After more than two decades of rapid urbanization, Chinese cities now face severe sustainability challenges in terms of balancing economic viability, social justice, and environmental protection goals. While various types of planning have long been adopted to cope with these challenges, food as a centerpiece of daily life and of social and economic activity in cities has rarely been considered as a focus of urban planning in China, despite a lot of recent attention to food waste and food safety concerns. In contrast, over the past decade or more, cities in the west have seen food system planning emerge as a holistic lens to promote multifaceted urban development strategies. Community gardens and neighbourhood farmers’ markets are two common examples. In these strategies, food has been recognized as a powerful element that links closely with multiple economic, social, health, and environmental issues.
This paper thus calls for an integration of food issues into urban planning in Chinese cities. Our paper reviews some successful cases of food system assessments and planning in the west and provides a preliminary framework for food system planning in China. The framework brings together various priorities: connecting people to the food system, community economic development, access to healthy food, ecological health, and integrated food policy. By applying this framework to examine urban food systems in China, our paper identifies strengths and challenges for achieving sustainability goals. This analysis also sets the stage for future research in urban food system planning in China.