Culture, health and climate: the double pyramid updated

Culture, health and climate: the double pyramid updated

April 23, 2021

Culture, health and climate: the double pyramid updated

Around 10 years since it was first published, the double pyramid has changed to take into account new discoveries in science and the cultural aspects of food. Because there is only one health

We can’t think of preserving the health of any single individual without also protecting that of the planet. This is now a fact demonstrated by numerous studies and has led to the “One Health” concept, in which the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected

This very interconnection drove the presentation of the New Double Pyramid on April 14, 2021, during a virtual meeting organized by the Barilla Foundation in collaboration with Food Tank, sponsored by the Italian National Commission for Unesco.

Many experts were involved, each with their own specific expertise, but all united in a global conversation and by the desire to discover and explain how a balanced diet can really promote the health of human beings, while reducing the impact on the environment.

The future is in the hands of each of us” said Guido Barilla, president of the Barilla Foundation, in his opening speech, pointing out that the time has come to demolish the silos, those watertight compartments that have so far kept human health separate from that of the planet. “The New Double Pyramid is a celebration of cultural and environmental diversity,” said Paola Leoncini Bartoli, Director of Cultural Policies and Development, Unesco, at the end of the virtual meeting. A diversity well expressed by the seven different New Double Pyramids, each of which is linked to a specific macro-region of the world.

Tradition and innovation as the basis for change 

The message behind the New Double Pyramid remains the same as already expressed 10 years ago: what is good for human health is generally also good for the environment. But in this new version the recommendations are based on a greater amount of information, evaluated with a solid methodology.” With these words, Barbara Buchner, Global Executive Director, Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) commented on the New Double Pyramid, underlining that new investments in sustainable food systems are needed as well as innovation in financial models. The importance of science and recommendations based on solid and reliable data was also reiterated by Gabriele Riccardi, Lecturer in Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases at the University of Naples Federico II, former Chairman of the Italian Diabetology Society, and by Riccardo Valentini, Lecturer, DIBAF Tuscia University, Strategic Consultant, CMCC Foundation. “The structure of the pyramid is not fixed but can change according to the new knowledge gained. It reflects the state of the art on the complex link between diet, health, culture and the environment,” Riccardi specified.  

But science alone is not enough. “Diets must be 'culturally appropriate' and must take into account the many meanings that food has in different cultures: food is spirituality, knowledge, medicine, and governance,” said Million Belay, General Coordinator, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). A message strongly supported by Paola Leoncini Bartoli: "Food is at the intersection between culture and nature and has an important political and diplomatic significance. Investing in different cultures is fundamental and it is equally important to understand that health and climate go hand in hand,” she explained.

Education and creativity

Culture is not a static concept” said Brent Loken, Global Food Lead Scientist, WWF, a staunch supporter of the interconnections between food, health and culture, during the meeting. “We have a responsibility to communicate these concepts to people,” he added.  

This is by no means an easy task, as pointed out by Sophie Hieke, Head of Consumer Science at EUFIC, consumers tend to underestimate the environmental impact of their food choices and overestimate their goodness in terms of health. “We need to find more effective methods to improve people's willingness to change,” said the expert, explaining that the starting point must be education. “You are never too young to learn which diets are the best,” she concluded. Don Bustos, a Mexican farmer (Santa Cruz Farm) also agreed with these conclusions: “We must understand that we influence each other and educating people is the key to achieving a model in which local traditions are respected as well as health and the environment. It is a long journey, but the new double pyramid is an incredibly useful tool in this respect,” he reiterated. 

And if that's not enough, you can focus on creativity, as many great flavor-conscious chefs are doing today, without neglecting sustainability. “Our menu is purely plant-based, we try to reduce and diversify the types of meat and sources of protein, often using animal products as a side dish, thus overturning their traditional role”, explained the young Italian chef Chiara Pavan

Find out more about Food and sustainability

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