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Food and sustainability

Eating Planet: food, health and sustainability for people and for the Planet

The BCFN Foundation presented the second edition of Eating Planet in Milan and New York It is generally believed that the greatest impact on the environment is from the cars we drive and the energy we use to heat our homes. In fact, food production contributes to climate change, accounting for 31% of total emissions, exceeding the levels of impact from both domestic heating emissions (24%) and transport systems (18%).
Our food choices, therefore, play a key role in protecting the planet: since 1960, emissions from the agri-food system have more than doubled.
As highlighted by the second edition of Eating Planet - Food and sustainability: building our future by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation and published by Edizioni Ambiente (launched on 18th February in Italy and 22nd in New York), adopting a diet that meets the recommendations of the double food and environmental pyramid – a model that emphasizes how the Mediterranean diet benefits both people and the Planet – is one of the first steps on the road to safeguarding both the environment and our health.

 Through four pillars of analysis, Eating Planet offers an interpretation of food as a transversal element in life, from the economy to health, from sustainability to traditions, and puts forward an alternative model that creates a constant link between human well-being, and that of the planet.

 Economy and society
In order to best capture the situation, BCFN Foundation researchers have developed two Indices, which are explained in the book Eating Planet. These Indices are used in conjunction with GDP (which only quantifies economic welfare, without calculating social inequalities or the state of the environment), to analyze and measure food-related aspects and their impact on quality of life. Indeed, food and nutrition have a direct and indirect effect on the status of people’s wellbeing. Food choices affect the health of adults and children (as a direct cause or source of the onset of illness, or with a protective effect in relation to certain diseases) as well as affecting the environment, being responsible for the consumption and exploitation of natural resources. There is also an impact on the sphere of social activity, such as conviviality and time spent preparing and consuming meals. This framework provokes considerations on the concept of wellbeing (which cannot be reduced merely to its economic characteristics) and the implementation of actions to influence decision-making of a public nature, thus helping to redefine the social, political, economic and environmental conditions in which people live.

 Sustainability
But the theme of food cannot be separated from that of sustainability. With this in mind, the first issue to be addressed is that of protecting our soil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25% of the planet's soil is severely damaged, and only 10% is showing some signs of improvement. In the last 40 years alone, 30% of arable land has become unproductive. And yet, simple solutions like increasing the diversity of crops, instead of focusing only on soy and corn, would help restore the nutrients in soils and help farmers from both large and small scale businesses to increase their yield per hectare. There is also the issue that, in less than 10 years’ time, in 2025, there will be 3 million people without access to drinking water resources. Yet today, 70% of fresh water consumption goes to agricultural and food production. The latter activity has a 31% impact on total greenhouse gas emissions.

 Health
These issues appear event more alarming if – as evidenced in the book – we take into account the impact on global nutrition: in 2050 the world population will reach about 9 and a half billion people, and this will require an increase in agricultural production of 70%. What can be done to meet this requirement? The two issues – nutrition and sustainability - cannot be addressed without considering that our food choices have a clear effect on the environment (as well as on our health). This is why, in the new edition of Eating Planet, BCFN presents an updated version of the double food and environmental pyramid – a model for evaluating the nutritional aspects of foods in connection with the environmental impact caused by food production and consumption – which takes into account both the nutritional needs of children and adolescents and the customs of foreign citizens living in Italy.

 Culture
The new edition of Eating Planet also examines the connections between food, culture and traditions; an analysis of how food choices vary from country to country, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean diet.
 The report also portrays Italy as a country that is losing its good eating habits. In our country there is growing tendency to abandon the Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables and low in meat, in favour of other dietary patterns and food that requires a higher consumption of water during production. "Yet our food choices are critical to the future of the planet," says Ellen Gustafson, activist and co-founder of the organisation for sustainable agriculture, Food Tank, and The 30 Project. She continues: "We eat at least three times a day, and every choice we make sends a message to companies about what to produce, so it's important to select foods that have the smallest environmental impact possible".

 "There is still a long way to go; we must continue to reflect on issues related to food, even after Expo,” said Guido Barilla, President of the BCFN Foundation. “The correlation between food choices, health and wellbeing of the planet is not obvious to everyone, and we must work towards focusing on this type of information. The BCFN will continue to produce literature and analyses offering perspectives that are not only new and scientifically valid, but also concrete solutions for the sustainability of the agro-food system".
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