Food for the mind: reflections on the world that feeds us

11 October 2020

A further five Food Talks released as part of the program of Terra Madre 2020.

Food for the mind and visions for the future.

Don Ciotti: “To address food and agricultural politics is, at last, to address politics for all, to protect the common good.”

Larissa Bombardi: “The area of Brazil being used to cultivate soy is bigger than Germany. And more than 90% of this soy is transgenic. The majority of this soy is exported, mostly to the EU and China.”

Food for the mind: Food Talks with Bombardi, Myint, Benavides, Frazee and Don Ciotti

Five more Food Talks to reflect on some of the most urgent issues facing the food system: profiles of all our contributors here.

Larissa Mies Bombardi – Soy and poison, from field to fork

With the globalization of the economy, the real value of food has been undermined, i.e., its value as both nutrition and culture. It’s been transformed into agro-energy, a commodity, a currency for international exchange. This has already happened in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, where a vast swathe of land is now dedicated to the production of commodity crops.

Today in Brazil there is an area of land greater than Germany which is used exclusively to grow soy. The impact is enormous: this monoculture requires a large quantity of pesticides, and it’s no coincidence that Brazil is the largest consumer of pesticides in the world, accounting for a fifth of the world total. The cultivation of soy in Brazil is a result of global meat consumption and contributes to the devastation of the Amazon rainforest.

More than 90% of this soy is transgenic and most of it is exported to the European Union and China: an environmental tragedy and also a human tragedy, if we remember that between 2007 and 2014 more than 40,000 were poisoned by agricultural pesticides.

Anthony Myint – A table-to-farm strategy

In the last ten years environmentalists have managed to obtain commitments from over 100 cities and countries to convert to 100% renewable energy sources. It’s incredible progress, and, using the same principles of collective action, we can change the concept of agriculture in the next ten years. We can do through a new approach, from table-to-farm: inverting the more commonly-used phrase.

After decades of hard work, organic agriculture still only represents 2% of the world’s agricultural land: we need a new and complimentary approach that starts at the table, but aimed at the farm, in order to convert the remaining 98%. We need to overcome the inertia that characterizes this extractive food system and change, in economic terms, the way that agricultural land and pastures are managed. Doing so is quite simple and even profitable for farmers: regenerative agriculture can represent a primary solution for our climate crisis, and could lead to a reduction in global temperatures. Pastures and regenerative agriculture offer a great source of economic wealth and social benefits for every dollar invested. But in order to make this change, we must adopt collective economic measures and take concrete action.

Sarah Frazee: Meat naturally

Why turn back to eating meat after 18 years as a vegetarian? Because eating the right type, and in the right quantity, could be the most appropriate choice that one can make in order to preserve rangeland, especially in Africa. The point is not simply to be vegetarian or not: it’s important to feed ourselves with nutritious food that appropriate for the ecosystem we live in, for the region we live in, making sure that the methods of food production are sustainable in the long-term and promote biodiversity.

How? With regenerative pastures, for example, that group animals together, moving them and grazing them under the supervision of a herder. Regenerative pastures can only spread if the population of Africa continues to eat meat that comes from farms which try to imitate the natural ecosystem, avoiding industrially-produced meat. We must find a way to make an increase in human protein consumption sustainable, by supporting those working to spread regenerative pastures.

Don Luigi Ciotti: Criminality in the food system, the struggle against the agro-mafias

According to the latest report on agro-mafias in Italy, there are around 450,000 people who work in exploitative conditions in the agricultural sector. Of these, around 130,000 are in conditions that amount to slavery. There are around 27 criminal gangs involved, with a combined yearly income of around €25 billion, and increase of 12.4% in the year 2019 alone. But speaking about agro-mafias means widening the horizon beyond metayage and sharecropping; we must fight agro-piracy and protect our food heritage from fraud. Organized crime in the agricultural sector threatens to control and influence the entire food system.

It’s a criminal system that involves money laundering, the black and gray markets, loan sharking, and the direct control of food markets and attempts to influence prices.

We must remind politics of its responsibility, demand more effective mechanisms of control of the food we eat, put certification systems into action that provide transparency to the productive process. We must demand adequate food policies that are shared and interconnected with the environment, agriculture, education, health, the economy and justice.

Marianeli Torres Benavides: Water – A Common Good

No living being, no society can survive without water, yet 2.3 billion people across the world are denied access to this most vital of resources: that’s 30% of the world population who do not have guaranteed access to water. Our worldwide water security is at risk. This primary common good is under threat. Why?

Deforestation, destruction of ecosystems which are vital for the water cycle, the melting of ice caps and glaciers… the issue also regards water grabbing and the privatization of water resources, and naturally there’s contamination of water resources by the agricultural sector, extractive activities, mass tourism and urban waste management. To change course we need the commitment of everyone: water is the source of all life, a good we must care for and protect in all ecosystems, restoring the water cycle and the vitality of nature.