“21st Century Visionary” architect Carolyn Steel at Festival

It sometimes takes an outsider to spot something that is missed by those who are much closer to the subject says Martin Orbach, Festival Director …

Although hundreds of thousands of words have been written analysing what’s wrong with our food system, it took an architect to point out an obvious truth;  that the food we eat is intimately connected with the way we live;  and conversely the way we live shapes the food we eat.

The creation of towns and cities has been the dominant trajectory in how human societies have evolved and therefore  Carolyn set out to explore  how the requirements of feeding urban populations have been the key drivers  in the development of our food system – starting in Ancient Rome!

It took her 7 years to research and write Hungry City but from the moment it was published in 2008 it was clear that the paradigm had been changed.

In her words:

“We live in a world shaped by food. Our cities and hinterlands were shaped by it. Our daily routines are structured around it. Politics and economics are driven by it. Our ecological footprint is determined by it. Our sense of identity is inseparable from it. Our survival depends on it. How, then, have we come to consider food as just another commodity: something to be made as cheap and convenient as possible, while we get on with the ‘more important’ things in life?

Our profound disconnection with food, our most vital necessity, is the curious legacy of industrialisation. It is also the symptom of a way of life we can no longer afford. With a rapidly increasing global population, urbanisation, climate change and peak oil, we face a ‘Neo-Geographical Age’, in which our way of life and use of resources will matter as much to us as they did to our ancient ancestors.

Food is not only the most powerful human agent shaping our world, but one that we can harness as a design tool to rethink how we live and create new dwelling models. My term sitopia (food-place) describes this approach. The primary focus of sitopia is to rethink the urban-rural relationship, the basic dynamic of human civilisation.

Within this framework, sitopia addresses such questions as how and where we should build cities, how we should feed and live in them, and how we might ‘post-fit’ existing ones to make them more sustainable.

It explores how cultural attitudes toward food shape our habits, beliefs and relationships. Food is the great connector: by thinking, not just about food, but through it, we can gain vital insight into the hidden structures of our lives, and change them for the better.

Carolyn Steel was invited to address the TEDGlobal conference in 2009 and was named by The Ecologist as a ‘21st Century Visionary’. She is now much in demand speaking all over the world and working with others to develop new ideas about feeding cities.

Don’t miss your chance to meet this inspirational thinker at Abergavenny.

Carolyn will be giving a talk: ‘Hungry City’ at Lion’s Place on Sat 15 Sept 12.30-1.30pm. View details and book online now

She’s also appearing in the main Festival Debate – ‘Do We Still Need The High Street? Sat 15 Sept 6.00 – 7.00pm, Market Hall. Free with your Stroller Ticket. View details

….. and doing a booksigning session on the Saturday. View booksigning schedule

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