Menu of Actions

The Menu of Actions, published in 2019, is intended as a reference document with the aim of inspiring and encouraging cities around the world to initiate their own actions to improve food security and nutrition by re-shaping the food environment.

Nutrition in Cities

Cities1 face a huge challenge of ensuring that nutritious, safe and sustainable food is available to all residents, and that it is affordable and desirable. Today, this challenge is more critical than ever before because of the demographic shift from rural to urban areas. Currently, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas; and this figure is projected to increase further to almost 70% by 2050 (UNDESA, 2018), with around 90% of future urban population growth expected to take place in Africa and Asia. The growing dominance of urban lifestyles and corresponding dietary changes are linked to increases in overweight and obesity (Hawkes et al, 2017). At the same time, suboptimal nutrition during the critical window from conception to two years prevents children from growing or developing to their full potential; the proportion of undernourished children living in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries is increasing (Ruel, Garrett and Yosef, 2017). This ‘double burden’ of malnutrition consisting of undernutrition and overweight/obesity can occur at the country, city, or community level, and sometimes even within families or individuals (WHO, n.d.).  The double burden of malnutrition is experienced in both rural and urban areas, however rural and urban food environments differ in important respects, meaning that the question of urban nutrition should be considered separately (to find out more, click Here)

City governments – in partnership with other stakeholders – are appropriate actors for instigating actions to shape the food environment with the aim of improving urban nutrition.2 And they are rising to the challenge. This is illustrated by the cases described in this menu and other reports and repositories of case studies.3 It is further demonstrated by the more than 200 cities around the world that have signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) and its Framework for Action, which acknowledges that ‘hunger and malnutrition in its various forms exist within all cities, posing great burdens on individual health and well-being and thus generating major social and economic costs at household, community, municipality and national levels’.

The menu seeks to inspire a variety of food environment actors. First and foremost, it is intended for use by policy-makers working in a variety of government departments – such as public health, planning, economic development, public transportation, etc. – at every level, from local-level city governments, to regional (sub-national) and national or federal governments.  Additionally, the menu can be used by other actors involved in urban food systems (e.g. NGOs and community organisations, sector practitioners, private sector actors from across the food chain, and academics) to inform their work locally. These actors are increasingly involved in urban food systems governance, helping to advocate for, develop, implement, and monitor policies and programmes that aim to improve food security and nutrition within the urban environment.


Food Environment

As per the Menu of Actions document:

A person’s food environment  is the combination of availability/accessibility, affordability, convenience, and desirability of different foods (Herforth and Ahmed, 2015; Taylor et al, 2018). These dimensions determine respectively people’s physical access to food, their purchasing power, their knowledge about food, and their preferences, which in turn determine the nutritional quality of the diet they consume (FAO, 2016; GLOPAN, 2016).

Where, the food environment is, the interface where people interact with the wider food system to acquire and consume foods’ (Turner et al., 2018; see also Figure 1). The food environment is a useful entry point for local-level policies and programmes. While local governments and other actors at the local, city-level have limited capacity to influence the macro-level political, economic and socio-cultural factors that shape the food system, they do have considerable potential to influence how food is presented within the city (and, in some cases, the provisioning sub-system within the city region). By shaping the food environment through policies, programmes, regulatory instruments and other processes and mechanisms, they can shape a person’s interaction with the food environment and, consequently, directly impact food security and nutrition for the urban population.


Several definitions of what constitutes a city or an urban area are in use, with significant variations between countries (UN-Habitat, 2019). The cities whose food actions are included in this publication vary considerably in terms of size (land area), population (and population density), and administrative or local government arrangements.

This has been acknowledged by international frameworks. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the need to ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ (Sustainable Development Goal 11) and includes goals on sustainable agriculture to help reduce poverty (SDG 1), improving nutrition and reducing hunger (SDG 2), and ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12). Likewise, the UN-Habitat New Urban Agenda, adopted in Quito in October 2016, highlights the need to ‘strengthen food system planning’. In this regard commitments from signatories include the integration of food security and nutrition in urban planning as well as promoting sustainable production and consumption.

There have been some notable efforts to document urban food policies since the launch of the MUFPP in 2015. These include: 50 Selected Practices from Milan Pact Awards 2016-2017- 2018 ; Global Database for City and Regional Food Policies (2017) ; Cabannes and Marocchino (2018); IPES-Food (2017). To date, however, no repository has focused on actions to improve nutrition by shaping the food environment.