Slow Food and Europa Nostra launched a joint policy brief on food heritage, to demonstrate the links between food and culture, and to enjoin the EU institutions to better safeguard this intangible heritage, as it constitutes a strong social, economic, and environmental asset for Europe’s post Covid-19 recovery. This paper comes at a crucial time as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations are entering their final phase, determining the future of agriculture in Europe for the years to come.
Slow Food and Europa Nostra (the European Voice of Civil Society committed to Cultural Heritage) published a joint policy brief on food and cultural heritage in the frame of the “Food is Culture” project, funded by the EU grant Creative Europe. The policy brief demonstrates the relevance of food heritage, for example for the fight against climate change and the loss of biodiversity, for sustainable local development, and for social cohesion and inclusion. The brief also includes several concrete recommendations to the EU to better protect food heritage, namely by seeking greater coherence between cultural, food, and agricultural policies.
This publication comes at a critical moment in Europe, as the Common Agricultural Policy is currently being debated and voted at the EU Parliament, and our national ministers have just adopted the Council conclusions on the EU’s new Farm to Fork Strategy. Both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Farm to Fork Strategy can play a key role in promoting and safeguarding food heritage and bringing culture back to the center of our food systems.
On this occasion and as part of the Terra Madre festival, Slow Food and Europa Nostra will host a virtual conference on November 17th, with representatives from the European Commission’s agricultural, education and culture directorates (DG AGRI and DG EAC), a member of the European parliament, and members of civil society. The panelists will explore the brief’s key points and recommendations and will discuss how to achieve better coherence between food, agricultural, and cultural policies.
Why does food culture matter?
Food is an essential part of culture. Not only is it a vital human necessity, it is also an ancestral fine art praised around the world. Describing cultural heritage without local food products and culinary traditions would neither be fair nor exhaustive, as they are prominent open windows to local customs. However, this strong bond between food and culture which defines food heritage, has been fragilized over the last decades, due to the standardization of food by global supply chains. It urgently needs to be better protected, especially as it has a key role to play in the shift towards sustainable food production and consumption needed to address today’s key societal challenges, such as climate change and the distortion of social cohesion in Europe.
Due to the ongoing industrialization of farming, thousands of species, breeds, and varieties selected by humans have disappeared, demonstrating that food production is becoming less influenced by local cultural heritage. In parallel, climate change has led to the deterioration of heritage sites and the loss of biodiversity in natural sites. Food heritage is part of the answer to these dramatic phenomena. Strengthening the link between citizens and their food heritage would indeed offer immense potential to drive climate action and influence consumption patterns.
Similarly, food heritage can help reinforce a sense of belonging to a larger European family and shared cultural identity, at a time when the European project and values are faced with so many challenges. By bringing us together, regardless of our cultural, religious or ethnic background, and by providing us with a greater understanding of centuries of intercultural exchanges across Europe, food can help create a respectful dialogue between people and contribute to adding value to the sense of place.
What role can the EU role play?
With such potential, Slow Food believes that food heritage needs to be better safeguarded at EU level, but attempts to protect food heritage in one policy domain are often undermined by policies that continue to support the industrialization of agriculture, at the expense of small-scale producers who are the key actors in protecting food heritage. The European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy’s aim is to be a holistic strategy, touching upon multiple parts of the food systems, yet it includes very little about the link with culture. Similarly, the current EU agricultural policy is unfit to protect food heritage, yet the proposal for a new Common Agricultural Policy is another missed opportunity to properly support and reward the production by small-scale and agroecological farmers.
The partners’ first recommendation to EU decision-makers is that they fully recognize the value of food heritage and its beneficial impacts on Europe’s culture, economy, society, and environment, as it is closely linked and interrelated to other sectors (agriculture, health, education, sustainable tourism etc.). Secondly, Slow Food and Europa Nostra recommend to the EU to set up a new platform where genuine cross-sectoral cooperation and exchanges can take place between actors involved at various policy levels, and involving all actors including civil society, international organizations and businesses. This approach should include promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue to reach out to locals, farmers, and migrants, especially youth and in rural areas across Europe.
Food heritage can be a unifying force for the future of Europe and its citizens by helping to enhance social cohesion in communities, which in turn has enormous potential to drive climate action and work towards a healthier, greener, and fairer society as well as a climate resilient economy.
Interested in this topic? Join us for the online conference on November 17th 11-13h! The live stream will be available to the public. Registered participants will be able to ask their questions to the speakers via the online forum. You can register to the event here!
About the project
Food is Culture is a cooperation project funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union (in the frame of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018), with the contribution of the Fondazione CRC di Cuneo, led by Slow Food with its partners Europa Nostra, Kinookus, Nova Iskra Creative Hub, and Transpond AB. It aims to make European citizens aware that food heritage is a means for expressing their belonging to Europe and for better understanding the wealth and uniqueness of Europe’s cultural diversity. The project entails several activities, such as a travelling multimedia artwork exhibition featuring endangered products from Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, the Food Tales from migrants, school educational activities and cookery contests with chefs, as well as this present EU policy brief, a component of the project which is led by Europa Nostra.