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Food and society

BCFN Forum 2016: eat better, eat less, food for all

A string of discussions, scientific data and innovative ideas. All this and much more at the 7th BCFN Forum on Food and Nutrition held in Milan on the 1st December.

https://www.barillacfn.com/en/food_sustainability_index/ The message of the Milan-based event was clear from the outset: what we eat impacts the health of people and the planet. We can and must act to change our current “food system” to ensure it really is sustainable for everyone. “In order to meet this objective, we need to consider the problem from a multiplicity of different viewpoints, spanning from the medical to the economic and financial, right through to the social,” said Gianmario Verona, Rector of Bocconi University which, as has become tradition, hosted the event.

A multidisciplinary approach
Feeding the global population without destroying the planet: this is the huge challenge we face today, one that can only be resolved if we radically change the way we produce, process and distribute food. “We all agree on the fact that change is necessary, but there is no agreement on how” commented Stefano Zamagni, who recently joined the BCFN board. The Forum 2016 discussed which strategies may be successful in resolving this complex issue. “We simply must put humans – and not just consumers – centre stage,” maintained Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food at the United Nations. “Money must not be the sole criteria for managing the future of food and the planet echoed Guido Barilla, who in his speech outlined the breadth of the problem in numbers, summarising in a few brief words the huge job underlying the Forum slogan and work of the BCFN. In this context, foundations play a primary role in supporting projects and innovative ideas, as well as distributing the culture of sustainability at different levels, and reaching all the people who will make change happen, from the small and seemingly unimportant local businesses right through to policy makers and heads of state. These topics were discussed at length in the two round tables in the morning, and were reiterated by Livia Pomodoro from the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy in a speech in which she also stressed the importance of clear regulation in the sector.
To incentivise the latter, the Milan-based Center and the BCFN have come together to create the Right to Food Map, an interactive tool showing content about food, access to food, and food sustainability as published in the global media. “The Right to Food Map is a tool aiming to raise awareness among decision makers concerning access to food” explained Pomodoro. “It lets you see the interest the media, academic institutions and citizens have about the topic in a given country.


From words to actions
Words are not enough. The time has come to move beyond words to actions” vehemently stated Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The BCFN responded to this call with three practical tools that were presented over the course of the event. The first was the Food Sustainability Index, research conducted into countries and cities created in collaboration with the Intelligence Unit at The Economist, officially presented at the Forum by Adam Green (Intelligence Unit at The Economist) and Lucy Hurst (Director of the EIU’s Public Policy, Economics and Politics consultancy for Europe). “The Index may well become the tool that guides our decision making concerning food” commented Barbara Buchner, Executive Director of Climate Finance - Climate Policy Initiative, and board member of the BCFN. But that’s not all. The fruit of BCFN’s prestigious partnership with Thomson Reuters was also introduced: the Food Sustainability Media Award, an award for journalists working in the arena of food and sustainability. Presenting the award were Laurie Goering, Climate Editor of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Mario Calabresi, Director of La Repubblica, who will sit on the judging panel. Last, but by no means least, BCFN YES!, a project involving dozens of young people from around the world. This year two young women, Shaneica Lester and Anne-Teresa Birthwright, won the €20,000 prize for their project promoting an educational strategy for local farmers aiming to improve irrigation in Jamaica.
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, called on us to remember that climate change will have a large impact on food production and that it is, as such, impossible to focus on sustainable agricultural production without strongly considering global warming. He also stated that the current food production system is not sustainable, and that it will have to be changed in the future to meet the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations. Policies aimed at curbing the growth of the global population are the key to real change.


The importance of nutrition
Producing sustainable food is not enough; what we need is to produce and distribute healthy food. David Katz, Director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University in the United States, reminded us of the importance of nutrition as he summarised a number of scientific studies. “In the 1990s we understood just how much diet and lifestyle influence the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases” said Katz. “Today we also know that food acts at the DNA level and plays a role in all the metabolic processes of the organism. The solution is to educate people to choose a healthy and sustainable diet, as well as to stop smoking and take regular exercise.
David Eisenberg, Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has proposed a tool that may help. “We need to teach people how to cook, because people who cook with unprocessed ingredients are on average healthier and live longer commented the American expert, who drew inspiration for the campaign from growing up in his father’s bakery in Brooklyn. The Teaching Kitchen Collaborative was thus launched, offering courses in healthy cooking to health professionals, patients and citizens. The United States has been suffering from a lack of cooking skills for the past few decades, but a similar phenomenon is now also spreading through Europe as pre-prepared food and ready meals are becoming increasingly popular.


From the Mediterranean to the traditional diet
We need to get back to the Mediterranean diet, the real Mediterranean diet” was the message expressed at the round table composed of Katarzyna Dembska, BCFN researcher, John Sievenpiper, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Toronto, and Marcela Villarreal, who deals with advocating and developing citizens’ skills concerning food at the FAO. Nutritional choices cannot, however, be divorced from a change in the production models that give food its real monetary value. “Current agricultural policies support increased production and reduced costs, without considering the indirect costs on the consumption of natural resources – from soil to water – as well as environmental resources” said Hans Herren, President of the Millennium Institute. Marta Antonelli, BCFN researcher, Matthias Meissner, from WWF Germany, Amarjit Sahota, President of the Organic Monitor, and Ben Valk, head of finance in agricultural and development policies at Rabobank International supported this stance.
Elisabeth Rasmusson, Director of the World Food Program, closed the event by calling for the implementation of “personalised interventions.”We at the WFP have learnt two things: that malnutrition can be overcome by collaborating with local governments, and that to do so we need to consider the huge amounts of knowledge linked to local culture. The solution often lies in traditional diet, we just need to find out what that is, and be careful not to overturn the delicate balances defining production.

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