The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of the urban food system by interrupting global food chains and restricting human mobility, among others. This has impacted food security at the local level, with urban communities not been able to access food as before. In response, newly formed governance mechanisms and policies have emerged on the ground, disrupting existing governance frameworks. This paper examines such developments in London to understand how urban food is governed; and, what has been disruptive and how disruption in access to food has been governed during COVID-19. To do so, it draws on policy analysis, case study research and interview data.
The paper finds disconnection between the national and metropolitan level and fragmentation between the metropolitan and municipal of urban food governance; with food security being addressed via people-focused approaches which are generously complemented by third sector and community-led initiatives. It also finds that food disruption in London during COVID-19 is defined by the emergence of novel community-led and place-based organisations and policies, especially at the municipal level, which challenge existing food governance structures – the Hackney Food Network and Food Transition Plans being such examples. These create new spaces of food governance and influence, and change, from the ground up existing governance frameworks. The paper reflects on the role of urban planning in putting ‘space’ back into urban food governance debates and concludes with implications for scaling-up and theory.