Surplus food was the single most important factor determining the rise of human civilization. Once humans adopted a sedentary existence raising crops and livestock that created a surplus, specialization and stratification in society began to occur. The farmers supported the craftsmen, bureaucracy, aristocracy and chiefs, and the religious clergy. So has it been throughout the Civilization iterations. Once surplus food is available, then all else is possible.
In the context of Civilization V, Food means a combination of all the factors contributing to your Citizens' survival and proliferation, which means that it is of paramount importance for your Empire. Your Population is also the workforce of your Empire. Without Food, there are no Citizens. Without Citizens, your land potential isn't fulfilled. Without that, your various stats production is very low. Without good stat production, your empire will quickly get outpaced by your rivals.
A city needs to constantly feed its Citizens (another term for "population"). Every citizen requires 2 Food per turn to feed himself/herself.
Any food production which is in excess of the total Food requirements of a particular city, is added each turn to a 'food basket' towards the birth of the next citizen. The exact 'size' of the basket (the required amount of food) changes according to how many citizens there are already in the city. When the basket is full, a new citizen is born! At this point, a new basket starts filling, now with a new, higher Food goal.
On the other hand, if your city produces less food than needed to feed all the citizens, the city will experience starvation, indicated by negative Food. When a city is starving, it will start losing citizens instead of growing until it can support its population. There are no 'grace' turns after a citizen dies; if on the next turn the starvation continues and the city eats again more than it produces, another citizen will die immediately, until the tendency is reversed. Some unpleasant situations may lead to catastrophic loss in the space of just a few turns.
With city growth, the amount of stored food in the food basket needed to birth each successive citizen becomes larger and larger. Cities with Population bigger than 10 - 15 will need quite a lot of extra Food gathered to grow further! For the exact amounts, see below.
Terrain and Resources
The main source of Food for any city is the land. Most terrain types have inherent Food potential, which can be further improved with the very first tile improvement available in the game - the Farm. Here's a list of terrain types and how much Food they provide:
* If you cut/drain these, terrain properties will change to the base terrain underneath!
The Farm is the main food-producing improvement in the game. It can be constructed on most terrain types, excluding Tundra, Hills and Snow (you may construct Farms on Tundra and Hills tiles with access to Fresh Water, though). It adds initially +1 Food to the tile, but the bonus increases to +2 for tiles with access to Fresh Water (next to Rivers, Lakes, and Oasis) after researching the Civil Service technology, and for all other tiles - after researching Fertilizer.
There are two more improvements affecting food:
- The Plantation, which starts producing +1 Food after researching Fertilizer
- The Camp, which produces +1 Food when built on Deer or Truffles
- Granary - +2 ; +1 to every tile with Bananas, Deer and Wheat
- Water Mill - +2 ; city must be built next to a River or a Lake
- Hospital - +5
The Aqueduct and the Medical Lab help Population growth indirectly. Although they don't produce food on their own, they transfer a certain percentage of the food basket from the last citizen to the new one. This way they provide a 'jump start' for the next citizen, allowing him/her to be born sooner. Note that if you don't produce enough extra food, those buildings won't help you at all!
Other sources that may increase Food production include:
- Maritime City-States. While you are a friend to such a City-State, you gain 2 Food in your Capital. If you are allied with that City-State, the Food bonus also extends to all your cities, although they only gain +1 Food.
- Social policies. The Tradition Policy tree enhances greatly Food production, especially in the Capital. Also, the Freedom Policy tree (or Ideology in BNW) affects how Specialists consume Food, effectively diminishing your overall Food consumption!
- We Love the King Day. This special event is activated regularly in cities across your empire when you provide them with a particular Luxury resource that is lacking in your trade network at the time. As a result, the city in question enjoys a 25% growth bonus for an extended period of time. Note that if your Food basket isn't growing at all, you're wasting this bonus!
- Wonders. Although there aren't many Wonders that affect food, there are some:
Settlers and Food
Settlers can only be trained in cities with a Population of 2 or larger. During construction, settlers consume a city's Production and all of the city's excess Food intake. As long as the settler is in production, the city will not grow or add Food to its food basket (note that settlers don't subtract Food from the basket; they consume excess Food being produced, stopping more Food from going into that basket). See the section on Settlers for more details.
Happiness and Population growth
Happiness of your empire is essential for Population growth. If your empire is unhappy, all your cities will suffer a -75% growth penalty (regardless of the number of excess food), essentially stopping growth in its tracks. If Unhappiness reaches -10 ('Very Unhappy' level), growth stops completely (even if you're producing more than enough surplus food), and you cannot train Settlers at all! Immediately bring your Happiness back into positive territory!
As with Production, Food is best managed city-by-city. The automatic Worker assignment manager will always allocate your Citizens so that your city is growing if possible. You can also assign a special emphasis on Food for it to achieve the maximum growth rate possible. Or, you can choose to manually control Citizen assignment. But because of the great importance of City growth, It is recommended you familiarize with all the above info before venturing to control Citizen assignment manually - else you risk your entire empire's growth!
The first important factor when considering Food is where to settle your Cities. Much like Production, you can't depend much on Buildings or empire-wide bonuses to feed each city. That means you must make sure the terrain you're settling can support human life. Be sure to provide access to at least SOME fertile land in each city, or that city won't grow and will be near-useless (Remember: no Citizens - no Workers - no Use!).
Settling a city near a River is always good, especially for feeding. All tiles next to it have Fresh Water, and will thus produce extra Food from Farms early in the game. Also, you can construct a Water Mill for even more Food.
Consider carefully when trying to settle a city on Desert, as this terrain has no Food potential at all! Even though you can still build Farms there, it is, at most time, no use settling cities on deserts. But if there are some resources you want access to, then look to place the city in such a position as to have access to some food-producing terrain or features. Luckily, there always seems to be some Wheat resource stuck in the middle of the desert (!!!), and Sheep may also be found on nearby Hills - include them in your city's potential territory at any cost! Also, look for an Oasis, as this terrain feature provides a great source of Food without any Improvement. And of course, a River flowing through deserts changes every adjacent desert tile to Flood Plains, which are some of the most fertile types of land.
Snow territories are situated in the extreme upper and lower edges of the map (that would be like in the real world, near the North and South poles), and usually have no useful Resources whatsoever nearby. What's more, like desert, snow has no Food potential, but unlike desert, Farms cannot be built on snow! You'd better avoid settling a city on snow, by any means possible!
Tundras are also notoriously difficult to settle. They don't support Farms (unless they have access to fresh water), so you're usually left with at most 1 Food per tile, which is far from enough to feed a city. Look for the precious Deer resources to provide food, and also try to settle near a river or a lake, OR on a coast.
Finally, cities founded on Islands may also have some difficulty growing. Ocean tiles without any Resource on them don't support any Improvement, and provide only 1 Food. Fortunately, there's a sea building, the Lighthouse, which increases all ocean tiles' Food potential by 1, including Atolls! So look to build this building in an island city ASAP. At any rate, try to place the city so as to have access to as many resources and Atolls as possible.
Amount of food to grow to size 
|Civilization V |
|Gods & Kings • Brave New World|