My family and I recently went to an event organized by Slow Food, the Italian non-profit organization well-known internationally for its commitment to local food traditions and communities, and its mission to promote food that's good (fresh and seasonal), clean (safe for our health and the evironment), and fair (fairly priced for both the consumers and the small-scale producers). (You can read more about Slow Food philosophy here.) It was a Cheese festival, and I wrote about it on FuoriBorgo here and here.
Carlo Petrini, the charismatic founder of Slow Food, held a press conference, where he discussed many interesting issues about the economics and ethics of food, including:
- 22,000 tons of edible food are thrown away every day in American households, and 4,000 tons in Italy.
- Consumers spend 20% less on groceries than they did 30 years ago.
- By buying cheaper food, consumers give their money to industrial food concerns, rather than to small-scale, sustainable producers of quality food.
We live in a time of colossal over-production and waste. In fact, according to a study prepared by the FAO in 2011 ("Global Food Losses and Waste"), roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted. According to Carlo Petrini, the results of this runaway waste coupled with the widespread industrialization of the food supply, are far-reaching and severe: the soil is being impoverished and depleted, water is becoming scarce, bio-diversity is being lost, and small farmers are having a harder and harder time making a living.
Petrini calls for a new paradigm. He says we need to stop wasting food, buy less food overall, and spend proportionately more on the food we do buy - on high-quality food that's safe, healthy and priced to give the farmer a fair income.
This press conference was a real eye-opener for me in many ways, and a call to action. I found the level of food waste deeply disturbing. Yet what Carlo Petrini said about spending more, made perfect sense. We need better, fairer food in our homes, and less of it. And we need to stop wasting food. All these steps go together - I'll be writing more about this.