “smudge” on a map of our planet?  

I hope to answer these questions by looking at the food I eat. I will look at the variety of outlets via which I buy my food, or otherwise get a hold of food. I currently get my food from a minimum of four different outlets, as you can see from my scribbled  drawing:  

Where does Vivian's food come from?

Where does Vivian’s food come from?


Thus, over the course of my story for The Miracle of Feeding Cities, I will explore how the food web is woven around me.I will try to fill in the gaps between each of the above “food sources” and find out where they might be connected. For example, one thing I am curious to find out about is whether there are competing food supply systems, or whether everything really only does rely on one set of routes to people’s mouths. If there are different systems, how many are there? and in what ways do they differ? Do they interlink, for example through technology?  

To start with, I will explore how the organic “veg box” I receive every week from Riverford comes together. The company founder, Guy Watson, is a farmer. He and his family provide veg and other produce (including, for example, milk, preserves, and ham) from their own farms in the the UK and in France, but the veg box also draws its produce from a network of other farmers, national and international. Organic veg box sales outgrew supermarkets in sales by close to 10% in 2013[4]. It will be interesting to see how this supply chain compares to the organic food supply chain at Sainsbury’s, a standard modern day supermarket, but also the UK’s biggest organic retailer: it has a 29% market share and 69% of its organic goods are “own-label” Sainsbury’s brand[5].  

So, follow me on my journey as I speak to the people who feed me and who keep the system going, discovering their challenges and triumphs, and where they think they are heading in feeding a city like London.

[1] That figure is from this article in The Guardian (22 December 2013), which gives an interesting account of the changing nature of London’s population, and quotes a prediction that the population will rise to 10 million by 2031: (accessed 19 March 2014).

[5] Ibid.
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