Waste and hunger: two sides of the same coin. Even though global food production could feed 12 billion people, and we currently number 7.3 billion, almost 800 million are still suffering from hunger or malnutrition. This means that close to 40% of production is wasted. Tons and tons of perfectly edible food are thrown away or left to rot in the fields. This schizophrenic food system is not working. We need new paradigms that will allow us to eradicate the shameful problem of hunger once and for all and give food back the value it deserves.
At Terra Madre Giovani – We Feed the Planet, Carlo Petrini dedicated a lengthy talk to these paradigms. He began by discussing the reasons for this absurdity. “In weaker countries the causes of waste can be found in a lack of infrastructure, poor conservation, bad roads. In countries like ours, we throw 30% of agricultural production away because the supermarkets deem it not presentable. We waste for esthetic reasons.”
Petrini also mentioned the meddling of the financial world, with its speculation on food production: “The acquisition of industrial quantities of foodstuffs determines the indiscriminate lowering of prices. So in the end it costs more for the farmers to harvest their crops than they can make from selling them. For two years in Piedmont, the growers didn’t pick their peaches because the labor costs were higher than what they would have earned. Quintals of peaches rotted on the trees. This food system has based its raison d’être on waste and put the farmers in a situation where they aren’t earning.”
How have we ended up in this mess? The dominant formula is to always ask more of the land, increasing yields with chemicals, creating dependence and ultimately destroying fertility. “To obtain a low price, intensive monocultures are consolidated and farmers and their families are deprived of their land, denaturing and transforming territories,” said Petrini. “We live in ignorance of the finiteness of resources, in a predatory relationship with nature. Anyone who continues to say that to produce food you can continue to exploit the soil and waste water and energy is a criminal.”
Standardized global production and distribution, intensive monocultures, financial speculation and the encouragement of individual consumption are certainly not the right recipe for eliminating or at least trying to reduce food waste. “We have to change production methods, lifestyles. Each of us can identify what this change involves, according to our own specific situation,” said Petrini. Instead of precise rules to be slavishly applied, we can identify values and behaviors that can be shared everywhere, in Sicily and California, in Milan and Bangkok.
“If the system is based on a global economy, then I think it is time to rebuild the local economy. We need a reaction; we need to put into effect a medicine to cure this virus that is corroding us. The global economy is decided by powerful potentates, stronger than governments, we don’t even know where. In the local economy, ordinary people become the protagonists, and participatory democracy is achieved. In the local economy, farmers can put their knowledge into practice.”
The other strategy for bringing about change is diversification: “If the others say monoculture, we will do the opposite, we will diversify. Diversification is a multiplicity of products, genetic species, methods, ways of operating. Diversification is the triumph of creativity, it is making sure that a little becomes a lot.”
Strengthening the local and diversification can be accomplished if we manage to create a community economy. “If they tell us that the economy is based on individualism, we will behave in exactly the opposite way. We will assert our role as co-producers, we will escape the yoke of consumption, and we will create alliances. A community economy means ensuring the well-being of everyone: those who work the land, citizens, restaurateurs… Every country lays claim to its own food sovereignty and decides what to produce. That way the power of the multinationals is split. And I’m telling you, this challenge to change the world is joyful! Be happy protagonists and you will see that the challenge will be overcome.”
Find out more about what we think of food waste.