European citizens may have the choice of which food items to place in their carts, but not the system that produces the food. At present, there is no European food policy. What we eat is influenced by an incoherent set of agricultural, trade and environmental policies that act on three different levels (European, national and local) with low levels of participation by citizens and stakeholders.
In response, throughout many European cities, local initiatives are emerging for sustainable and democratic food systems. That said, how can these local initiatives be matured? How can they find the support of national and European institutions? In other words, how is it possible to put in policy act, sustainable food at every level? Thursday, 13 July, we addressed these questions at the Circolo dei Lettori (Circle of Readers) in Turin with: Olivier De Schutter (Co-chair of IPES Food and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food), Cinzia Scaffidi (Vice-president of Slow Food Italy), Luca Ferrero (ASCI Piedmont), Isabella De Vecchi (Panacea) and Tomaso Ferrando (Warwick University School of Law).
The event introduces the first Local Lab organized by IPES-Food, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, in collaboration with the International University College of Turin. The three main principles of IPES-Food and the ambitions of the meeting were defined by Olivier De Schutter in the following points: a) a multidisciplinary approach; b) a particular attention to power dynamics and how it is distributed within the food chain; c) the desire to involve not only experts (through Policy Labs) but also local actors to generate a bottom-up process of knowledge production and a better understanding of local dynamics in the European food system.
By combining these three elements, it is possible to conceive of transversal policies that confront some of the more significant problems when thinking of a food policy: a) identifying the appropriate levels of intervention (neighborhood, city, metropolitan city, regional, national territory, Europe); b) determining a balance between the desire to create an autonomous food system and the inevitability of inter-dependence between urban and rural; c) mapping and resolving possible conflicts between bottom-up processes and the will of the public administrations to institutionalize and integrate them into a more structured and regulated process.
Taking the floor, Olivier De Schutter explains the mission of IPES-Food as one that looks at food in a multidisciplinary, systemic and comprehensive manner. The constant dialogue between different areas and parts of the world helps to forge local, national and European participation and connections and to strengthen the diversity of experiences surrounding food. This is the direction to follow in building sustainable food systems, in addition to transforming the current European Common Agriculture Policy to a European Common Food Policy (or a European common policy on food in all its complexity). The latter campaign, launched by IPES-Food 18 months ago, continues to amass a growing collective mobilization.
The Vice President of Slow Food Italy, Cinzia Scaffidi, locates the starting point for building a local, national and European food policy in finding an agreement on what food represents and what functions it covers. All at one time, food is public health, ecology, landscape, economics and law: “we need to think about how many affiliations we have with food, the space it occupies in our daily lives and also in the construction of society surrounding it. Because, bearing in mind the increasing cases of food poverty, it is true that whatever we do, at the end of the day, we eat”. In order to define its functions, we need awareness and information. Only in this way can food take center place in all policies, from environmental to trade, and receive the attention of local and national authorities.
“To what extent can we talk about local food policies without considering global ones?” Thus begins Luca Ferrero, President of ASCI Piemonte (Association of Italian Countryside Solidarity). Peasant farming is part of a branch of the association that opted for choices that break from the standardization of food imposed by agro-industry. Still, small-scale production and sales are not sufficient to ensure accessibility to everyone and sustainability. Thus, the mere conscience of citizens is not sufficient. According to Ferrero, it is important to build awareness of individual responsibility of all those who interact with the food chain, and in particular, the consumers. This would result in the recognition of political value in the decisions and practices behind daily meals (from the presence or absence of chemical products used in its production to where one buys the food).
And it is exactly of practice that Isabella de Vecchi of Panacea speaks to us. Panacea is a cooperative and is the first bakery of Turin to highlight naturally leavened bread with flour coming from Filiera della Farina di Stupinigi, at the border of the city. The ‘flour chain’ has been established with the active participation of Coldiretti, the Natural Park of Stupinigi and six small scale farms that operate within its borders, a Cooperative in Piobesi, the mill in Roccati di Candia Canavese. The aim was to build a solid connection among all the participants to the chain so to guarantee its resilience, but also to have the possibility of utilizing traditional varieties of wheat and operating differently from the commercial players.
Despite obstacles faced by the project—including an economic one dictated by competitors’ market prices and the drivers of consumers’ choices —Panacea and the Filiera demonstrate that through cooperation and dialogue (including with the public sector) it is possible to think and implement local and ecological alternative, characterized by the return to ancient tradition, co-operation, sharing of knowledge with farmers and producers, and social integration and participation of workers through the cooperative. A thoughtful local policy could thus recognize the existence of these experiences and facilitate their consolidation, along with imagining other ways of linking the city and the countryside in a fruitful and ecological dialogue.