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by Sophie Durut
Tackling food wastage was a key theme of a ‘food and sustainability’ work stream, one of six work stream groups run from 20 to 23 July during the Caux conference on Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy. ‘There’s nothing more personal than eating,’ said Cristina Bignardi, an organic farmer from Bologna, Italy, who was the work stream leader. The food and sustainability work stream, now in its fourth year, emphasised that a paradigm shift concerning eating habits is slowly developing but is far from complete.
‘2014 will be the international year against food wastage,’ Bignardi said. ‘There is a huge need to confront the problem with an interdisciplinary and multicultural approach.’
Food is crucial to economic development. Europe, the USA and Canada waste a third of global food production, or 1.3 billion tonnes per year, Bignardi said. With these countries representing one seventh of the world’s population, ‘how many people could we feed with all this waste?’ she asked. She emphasised the extremes in the world with some people suffering famine and others having food abundance. However, she did not mention that famine is often due to a lack of food distribution and availability, rather than a lack of production. As the economist Amartya Sen has stressed, famine does not occur in a country where there is a free press and democracy.
Bignardi insisted on the responsibility that we all have in tackling wastage. When people throw away an outdated steak, they waste the energy used to feed cows. Farmers use fertilizers and forests have been cut down to breed cattle. ‘People must be conscious of the extent of wastage they produce,’ she continued. ‘When we waste food, we are wasting petrol and plastic as well.’
She also raised a social dilemma posed by responsible behaviour towards food wastage. ‘If we want to reduce wastage by 20 per cent,’ she said, ‘there is an impact on people working to make this food available: farmers, supermarkets, employees, people working in fast food chains. Twenty per cent of them could lose their jobs.’
To resolve this predicament, she suggested bringing together politicians, economists, and anyone who could find an alternative. Such a network was possible through the work stream, as people from different backgrounds gathered to ponder ideas about this social issue. The work stream promoted actions to increase individual awareness and to bring new alternatives to current consumption. Work stream participants agreed that food wastage was an individual responsibility as well as a collective one.
The tone then turned to academic concepts, including those of George Ritzer, author of The globalization of nothing. Globalisation, it was claimed, was first conceptualized as a notion based on Karl Marx’s study of the economic capitalist system. Bignardi defined globalisation as ‘the diffusion on a world level of practices, the expanding of relations across continents. This globalisation has striking consequences, such as a growth in marginalization because of the effects of globalisation on influence and profit.’
She linked capitalism with globalisation: ‘Capitalism has contributed to globalisation. Why? Because capitalist businesses have continued to expand in order to achieve their global ambitions.’ She illustrated this with the notion of ‘McDonaldization’, whereby efficiency and calculable factors have become global.
Bignardi’s talk provoked reactions for some of the audience. One participant remarked: ‘I liked her explanation about non-places such as McDonalds where there is a total loss of identity in food production. However, she turned a blind eye to the fact that some people simply do not have enough money to pay for a quality meal or fair trade food.’ Bignardi, however, emphasised that not all industrially processed food is bad. She also stressed the importance of Farmers’ Markets and the Slow Food movement in Italy, both of which guarantee fair incomes for farmers and good quality food at good prices for consumers.
Six Swiss farmers, members of an international Farmers’ Dialogue, emphasised that direct purchase from farmers, even at an extra cost, encourages the public to understand how much work goes into food processing, and would make them pay more attention to their daily food consumption.
The work stream invited the participants to help find solutions, by answering two questions: ‘In what way can I change my attitude towards food wastage?’ and ‘What answers can we give to change the productive logic that leads to food wastage?’ At the individual level, answers included: Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry; put only food that you need including balanced food in your shopping trolley; adapt your lifestyle with the food you buy. At a collective level, some suggested holding village campaigns against food wastage. Consumer choices could change the packaging of goods and the law on packaging. Consumers could also influence wasteful production patterns through their buying habits, and a group proposed that consumers be trained to defend themselves against sales techniques. The ubiquity of advertising was seen an important factor in pushing people into more food consumption, thus more food wastage.
Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, from Note Dame University, Lebanon, promoted an ‘interactive learning kitchen’ throughout the Caux conference. This promoted organic and fair trade products, local produce and cultural heritage, recycling, and daily recipes on each table to go with the conference menu. He encouraged the Caux conferences to use fair trade products, including tea and coffee. It would be contradictory for Caux not to do so, he said. Professor Bob Doherty, head of the department of business at Liverpool Hope University, who had been the first marketing director of the fair trade company Divine Chocolate, addressed the food and sustainability work stream following his plenary talk to the whole conference. (See Social entrepreneurship in the global economy)
In conclusion, participants agreed that they themselves all had good food saving habits but that it was important to influence wasteful production through their buying patterns.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'