The plate weighs heavily on the climate. In the western world, agriculture emits about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Our food has increased its climate footprint through the transport and processing of the value chain, from farms and factories to restaurants and homes. Every bite may contribute to the provocation of the climate machine, or, on the contrary, to calming it. Every eater has a share in the battle to stem global warming below an average temperature rise of 2°, which would already represent an enormous change to our planet.
We have exceeded the threshold of biodiversity destruction, upset the delicate balance of ecosystems, and damaged the natural environment through mining, deforestation, land reclamation, urbanization, the fragmentation of territories, and the pollution of water, soil and air. We have changed the nature of life on Earth. It is no longer a question of discussing the causes of a transient crisis; we are on the battlefield of a lost war which we have fought against nature. It is now a matter of looking ahead, finding a path toward peace and the reconstruction of a life that will never be the same as it was before the carbonization of our atmosphere. We have been battling for centuries, we must realize it. This is not necessarily catastrophic, but we must completely reconsider our mode of inhabiting the Earth: how we eat, move, work and live. We are on the cusp of a metamorphosis, and it depends solely on us for it to be joyful and democratic.
Agriculture is a primary sector of climate change concern, since it impacts all the factors and resources necessary for its proper exercise. Even if contained and mitigated, climate change will force the world’s farmers to adapt, and us all to change our diet! The agronomic model based on mineral and synthetic fertilizers, irrigation and mechanization must be redrawn according to the new pedoclimatic constraints, the amount of available renewable water, the protection of biodiversity and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to eat local and seasonal, focus on rustic vegetable varieties and eat much less meat, perhaps drawing more algae and insects for the nutrients necessary for our health. Our food will change. Luckily, agriculture that is good for the climate is also good for our health. We will invent new recipes.
Such a rapid change—over the next 20 years—can only be achieved through dialogue between farmers and consumers. Otherwise, we will struggle over the shared use of water, land, and all the other resources vital to food production. In a world that has become considerably more urban in its functioning (even in the countryside), the act of eating is trivialized, marginalized by the urban tempo, reduced to a necessity which one acquires and processes quickly, without really stopping to consider how food tastes, and why. By focusing on the carbon footprint of our menu, concern for the climate must instead lead to the (re)discovery of the beauty of food… and the people who produce it.
We need a new dialogue between the city and the countryside, on an equal footing. We must abandon the idea of the silo idea, the technical logic which encloses the farmer in the confines of monoculture production and surrounds city dwellers with fat- and sugar-rich junk food, so that everyone may recover the magnitude, power and joy of real food, which is not merely fuel for our bodies but a reflection of our environment. To eat well and therefore to produce well, we must develop an ecosystemic logic which does away with frivolous consumerism. This way, we will truly enjoy the complementarities offered by physical and human geography, rather than exploiting the former at the service of the latter. Instead food must shine as the living symbol of our connection to our neighborhoods, to nature, and to the world.
Slow Food is promoting the Menu For Change campaign to tell the world how climate change is affecting small-scale farmers and food producers and what we are doing to support them. Get involved!
All photos: Pexels
Gilles Luneau is a French writer and journalist. He is the director of GLOBALmagazine. He collaborates with Le Nouvel Observateur, Geo, Challenges. He is an expert on globalization and the food system, in particular the relationship between nature, the countryside and the city. He has written documentaries for Arte, Canal+ and France Télévisions.