The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that the amount of food thrown in the trash every day is more than 1.3 billion tons worldwide. The idea that food can be easily transported, even globally, is the main cause for this waste, but more generally it’s the concept that food can be treated like any other tradable good.
This is what Carlo Petrini, the founder of the international association Slow Food, told me when I met him in Italy last May. What follows is the complete interview for COLORS 81 - Transport.
1. Tell us some statistics that help demonstrate how recklessly we move goods around the world.
I don’t know statistics that can make headlines. However, awareness and every day experience show that the transport of food, especially fresh food, is disproportionate to its consumption. Losing the sense of the seasons, many products are transported even at an intercontinental level in order to be available any time of the year. From the standpoint of sustainability, this is a real waste of energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Moreover, it involves the use of preservatives. We can enjoy seasonal products from Chile when they’re not available here, but the journey is long, takes place in the holds of ships (that in some cases are refrigerated and in some others... not so much), and then some of the products are "retouched" to make them sellable. Even if only slight, it’s a chemical intervention on the raw material. Our position is that this logic has to stop. Because in this way, we also lose the magic of "waiting for the season": the expectation of the seasonal fruits and vegetables. When we lose this expectation, we lose one of the most beautiful aspects of our lives. Everything has its own time. If I am no longer aware of the time for cherries, because they are available any time of the year, or for the tomatoes, the apples and so on, I lose the sense of time in my life, too. The pleasure of enjoying that time also affects our gastronomy.
Consequently, if this logic of carrying food intercontinentally continues, many native species, that are weaker and therefore cannot travel such distances, are no longer profitable. So in some cases, there’s less motivation to cultivate these products and they become extinct. And when we have a loss in biodiversity by virtue of the strongest species, we find ourselves poorer.
2. Will we still be moving goods in this way in 50 years? If the answer is no, how will we have solved the problem of supplying goods, not only primary goods (i.e. food, water, clothing etc.) but also secondary goods? (i.e. technology)
I believe the transport of some goods is crucial. There are daily use goods that are absolutely unavailable in our countries. When we talk about coffee and chocolate, there is no way we can find them in Italy or in Europe. Some goods have to travel around.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the processing of these commodities should be done after exportation. That’s up for discussion. Colonialism allowed raw materials from poor countries to be taken, essentially stealing their knowledge and methods of processing. In this way, the local farmers earn very little and the processing becomes a good source of income for the Western countries. This needs to be seriously rethought. Why should producers get just a handful of lentils for their hard work, while in our coffee bars we end up paying up to fifteen times the price of the raw material? This is the proportion: six to 100. 100 is the price we pay for a cup of coffee and the original producer earns six. It’s not fair. This is also not sustainable. There is not only environmental sustainability, but also social sustainability.
3. Tell us five solutions to the problem of moving goods in the post-oil era.
1) return to seasonal consumption
2) strengthen local agriculture, and then support local fresh produce
3) pay fair prices for those foods that don’t belong to our tradition
4) if necessary, facilitate product processing in their countries of origin before transporting finished goods
5) practice these principles daily in every family and community (and by example, discourage the massive amount of waste that we produce)
In Italy, for instance, 4,000 tons of edible food are thrown away every day. It’s not sustainable. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that the amount of food that is thrown in the trash every day is more than 1.3 billion tons worldwide. The idea that food can be easily transported, even globally, is the main cause for this waste, but more generally it’s the concept that food can be treated like any other tradable good.
This concept of commodifying food is making us lose its value, and making us increasingly uneducated about its origins. Gastronomically, rejecting this policy means reconsidering the kitchen of leftovers, learning not to waste, and instead making noble and delicious dishes with ancient art and savoir faire. In traditional Italian gastronomy, we have some real monuments: the Tuscan ribollita, for example, which is made with stale bread. I come from Piemonte, and our Sunday dish when I was a kid was ravioli, filled with the week’s leftovers.
When it comes to "scrap" most people just get disgusted. I don’t. I think that it's a good practice and also a form of respect for women from previous generations, who turned necessity into virtue, employing technical skills worthy of three-star restaurants and more.