Unconventional voices in Brussels

Bringing the Slow Food mantra – good, clean and fair food for all – into the “Brussels bubble” is not easy; that bubble” is a large and complex ecosystem that encompasses European institutions and all the organizations in orbit around them trying to influence policy. Hundreds of conferences take place every year, but they are often attended and organized by the same people, with little connection to the city itself.

This is why Slow Food decided that our event should have two characteristics: host speakers who never normally participate in Brussels conferences and break the “bubble” by organizing the event in a symbolic location, the Atelier des Tanneurs, where there is a daily market of fresh organic products. As Slow Food activist in Brussels, Jean Pierre de Leener explained, this reflect the values of the event, as direct sales from farmers to consumers and the close involvement of citizens in their food choices is key to a creating a sustainable food system.

The key speakers at our October 18th conference “Towards a Common Food Policy – Unconventional Voices Breaking the Silos”, were six members of the Slow Food network, together with Carlo Petrini and Olivier De Schutter (ex-UN rapporteur on the right to food and co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems). They presented the main challenges of the food system and the key elements of a potential Common Food Policy that would substitute the current Common Agricultural Policy.

As the young French farmer Linda Bedouet pointed out, agriculture needs to take account of the external costs that it generates. “In France, conventional farmers produce €60 billion worth of products, but the decontamination of the waters polluted by their activities costs another €60 billion. We need to pay the right price of food.”

Barbara Geertsema, ecologist and fisher, coordinator of the Goede Vissers and the Slow Food Presidium of the Wadden Sea Traditional Fisheries in the Netherlands, underlined the difficulties facing small-scale fishers. “Small coastal fishermen totally depend on what is in our waters, we cannot decide what crop we will grow, we fish what we find at our doorsteps.”

Chefs of course have an important role to play, as Xavier Hamon, owner of the restaurant Le Comptoir du Théâtre, coordinator of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance in France, was eager to stress. “Rediscovering what a fish is, how it is fished, what is a vegetable, how it is produced and by whom, that is the key role for cooks. Too many of us cooks are close to the stars and far from the roots: we need to re-establish our role in the food system.”

Robert Paget, a raw milk cheese producer and coordinator of Slow Food Kamptal (Austria) lamented the scale of the bureaucracy facing farmers, and called for a Common Food Policy that treats farmers according to the scale of their operation, with a commensurate bureaucratic burden.

The issues of fair prices, urbanization, the changing environment and the homogenization of norms in Europe were picked up by Olivier de Schutter and Carlo Petrini, who called for a Common Food Policy in Europe that is participatory, coherent, cross-sectorial, connected and tailored to local areas, and which reconciles the local, regional, national and pan-European levels. One size does not fit all!

“Governments need to give full political dignity to the food question and create a food ministry. Food is not a mere appendix of a productive activity, it is also has fundamental repercussions on the economy, our health, culture and education” stated Petrini.

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