Sunday, April 13, 2008

Slow food, movement connects food production with consumption

Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement was in Brussels this week to launch the European Parliament's first Slow Food 'convivium.'

He argued that local producers have become an endangered species. With 85% of Europe's agricultural production in the hands of five companies, we are losing the connection between food consumption and its production.

This also has implications for the developing world: Mangroves are cleared to farm shrimps for western pizzas; a sustainable life for fishers on Lake Victoria is devastated as the fish are harvested to feed Europe.

The Slow Food Movement is centered around an understanding of gastronomy - knowledge of food production and preparation. Its manifesto is about:
  • education about nutrition
  • defending biodiversity
  • constructing a direct relationship with producers
  • preserving quality and farming
  • supporting a local economy
In Africa, Petrini argued that local gastronomy needs to be re-discovered. The first priority should be to grow food - instead of just producing exports. Slow food has been taken up in Senegal and Ethiopia.

When pressed whether there is a danger that promoting local sourcing of goods - in Europe - will damage existing livelihoods in developing countries, he stressed that Slow Food is not a religion but an approach. There is no need to banish pineapple from the diet just because it isn't grown locally. The key to slow food is an appreciation of the way the food is produced and a link with the producer.

He stressed the global impact of our disrepect for food and agriculture. Current riots in Haiti and elsewhere brought about by food price rises are directly caused by the use of good food crops to make oil for energy. In the past, intensive maize production in the USA had led to maize dumping in Mexico and destruction of the local maize economy. Now there's an 'oil' market for excess US maize production, the maize isn't available for Mexico. It's own maize production was decimated, now it can't afford to buy maize to eat.

Our shifting habits of eating also give rise to concern. On average, each Belgian eats 100 kg of meat a year. Producing this meat requires feed for animals, hence 65% of farming is to grow cereals for animals. If China's population were to eat the same amount of meat, 5 planets could not grow the cereals needed to feed the animals.

He pointed out that we now conserve biodiversity in a concrete bunker in a glacier in Norway, when we should conserve the biodiversity that's in the hands of peasants who grow crops.

All of this is consumer driven. If the attitudes of consumers are changed, production will change. "Eating is the first act of agriculture."

Summing up, he explained that Slow Food combines the pleasure of food with the knowledge that it did not cost the environment.

Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.It has over 80,000 members.

Related story: At the February 2008 Brussels Development Briefing, Benito Müller strongly criticized ‘food miles’ as an example where environmental concerns can harm development efforts.

story by Chris Addison