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A sustainable future: the words to do it. By C. Scaffidi

Abstract: By observing how the meanings or the values of the words below have changed it is possible to look back over the recent decades of the evolution of our relationship with food and attempt to design, to plan, the future of this relationship. The claim chosen by Expo 2015, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, condenses a significant number of concepts into just a few words. First of all: when we say “feeding”, what food are we referring to? Do we make the idea of planet coincide with the idea of humanity? This is the prevalent interpretation, but it is a very limited way of looking at the issue. If we want to survive for a long time, as a species, we must look at the system of relationships thanks to which we exist. If we consider the planet solely as a substratum to be used to extract our food from it, then we will end up destined to feed ourselves poorly and damage the planet. The second part of the claim - Energy for Life - helps link the idea of feeding with that of producing energy to perpetuate life. Provided we are talking about all the living systems of which we are in some way part or on which we have an impact. Because if we are talking about food and sustainability, then it is not just to us human beings that we are referring.

How do we equip ourselves to reflect on food and the future? How can we tell each other clearly what we are talking about, what we must talk about and what we would like to do? There certainly are many skills that can help us answer this question, but there is one that may be useful to everybody, and it is that of being in on the same page as each other regarding the meanings we give to the words we use.

An associate of mine at the Slow Food Study Centre, who is Spanish and aged just over twenty, moved to Italy a couple of years ago; when she was asked to find a title in Italian for a conference that combined the theme of the Expo with that of sustainability, she produced a synthesis that was as perfect as it was unusable, because it would have aroused the suspicion that we were making fun of what is an extremely serious situation: “Feeding the planet without killing it in the attempt”.

The ingeniousness of the vision ̶ not disconnected, as often happens, from the anomaly of the form – lies in considering the planet not as all the people who inhabit it, but as an inseparable, indistinct whole, in which human beings and all the other forms of life find themselves, at the same level and with the same rights. From this perspective, when a person eats, it is the whole planet that must be fed. If the two things are disconnected, if someone (any living form) is nourished “at the expense” of others (any living category), then the sums will soon not add up.

The slogan of the Expo – feeding the planet, energy for life – can be read in this sense. Feeding the planet must mean producing, creating, energy for life, not simply consuming it. Cultivating the land cannot be an extraction activity; fishing must be capable of finding a way to take care of the sea; breeding animals cannot mean intoxicating them first and then the water and the land.

What for so long has been considered a boast of products, so-called “zero residue”, no longer interests us. The fact that food does not contain waste is an insufficient condition to make it energy for life. Because the important thing is that the waste also does not exist elsewhere. If our apple is without waste, but we have polluted land, water and air in order to produce it, then the energy and environmental balance of our feeding on that apple will nevertheless be negative. We will feed ourselves by removing and not – as it should be – creating energy for life.

The overall sensation, accrued over recent years, is that when we talk about food it is increasingly often necessary to pause to reflect on the words we use. Recent decades have changed our relationship with food, its production and its distribution considerably and the words that were used sixty years ago when we talked about food have changed as we have. Some have changed in meaning, others in form, some have disappeared and some, which we did not use or did not have before, have appeared. Hence the decision to write a small “meta-vocabulary” of a hundred key words, to tell about these years and these changes. A hundred words to start a hundred conversations on their meaning, on the meaning and role of what they define; together they tell of us, of our recent past and our relationship with food.

I have chosen some of these words to track the thought processes along which the theme of the Expo might lead us: to consider the planet as something that both produces and requires nourishment at the same time. If we humans consider ourselves to be outside of the game, thinking we are the ones who produce our own nourishment using the planet’s resources without in turn feeding them, replenishing them, then we will in fact end up killing the planet in an awkward attempt to feed just a (small) part of it.

Agriculture

 

In recent decades the word agriculture has undergone a multiplication of meaning.

While at the beginning of the last century, and again immediately after the war, it was a rather unambiguous word, which it was not necessary to dwell on very much or make any distinctions about, today, if pronounced without surrounding it with adjectives, it is not very expressive. If someone tells us they are involved in agriculture, or wants to talk about agriculture, or that they are an expert on agriculture, the question we find ourselves asking is: agriculture in what sense?

Industrial agriculture? Conventional? Small-scale, large-scale, traditional, organic, biodynamic, sustainable, social, integrated, linear? In short, what are we talking about?

Because different agricultures produce different foodstuffs in different ways, with different levels of attention devoted to all the connections inherent in “making food”.

Returning, after a long time, to a territory that is familiar to us, which has changed in the meantime, may prove bewildering, and the risk of getting lost, which must be taken into account in any exploration, cancels out any possibility of lightness, instead outlining the contours of frustration, because “getting lost in your own home” means admitting to no longer recognising a part of ourselves. Agriculture, to some extent, is a house where many of our families have lived in more or less recent times.

So let’s try to orient ourselves, by at least recognising the main roads. Let’s order the various types of agriculture that we have available today, dividing them into two main categories, distinguished on the basis of the purpose to which they tend: agriculture directed at the market, that is, which produces goods to sell; and agriculture for food, that is, which produces things to eat.

To the question “what is the purpose of my agriculture?” we can answer “to have something to sell” or “to have something to eat”, and it is on this basis that the behaviours of those who produce is differentiated.

Something to sell means goods. Something to eat means food. That is the distinction.

In the former case, what do those who work in agriculture think? Those who think about selling think about profit. That is the priority. They do not think about those who will eat but about those who will buy, about their financial means, about the fact that they must be more or less convinced, that they must find what they want to acquire more or less comfortably, that their loyalty must be gained in order for them to buy; before the products they will sell, they think about the structures that are necessary for the sale. They think about profit, as we have said, which must be as high as possible. If this is the priority, the products are means, not ends, just as natural resources, public health, buyer satisfaction will become means and not ends.

If we think about those who will eat, instead, if that will be the aim, those who work in agriculture will think about the people, about how much, if and under which conditions they will love that food, about how much good it will do them and how much good it will do in general not only to those who eat but also to the whole extended family of living beings that, in the various phases of its production, are nourished by that food. Our polenta will give nourishment to many, from the micro-organisms in the land cultivated to the bees in the cornfields, from the wild fauna that pass along the rows or glean the fields after the harvest to those who find it on their plates.

Thus, proceeding by major distinctions, we have found the main fork in the road: on one side, we move towards an industrial agriculture, oriented towards the market and structured as a linear system, on the other towards a sustainable agriculture, oriented towards food and structured as an integrated system.

In the linear system, where the point of arrival is profit, the key element is speed. All the phases of production must proceed as expeditiously as possible, and it is precisely for this reason that it is not possible to adopt attitudes of attention or prudence. The connections between an action and its consequences are not investigated; indeed, they are often deliberately ignored. This is, necessarily, a very costly agriculture in terms of natural and energy resources, and also in terms of public health, justice, animal welfare, biodiversity sacrificed for the sake of monocultures, waste of the product itself. But since all these elements are simply not considered, it is communicated as an agriculture with low production costs and therefore one capable of offering products at affordable prices. Who will pay for the incalculable damage? Who will settle all the accounts left pending? In this way outputs become waste, rubbish, and crystallise in their uselessness without those driving the process wondering what will become of them.

An integrated system has a different pace. It is an aware system, which transforms output into input for new production or further phases of the main production. It is certainly a slower system and, if we just look at the numbers (tonnages and sales), even less productive. But it is a system that does not waste, and is therefore more efficient. What use is it to me to produce 100, if 30 is wasted (and therefore disposed of)? If at the same time I can produce 70, with more care, and all successfully, then I will have done everybody a favour, producing better. In order to work, this system needs to take care of the land, the environment, the animals and the people, and so it creates public, private and environmental health. Yet if we think about it, it is precisely this that food must do, create health through pleasure. If it does not do this, it is not food (it is, in fact, commodity).

Biodiversity

 

Biodiversity is a word that the world of food has struggled to grasp; it was the property of environmentalists’ reflections and only with some effort – after admitting the links between food production and the state of environmental resources – did we begin to talk of agrobiodiversity, that is, biodiversity cultivated and bred predominantly for the purposes of food.

The term biodiversity indicates the whole system of different life forms and became common usage following the Rio Convention in 1992, in which (art. 1) the various states recognised that the biodiversity on our planet is rapidly in decline, so much so that the extinction of some species or other is reported every day. This means that until little more than twenty years ago we did not have the word to express it, biodiversity. It is important to try to imagine it, and above all to understand that it was not a world in which the biodiversity was not in danger, but a world in which the awareness of the importance of this element did not exist.

Biodiversity expresses the variety of forms and the abundance of species, it represents the true richness of life on Earth and is at the basis of the capacity of organisms to adapt to the climatic conditions of biotopes (in ecology the term “biotope” is understood as an area of given dimensions that presents itself with elements of cohesiveness from the point of view of climate and animal and plant species hosted).

The disintegration and alteration of habitats often formed over tens of thousands of years involve the disappearance of the life forms associated with them. For example, together with the trees of tropical forests – cut down for timber and to introduce food crops – the species proper to that ecosystem, such as birds, insects, grasses, fungi, also disappear. But many animal and plant species are yet to be classified, they are only known within cultural enclaves that conserve their knowledge in fragile unwritten systems, and the skills relating to the substances of vegetal or animal origin that are usable for food or medicinal purposes or in other spheres (from the veterinary to the cosmetic) are therefore also at risk of extinction. Thus the constant disappearance of species and races is not limited solely to items that we can cross off known lists, but has a depth and an echo of which it is impossible to make a credible calculation.

There are three levels of biodiversity that must be considered:

  • genetic biodiversity indicates the variability of the patrimony of genes within the populations of every single species of animal or plant;
  • the biodiversity of species indicates the diversity of species present in habitats;
  • the biodiversity of ecosystems, also called eco-diversity, indicates the variety of ecosystems present in a given area, that is, the animal and plant biodiversity in relation to the physical elements and processes that occur in ecosystems.

Biodiversity, or biological diversity (namely the three aspects indicated above taken as a whole), is the result of four billion years of evolution, the period in which around 30 million living species developed on Earth; according to some estimates, there are 1.4 million classified species, so the unknown biodiversity is high.

To simplify, it may be said that diversity is the raw material of evolution, because evolution is founded on the capacity to change, to adapt; and evolution is the presupposition of survival for the various living species.

The same cultural diversities imply differences not only in beliefs or social organisation, but also in traditions of cuisine and, therefore, of agriculture. They have accompanied humanity since its beginnings, rather, since they are partly due to environmental differences, we can say that they in some way preceded it and permitted its existence. We cannot exist if we do not diversify. We cannot survive unless it is by continually changing. We cannot change, and we therefore cannot survive, if we do not have diversity within us, if we do not have a “reservoir” of change from which to draw.

A loss of biodiversity is translated into the reduction in the capacity of adaptation of ecosystems and therefore of their possibility to react, for example, to climate changes, such as the greenhouse effect, induced by anthropic activities. All these factors are then linked to cultural diversity, that is, that infinite variety of traditions, uses, customs, beliefs, products (food, artistic, handicraft...) that characterises different societies. Cultural diversity is in part cause and in part effect of biological diversity and is always closely connected to its fate. For this reason the marginalisation of entire categories, such as women, young people, the elderly, by the dominant agri-food system must be considered damage.

When we raise the issue of the safeguarding of biodiversity, in the broadest sense possible, we do so not due to a simple conservation-oriented attitude, but with it very clear in our minds that the conservation of our very species also falls within that safeguarding. This does not mean consolidating an anthropocentrism that has already caused too much damage; rather, it means considering the species Homo sapiens sapiens as one of the elements of the planetary system, which can only hope to survive by maintaining a relationship of parity and respect with the other elements.

Commons

 

Commons is an expression that never seems to grow old. Although it has been in circulation for at least three centuries – when the English common land was fenced off and thus transformed by Enclosure; although the word was submitted for public consideration in 1968 as a result of a famous essay by Garrett Hardin (The Tragedy of the Commons), it is still presented to public debates as a word in the process of definition, of formation, and therefore in constant danger of slippage, in linguistic and legal terms. If it is then referred to the agri-food sphere, it still provokes genuine amazement and the reflection is even more immature than in other sectors.

The expression common resources, common goods, or “commons” in short, is understood to be things used by a number of individuals, with respect to which there are registered – for various reasons – difficulties of exclusion and the “consumption” of which by one party reduces the possibilities of use by others.

This definition is by Elinor Ostrom, the US economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009, for her analysis of the economic governance of commons by communities.

It is a very important ethical and cultural step, as well as economic, to think of natural resources in terms of commons. Air, water, biodiversity, the health of the land, seeds: these are all commons. Wasting these resources or their use for someone’s profit is improper conduct, especially if, as is necessary in the capitalist system, the benefits are privatised and the negative aspects are socialised.

Creativity, beauty, happiness and health must be considered commons, since commons have the most important characteristics: without them we cannot survive; if someone blocks access to the resource, it becomes impoverished; enjoyment by the individual can and must be reconciled with enjoyment by the community.

The things without which we cannot live adequately cannot be bought or sold, they must not be damaged, they cannot be someone’s property, they cannot be denied to anybody – not only because no one can claim the right to deny them, but also because everyone has a right to them. In short: commons cannot appertain to the market, since they appertain to life.

On the basis of these premises, food itself should be considered a common.

If we succeed in rethinking what we usually consider to be resources (a word very close to the idea of raw material, an ingredient to be used) in terms of commons, the perception changes radically.

The protection of biodiversity, for example, that is, of a common that allows all living beings to continue to evolve by adapting to environmental changes, it ceases to be a favour that we grant to nature and becomes the exercise of safeguarding of a right.

Likewise, fighting pollution, and therefore attempting, with our own behaviour but also by pressing for adequate policies, to reverse the tendency of climate change, does not only concern the here and now of the generations present today on the face of the Earth, but is also posed in terms of prevention of an inappropriate consumption of resources (water, air, health) that we are called upon to hand on to future generations (generations of people, animals, plants, fishes, bacteria...), not by virtue of our magnanimity, but by virtue of the fact that they have a right to them.

The first step to do all this is to recognise the incompatibility between the idea of a free market and the idea of commons.

The idea of liberty inherent in the concept of free market is not compatible with the idea of something essential to life. If something is essential to me for life and someone can sell me it, I do not have the liberty to decide whether to buy it or not. If it is vital, then I must have it. And this gives the person who sells it a power over me which places them above my right to life.

Commons, therefore, must find a legal framework in their own right, one that distinguishes them definitively from goods and services, that is, from the objects the market trades in.

Democracy

 

The process of simplification that the market has conducted on language has been tested to the maximum with the word democracy. The result, unthinkable in the post-WWII period, is that today we use it to indicate things that have a low price. Low-cost flights, for example, are defined by some as “democratic”. The same applies to low-cost food outlets or to any other situation that has very low sale prices. This is totally bizarre from the conceptual point of view. It is not a matter of understanding if it is true or not; the point is that the two things are not related in any way.

So let us attempt to reconstruct and retrieve the meaning of talking about democracy in relation to food.

The democracy they taught us in school, and which we have practised in Italy, with variable levels of enthusiasm, for almost seventy years now, is based on a mechanism of delegation and control. Two phases, therefore, of a relatively simple mechanism. It is no longer possible for each of us to produce our own food (the percentage of the population that lives in the city or that is not personally involved in the production of their own food is ever on the increase), so this function is delegated to someone else, just as, not being able to govern in a situation of permanent assembly, we have delegated the action of government to someone else.

First of all it is necessary to understand at what level we delegate. There can be many levels in governmental democracies: district, municipal, provincial, regional, national and continent. To prevent power being concentrated in one or just a few centres that are necessarily distant from the majority of citizens, it is a good idea for government to also be exercised very close to the electorate. If we move this reasoning onto food production, we can easily understand that if all the centres of production around us disappear, to be concentrated in a few very large sites far away from us, for citizens it will be much more difficult not only to check on the type of production, but also to understand its mechanisms. Widespread democracy helps maintain the culture of democracy strong, and the expertise that the exercising of democracy requires. Production centralised at a few large companies weakens food culture, meaning that those who maintain their expertise are fewer and fewer in number. As long as we have vegetable plots, fields, shepherds, fishermen, livestock breeders, artisans of transformation and chefs near to us, in the territories that we visit daily, we have sources of supply to keep our food culture alive: we delegate the production of our food to them (not only to them, certainly, we also delegate something to those further away, but it is important that it is not just to the latter) and by visiting them we keep alive our knowledge of the territory, its seasons, the many “this is how you do its” that the world of food is studded with.

This delegation, as all delegations in democracy, in order to be confirmed and therefore to give stability to the mechanism, requires a return in terms of information. Information is the instrument that allows the electorate to check on the delegates to government, and it is for this reason that the instruments of information must be firmly in the hands of those who check and not those who are checked on. This is the baseline, the verifiable minimum, of every democracy, and is the reason why debates on the independence of the information media are always so important in a democratic system.

Now, referring to food, what are these instruments? All those instruments that enable citizens to understand whether they have done right to place their trust in a given producer and therefore if it is appropriate to confirm that trust. If the producers are close to us, we can easily procure this information, for example, we can go and see how they work or meet them at a country market and question them; if the products come from further away, then the label becomes fundamental. The trade press is equally important, if it does its job properly, which is the very important one of making information available, and not confusing it with what the company’s press office says. Because advertising is not the type of information we need to confirm our delegation, precisely because it is an instrument of communication in the hands of those we wish to check on. For this reason, and certainly not simply because it must be considered as untruthful, it must not be numbered among the instruments of control available to consumers. Rather, advertising, which has the market as its point of departure and arrival, could be an element that strains the delegation, and the less it tells us, in substantial terms, about a product, the more it demands an undisputed and indisputable trust from consumers, leaving aside the information. But, if we consider closely, this is what totalitarianisms do. And where there is totalitarianism, sooner or later a resistance begins.

Global

 

What is global food? It is what is found everywhere the same, produced in large quantities, usually with a very low end price. We all know about it; we all recognise it.

They may be very elaborate finished products, with many ingredients (not all edible, to tell the truth, but it seems that our bodies, at least for a while, can tolerate our eating inedible stuff; but then something usually breaks, but the multinationals that have put the food on the market generally have some division that produces the drugs to cure the associated illnesses), plenty of packaging and the possibility of travelling over long distances.

When it has very well known packaging and labels, global food is easily recognised. Sometimes, we must admit, we have even been pleased to see it, when we find it in places far away from our homes and our cultures, when we find it hard to find points of reference: we see the logo of a well-known brand, or a product at a market that we usually see in the shop near our house, and in some way a little part of our brain, a very little part, says: OK, everything is all right.

Because the message that this food has sent us has hit its target: “Home is where Barilla is” is a reassuring communication, which says that a place cannot be so unknown, so different from your home, if you can find there the pasta that you buy in the supermarket in your neighbourhood. It even makes the idea flash through our minds that it is not for commercial reasons that this brand has reached so far, but only to make sure that we will have no difficulty in finding our bearings when we arrive there. Global food claims to be very much more.

But global food can also circulate in other ways, that is, in the form of commodities. The English term, in this case, is linguistically a “false friend”, as it reminds us of an Italian word (comodità, meaning comforts) that has nothing to do with the meaning of commodities, which relates to concepts of utility and value. And in any case commodities are not “comfortable”, unless it is for those who earn from them. These are products on a large scale, such as cocoa, coffee, sugar, maize, wheat... Uncomfortable from the environmental point of view, and not only that. But comfortable for those who, in fact, transform these commodities into revenue.

Commodities are found in many of the products we eat, often also in those that do not seem to us to be “global”, because the packaging and the communication that accompanies them allude to identities and territories, or else because the finished product is – in name – a product of our tradition, or else because they are products that are P.D.O. [Protected Designation of Origin] or P.G.I. [Protected Geographical Indication], which make us think that everything is associated with a territory, but in reality they have guidelines that do not oblige producers to use local raw materials.

It is important to also know how to recognise this food as global, and not only that which declares its globality. Not in order to avoid it, but simply to know how far we are going, how far the consequences of our actions have repercussions. Some time ago a banking company that focused its communication on territorial characterisation put together an advertising campaign, which said more or less this: “When you go to take out your money, ask where it has been”. Yes, let’s try to start similar conversations with our food: Hi, how are you? Where have you come from? And why?

Limit

 

Limit has recently become very fashionable. Or, rather, “no limit” is fashionable. Telephone companies continually cajole us by inviting us to “talk with no limits”, or by ensuring us that with a certain contract we can make “limitless calls”. That is also a rather disquieting thought. But the telephone companies are the lesser damage. What are truly disquieting are the ads for food supplements described as “fat-burning” or “calorie-burning”, which promise those who want to lose weight that they can slim “without giving up anything”, so, again, without placing limits on how much we want to eat; and it is not only a matter of products, it is sometimes a matter of full-blown “diets”, which select just one type of food and concentrate a food system on it, without limits of quantity. A pity that this is substantially transformed into a form of intoxication, and it is that which makes us slim, not anything else. But all this has recently been in the news.

What interests us, anthropologically, is that the idea of a limit has changed from being an everyday component of people’s lives to being an obstacle to be overcome. All of a sudden, helped by various factors, we have convinced ourselves that we can truly live without limits. And at least a couple of generations have grown up with the conviction that progress is for the sake of this: to eliminate limits in order to be able to live without them.

It is on this consideration that the infamous idea of development that has led to the current collapse of the environment, energy, economics and human relationships is based. Back in 1972, that is, when those generations were yet to be thought of, the Club of Rome published some research entitled Limits to Growth, but this did not reverse our course or moderate our speed.

Today, as then, most of those who talk about limits, in the subject of food or agriculture, do so to say that they must be overcome, or ignored, or combated. There is no need to set limits on consumers’ demands: so you want strawberries in January? Then you shall have them, because the market does not say “no” to those with their wallets open. The market does not know what to do with limits. There are even those, of course, who say that limits must be respected, or “governed”, but they tend to refer to others’ limits, not their own: the Chinese must limit their consumption of meat, because if they start to eat it in the quantities consumed by “us” then the planet will not be able to take it. The suspicion that this means that “we” we are consuming too much does not enter their minds. The suspicion that for years we have also been eating the Chinese’s portions, even less so.

Then there are those who try to remind us: limits are a fact. There is a limit – and we must respect it, otherwise we will damage ourselves and the rest of the world – to how much we can eat, drink, pollute. There is a limit that concerns time, resources, work, expertise, energy, health, rights, the future. A limit that is the way in which we define ourselves: we know who are because we recognise the form we have, thanks to the fact that we have limits, and this is applies to the physical aspect and, metaphorically, to all the rest. If we exceed that limit, waste begins. In terms of time, resources, work, expertise, energy, health, rights, the future ... life.

Local

 

Predictably we began to talk about local food when it became normal to eat global food.

As if, in continually travelling with a fork in our hand to eat what had become our daily meals, all of a sudden we had begun to feel homesick. To miss that special aroma, that very one and none other. That missing of the little things that sits there in a little inaccessible corner between one “it’s all the same” and the next. That tells us that it is not true that it’s all the same. Bread, the good stuff, is not all the same. That apple, and not another, is not all the same. That particular dish, when you get back home tired of the world, is not all the same.

So we set off travelling again. We had travelled far and wide, without moving from our supermarkets, from our larders, we had – often without knowing it – embraced the globe. But we had not seen anywhere. Because the food we embraced does not tell of places, it tells of a non-existent globe, full of what some call non-places. It is not somebody else’s food, with a different history, a different language that we could have understood and learned. It is nobody’s food, it does not tell any story, it does not belong to anybody and nobody belongs to it. Or rather: it has an owner, almost always, legally established. But there is a big difference between having an owner and having a sense of belonging.

We made this new journey in a profound way. We gathered together our skills and our memories and those of the people around us, we attempted to redesign the profile of our food identity, we looked at it and we were moved – look how great we are, we said to ourselves; we tried to taste again what was once normal and was about to become exotic, we tried to sow again what was about to disappear. We also realised that something had indeed disappeared; we said we are idiots, we tried to halt the disaster. We succeeded: many products are returning, many tastes, many elements necessary for our physical, mental, emotional wellbeing.

But have we understood that “eating local” is much more than recovering memory and food items; it is recovering landscape, agricultural practices, manual skills, the capacity to interpret the signs of nature, ecology in distribution, biodiversity... In short, eating prevalently local “puts right” many things. As many as have been damaged by the insistence for decades on eating prevalently global.

Sovereignty

 

We have taken a while to understand what this story of food sovereignty was. It is an expression that had not even emerged in news broadcasts, let alone in our homes. We have had to deal with it, more or less confidently, for little more than ten years. Like many new expressions of recent times, it came about in English, but, unlike many other cases, here it has become famous in translation, as sovranità alimentare. Perhaps because it was a little complicated to remember how to pronounce and spell it, the fact is that here the Italian version has triumphed over the original.

The official definition comes from 2002, and the Forum of NGOs and civil society in Rome, where it was described as “the right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own policies of agriculture, employment, fishing, food and the land that are appropriate to their own unique reality on the ecological, social, economic and cultural plane. This includes the right to food and to produce food, which means that everyone has the right to healthy, nourishing and culturally appropriate food, to the resources to produce it and to the capacity to maintain themselves and their societies”.

This reference to the right to food immediately takes us to the billion hungry people who inhabit this world, to whom this right is denied every day. But if we reread the definition, the doubt springs to mind that our own right to food sovereignty is also not so solid. Let us think about it: has our right, as a people, to define our agricultural policy been protected? The latest consultations with a view to reforming the Common Agricultural Policy had led to the hope that the words of civil society could have an effect, yet the improvements were minimal. Is our right to healthy and nourishing food protected? How can it be if companies that produce food that is at the origin of the modern epidemics of food-related illnesses are considered successful companies and do not have any type of disincentive? Without considering that a large part of those who purchase that food do not know very well what they are purchasing because the information at their disposal is inadequate. Where are our land policies that are appropriate on the ecological, social, economic and cultural plane? For years now the special rapporteurs of the FAO on the subject of hunger report to the United Nations saying that where, even in situations of structural poverty of societies, situations of hunger and malnutrition are not created, this is due solely to family-run and sustainable agriculture and certainly not to the actions of the multinationals, which even proclaim that they are aiming at the salvation of the world when they study new GMOs or new synthetic phytopharmaceuticals. According to what logic should that type of production, which does not favour food sovereignty in poor countries, favour it in rich ones?

The link between food sovereignty, sustainable agriculture and the right to food makes us understand that the situation of nutrition in which the rich countries find themselves is not only in some way connected to the conditions in which the poor countries find themselves, but shares with those problems the origin of the solution, which must inevitably be political.

The right to culturally adequate and healthy food must also be defended today in the rich countries, where hunger has not been a problem for decades; the distribution of food produced industrially at low cost and of low nutritional quality is creating full-blown epidemics of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Just as it is creating a substantial loss of identity and links with the cultures to which people belong, with a consequent loss of awareness, capacity to choose, to exercise control over one’s own food and, ultimately, loss of democracy.

The defence, or the restoration, of food sovereignty takes place, at any latitude, through many instruments, some of an educational nature, such as the recovery of the skills necessary to identify the most appropriate food; some of a political nature, such as the launching of measures to safeguard sustainable production and support small-scale farmers in their merit-worthy work; some of a commercial nature, such as the support for direct sales and the promotion of quality products, be they lasagne or insects.

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“Glocalism. Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation” is published by “Globus et Locus", Milan, Italy

 ISSN 2283-7949
   
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