A Big Picnic to talk about food sustainability

A Big Picnic to talk about food sustainability

December 20, 2018

A Big Picnic to talk about food sustainability

An international consortium formed mainly by botanical gardens has launched a project that brings together all protagonists of the food chain to discuss food sustainability through the knowledge of plants.

Scientists, policy-makers, industries and the general public, all together in a botanical garden, to discuss the global challenge of food security. Big Picnic is all this and a lot more. Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research program, Big Picnic involves 19 partner organizations (mostly botanical gardens), from 12 European countries (including Italy) and one African country (Uganda), who share the same objective: generate dialog and build greater understanding of food security issues.

What better place to talk about food than a botanical garden

The concept of food security is complex and can be described and interpreted in different ways. The Big Picnic project describes it as the coexistence of three interconnected concepts:


1. Food security - availability, access and ensuring everybody gets enough food to eat. 

2. Food safety - availability of healthy and nutritious food, free from contamination or degradation. 

3. Food sovereignty - empowering people to choose what they eat, for example by buying regional produce or growing their own food.

The cultural heritage linked to food is an essential element of all three: food – from how it is grown to the way it is eaten – is a sort of intangible cultural heritage. Food can bring people together and create a sense of shared identity and at the same time can highlight cultural differences. Therefore, the challenge is not just to produce enough food, but to make sure it reaches those who need it (food security), in the way that people want to consume it, that it is nutritious (food safety) and that it can be grown and distributed in a sustainable way (food sovereignty), in compliance with regulations aimed at preventing climate change.

Participatory processes

When addressing the issue of food sustainability through global problems like these, listening to all parties involved – from farmers to consumers, from public authorities to the industry – is essential. Big Picnic's discussions, organized as participatory events, science cafés and interactive meetings, will involve representatives of the entire food chain on different levels. Understanding why people choose certain products in everyday life is essential to carrying out successful interventions. For example, in terms of food safety, adolescents are more worried about the nutritional values of the food they eat rather than its environmental impact, but at the same time, in general, they are interested in learning more about it. Once informed, they tend to modify their choices to include also the environmental aspect.

Historically, botanical gardens have always adapted to social and environmental changes and needs. Their collections of living plants provide an essential resource to scientific research, conservation and public commitmentproject organizers say.Having contributed to the discovery and diffusion of many useful plants, botanical gardens can provide useful knowledge and skills. Many gardens now manage activities in conjunction with local communities and schools. These interactions can encourage a vast range of people to grow their own food in sustainable ways and at the same time ensure food safety”.

Find out more about Food and sustainability

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