Every time we lift our fork to our mouth, we do so with blind faith toward the products we have on our plate. The hygiene of food supply chains is ever more guaranteed by stringent protocols, the careful management of the cold chain, rules and laws that regulate products’ expiry dates (often when they are still edible, but the principles of safety demand caution), as well as by widespread teachings on correct food management. We expect this level of care from producers and restaurateurs, in the same way that we try to practice it ourselves, at home, painstakingly cleaning fruit and veg, being attentive to how we keep animal products in the fridge, or choosing shops, manufacturers, and brands that we trust. Less often, however, we think about what we eat in a systemic, integrated manner. Provenance, carbon footprint, seasonality, impact compared to other products, the social effect of a crop, the damage caused to biodiversity in the land of origin, logistical management, packaging, nutritional value, the psychophysical impact of consuming a product… This is not an easy process, which would often require the consumer to have one or two additional degrees, especially considering the remarkable number of “factoids” and fake news on the topic of food (from superfoods to diets, from the exaggerated estimates of the most radical vegans to the greenwashing performed by so many brands on the shelves of major supermarkets).
Rethinking food systems from an integrated perspective
And yet, rethinking food systems from an integrated, One Health perspective, tying together biological (soil erosion and biodiversity), geographic (deforestation, climate change), social (health, labour exploitation, low-cost consumption – much worse than simple fast food), economic (the grabbing of natural resources, such as water), and even cultural (food porn, wellness trends, etc.) phenomena, is now vital to heal this particularly distorted system. Currently, although enough food is made to feed the entire global population, there are still almost 500 million people who are malnourished, with 9 million dying of hunger each year. Meanwhile, 1.9 billion people are overweight or obese.
To feed humanity, the system contributes to the destruction of that biodiversity which is crucial for infinite services, from clean water to the molecules used in medicine, from soil fertility to the capacity to absorb CO2. Additionally, to pursue gourmet trends or enchanted by the ravenous meat industry, the food chain destabilises the climate in ways that, first of all, impact the resilience of agri-food systems. The list of problems could go on for pages and pages, like those of the many books that address these topics in minute detail.
But only an economy of knowledge can be sustainable. Talking about things is vital to rethink the assumptions of contemporary society and translate them into a shared language.
The new RM issue on food systems
Renewable Matter does this: it does not just present problems, it tackles the issue in a cross-discipline way, offering scientific considerations, practical solutions, and new perspectives to face the myriad questions concerning the full circularity of food systems. This is exactly the same goal set by the Food Systems Summit that will be held in September in New York, important preliminary work for which took place in Rome. This will be the first United Nations event to tackle the issue of food in a systemic way. Complex problems require concrete solutions, explains Agnes Kalibata, UN Special Envoy for the Summit, who gave an exclusive interview to Renewable Matter.
To present an issue that can leave a circular, systemic mark on the topic of Food Systems, Renewable Matter and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo have once again joined forces to explore concrete thoughts and innovations to offer the many stakeholders in the agri-food sector. In this issue, we present new perspectives to tackle the issue of soil regeneration with a great guest writer, the journalist Koen van Seijen, host of the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food podcast, who offers a true 360° view of the topic. Charles Mann, author of the book The Wizard and the Prophet, delves into a key theme – technocratic approach vs. systemic approach – offering a series of unmissable insights. Insights that would have behoved the drafting of Europe’s Recovery and Resilience Plans, funded by NextGenerationEU, which are too skewed toward a technological, infrastructure-based approach and disinclined to endorse more circular actions, as Cinzia Scaffidi tells us. To help us understand what alternatives exist to traditional food systems, Antonella Totaro dives deep into an exploration of the wine, dairy, and olive oil sectors, where a solid host of innovators are steadily rethinking old ways. Giorgia Marino also provides an extremely interesting insight into the world of fungi: food, neo-material, and super-sentient life form.
Furthermore, we have given space to the most radical visions, from rethinking cuisine in a circular light to hi-tech cultural innovations (which, for better or worse, must be closely observed), all the way to new narratives in food sustainability, with an interview to young influencer Giorgia Pagliuca. We hope these issue will help you next time you lift up your fork: perhaps, as well as making your mouth water, you will also start thinking more deeply, because eating is a political act.