Menu for change: why we have to go towards a Common Food Policy

Carlo Petrini copy

Carlo Petrini (Slow Food, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Carlo Petrini, founder and President of Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast food culture. The opinion expressed in this piece belongs strictly to the writer and does not necessarily reflect The European Sting’s one.

The European debate on the future Common Agricultural Policy is getting to the heart of the matter in the next months. But what we need are not new agricultural policies, but something much more wide, inclusive, in one word: holistic. Agriculture has and will play a decisive role in the future of humanity: in its capacity to address the challenges of the years to come and ensure life—worthy or otherwise—to all its members, and in its prospects of either living in harmony with the environment or of destroying our common home. Agriculture means farms, vegetal and animal biodiversity, environment, artisanal skills to transform raw materials, healthy diets, food-supply chains…. we need to start to think in a different way, and to talk about food systems. This is what we would like to see at the menu of the political discussion.

Food systems can in fact provide the entry point for solving Europe’s multiple crises. Too often “green growth” and “green jobs” are hailed as the future, without any real plan to help young people into those jobs. Surely, there is no greener job than farming, when it is based on building diversified systems that sequester carbon and bolster soil fertility by optimizing biodiversity, stimulating interactions between different species and recycling outputs as inputs.

Redesigning food and farming systems can also help tackle the public health crisis. Agricultural diversity can be translated into dietary diversity by taking steps to reconnect local suppliers of fresh, nutritious foods with individual consumers.

In some ways, this was also the subject of my speech to the G7 meeting of Agricoltural Ministers in Bergamo (Italy), a few days ago.

But which are the causes of the deep and complex crisis we are facing of in our time? I see two main causes, both related to food (and agriculture). First, in the last few years food has lost value and the economic rewards of country dwellers are being reduced to a bare minimum, meaning that the job of farming is losing its appeal and social status; second, the quality of life in rural areas is no longer in keeping with the expectations and perspectives of the young people of the 21st century, who have grown up in a globalized context, connected with the world and with a wide range of opportunities and prospects before them. We need to engage in the building of a new form of ruralism.

New food policies—a term I prefer to ‘agriculture policies’—have to be harmonized and designed to support local economies that, up against the great ‘potentates,’ risk being fragile and lacking tools to work with. The time is now ripe to press the governments to accord full political dignity to the food question and, as a consequence, to create a specific food ministry to govern it in all its complexity. Today in five of the countries represented at the G7 meeting, the word ‘food’ appears beside the word ‘agriculture’ in the name of the ministry responsible (only in Germany does ‘food’ precede ‘agriculture’). But instead of being a mere appendix to a productive activity, food now needs to be given a new more central role. It cannot be confined solely to the ambit of production: on the contrary, as I already pointed out, it also has repercussions and a bearing on the economy, health, culture and education.

The concentration and standardization of production are a factor in transforming food into a delocalized global commodity, thereby causing tremendous harm to the environment and the dumping of local products. Furthermore, food production represents one of the principal causes of climate change, but at the same time suffers huge negative consequences as result of it.

A fifth of greenhouse emissions is produced by intensive livestock farms, by the massive use of chemical agents on crops and by long supply chains that bring any type of food to our tables in any season, sometimes from faraway places. But why should agriculture—especially small-scale agriculture—be a victim too? Why are we seeing more and more floods alternating with devastating droughts and destroying crops; migratory waves of farmers and peasants in search of fertile land or other means of subsistence on the edges of the world’s megalopolises; the raising of the sea level, which jeopardizes the existence of coastal fishing communities; the acidification of the oceans that have now become hostile to life itself; the loss of biodiversity; and irreversible desertification. Changing the present global agrifood system and individual consumption could become one of the solutions to fight climate change. This is why Slow Food is taking the field with Menu for Change, a major international communication and fundraising campaign.

What a Common Food Policy for the EU must do is to set the direction of travel, bringing together a variety of initiatives and measures under one roof, helping to facilitate the transition to sustainable and climate-friend food systems. Sustainable and climate-friend food systems can underpin a new economic vision, one in which creative solutions are provided to long-term problems, in which a circular economy and green jobs are more than just rhetoric, and in which the costs of supporting decent jobs and public health are weighed up against the price of inaction. European democracy can be reenergized by providing people a say in the things they most care about. We can start with what they put on their plates.

About the author

Carlo Petrini is a journalist, author and advocate for a sustainable food system and has been working since the 1980’s to promote eco-gastronomy. He is the founder and President of Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast food culture. In May 2016, he received the appointment from the President of FAO, Graziano De Silva, as a Special Ambassador to Zero Hunger for Europe, the initiative to increase public awareness on the need to improve agriculture in Europe and ensure a sustainable food supply chain.

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