Since I started writing for Gristmill, I’ve tried to make the point that our food system amounts to an ongoing environmental disaster, and deserves much more attention from greens.

Over in London, Mayor Ken Livingstone is putting that idea into action. As the Guardian reports, Livingstone recently declared that “The energy and emissions involved in producing food account for 22% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ponder that number for a minute. Rather than obsess about hybrids and switchgrass and CAFE standards — worthy topics, to be sure — it might make sense to push for policies that make food production more eco-friendly. And Livingstone is doing just that.

“I want London to set a standard for other cities around the world to follow in reducing its own contribution to climate change. How we deal with food will play an important role in this,” he told the Guardian.

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(Thanks to the Organic Consumers Association for bringing this story, which came out way back on Jan. 7, to my attention.)

According to the Guardian, Livingstone’s plans include:

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  • Cutting food miles with the help of “prohibitively high” charges for polluting lorries. By 2008 he hopes to introduce a low emission zone in London with very high charges for vehicles producing high greenhouse gas emissions, and punitive fines for those failing to pay;
  • Encouraging schools and hospitals to buy more local and organic food. Five London NHS hospitals are experimenting with sustainable procurement. “The power of public procurement will be used to transform food markets and drive sustainability,” he said;
  • Using planning policies to end food deserts in poor areas, such as Hackney, where there are whole wards “where you cannot buy a single piece of fresh food”. Death rates from heart disease are twice as high in the east end of London as in the west. Improving food access was vital to tackling “health inequalities”, he added.

By taxing long-haul trucks “prohibitively,” the plan will give a competitive price advantage to small farms near London, which move their goods into the city in smaller vehicles. As the market for locally grown food grows, farms will likely cooperate on deliveries, making local food even more energy efficient. And like the folks over in Woodbury County, Iowa, Livingstone is using government food-buying power, long yet another subsidy to industrial food, as a way to boost local producers.

Lest the plan sound like left-wing madness from a man known, not always affectionately, as “Red Ken,” a politician from the Conservative Party weighed in supportively. Here is the Guardian again:

Conservative leader David Cameron chose the organic farmers’ conference in London to declare himself in favour of organic production, and to identify himself with consumers’ concerns over GM foods and diet.

He added sustainable food and farming to his blitz on key policy areas in speeches this week. Establishing his credentials by saying he had won prizes for his home-grown organic vegetables in his local village competition this year, Mr. Cameron went on to identify with consumers’ worries about “what we eat, how it’s grown and what it does to our children”.

He also promised that his party would look at food in a “holistic way”, rather than thinking about farming, health and the environment in separate boxes as in the past.

My God, where do they get right-wingers like that?

That the food in London no longer sucks has nearly become a cliche. Now the city is establishing itself as a pioneer in the local-food movement.

New York, L.A., Houston, Chicago?