One of the ways we identify places is by foods for which those places are known. Baltimore – crab. Maine – lobster. Cincinnati – chili. San Francisco – sourdough bread. Vienna – pastry. Even for a city to which you’ve never been, chances are that in your mind that city has some food association.
Returning to San Francisco from a trip to New York City, I ruminated on my first experience of staying in midtown in the city in which I was raised. The city is different, of course. Times Square has fulfilled its Blade Runner destiny, and blue Grecian “Greatest Coffee in the World” cups have been supplanted with those from Starbucks. What stayed with me, however, was a brief exchange with another attendee of the same conference for which I was in town. “Everything is so expensive” she lamented. “I see people with yogurts and sandwiches and other things that don’t seem to cost too much, but I don’t know where they get them.” “Oh, there’s plenty of stuff around here” I replied. “You just have to look.”
A comment I hear frequently from planners is that the focus on food and planning is “trendy”. I must admit that this puzzles me quite a bit. Professional planners in rural areas have concentrated on planning for agriculture – food planning – for decades. Before we had professional planners, human populations planned their communities around food, whether they were planning how best to follow herds for hunting, structuring early agricultural societies, or developing the first cities where food proximity and trade were central considerations.