Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet, www.nourishingtheplanet.com
“Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group” is a new regular series where we profile advisors ofthe Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we’re featuring Shayna Bailey, who is Director of International Development for Slow Food International.”
Bio: Shayna Bailey is Director of International Development for Slow Food International. She works on organizational development, strategic partnerships, and resource mobilization at Slow Food’s international headquarters in Italy. She has a M.A. in Sustainable Development and a B.A. in International Business, and has worked on and managed Community-Supported Agriculture programs in the U.S. states of California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as in St. Croix. Bailey has researched perceptions of food security with Quichua women in the Ecuadorian Andes and has studied ecological horticulture at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She represents Slow Food in the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty and is involved in planning the 4th meeting of Terra Madre – World Meeting of Food Communities, to be held in October 2010.
On Nourishing the Planet: Nourishing the Planet is an important opportunity to show the world that there are effective alternatives to solving the problems of hunger and poverty that are already in practice, and are replicable on a larger scale. Many of these innovations are not well known to diverse and international audiences. This project gives visibility to lesser-known sustainable approaches that tackle some of the most critical and complex issues of our time. Nourishing the Planet will surely shift policymakers’, development workers’, and ordinary citizens’ perspectives on what it will take to decrease hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
Slow Food International states that it works to counteract fast food and fast life by bringing together pleasure and responsibility to make them inseparable. Can you give specific examples of how Slow Food does this?
Fast food and fast life create a gap between us and our food. There is less time to savor the tastes of the seasons and the joy of food shared in company. We eat to fill our stomachs, without thinking of the implications. Slow Food works to create a broad cultural shift in the relationship people around the world have with the food they eat. Pleasure is important to our daily food rituals. Responsibility without pleasure does not encourage us to enjoy mealtimes, to preserve our cultural traditions, or to value and appreciate our food. Pleasure without responsibility, however, is negligent. Our disconnection with food results in a negative impact on environment, economy, culture, and health.
Our decisions about purchasing and consuming food have a direct effect on the food production and supply chain. For example, the demand for artificially ‘cheap’ food on the market means: that our food is unfairly sourced from low-paid labor and, often, is inspected under questionable standards of quality; that varieties of fruits and vegetables are favored for their ease of transportation instead of for their vitamin and mineral content; that we produce enough food in the world for 12 billion people when we have a global population of less than 7 billion, meaning that we waste almost half of all food produced while 1 billion people go hungry; that our children eat food at school that causes diet-related diseases and obesity; and, that, as a result, we spend millions on health care and environmental clean-up to address these externalized costs of our food system.
The concept of making pleasure and responsibility inseparable permeates all of Slow Food’s programs-from raising awareness through workshops and connecting consumers directly to food producers, to supporting small-scale farmers in creating a sustainable product that also has great taste quality and preserves culture, to teaching children that the sweetest carrot they have ever tasted comes not from a plastic bag in the supermarket, but right from their own garden.
Can you explain how preserving biodiversity helps improve quality of life and save communities and cultures?
Biodiversity in our food systems leaves us less vulnerable to climatic changes, to economic crises, to the homogenization of cultures, and to public health epidemics. Just as you would diversify your investment portfolio to manage financial risk, biodiversity in food and agriculture minimizes threats to these systems and lessens the impact of negative influences. The genetically uniform crop of potatoes planted and consumed in the 1840s greatly exacerbated the Irish potato famine, which killed 1 million people and caused the emigration of a million more. The blight that struck Europe would not have had such a terrible impact on the potato crop in Ireland if a diversity of potatoes had instead been planted.
Indigenous cultures are often the custodians of biodiversity, preserving not only traditional seed varieties but also diverse agricultural practices. This knowledge can serve to mitigate and adapt to adverse environmental changes that complicate the cycle of hunger and poverty. Some traditional communities use more than 200 different species in their diets, while the average community in developed countries uses a maximum of 30. These 30 food species, out of 7,000 domesticated species that have spanned the history of agriculture, account for 90 percent of our daily diets. Over the last 100 years, 75 percent of our food crops have disappeared. Agricultural systems that are rich in biodiversity increase food security and improve nutrition for communities, while protecting soil fertility and providing pollinators-essential for food production-with healthy ecosystems.
What are some of the fairs, events, and markets you organize to foster greater connection between producers and co-producers? What is the value in creating this connection?
The idea of ‘responsibility’ is demonstrated in Slow Food’s use of the word ‘co-producer’ as opposed to consumer. Instead of passively making food choices, a co-producer makes educated decisions about the food they eat and, when possible, actively supports the people who produce their food. Slow Food organizes initiatives around the world to directly link producers and co-producers, including Salone del Gusto, Earth Markets, educational projects, and thousands of events by our local chapters (convivia) comprised of 100,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food is also growing regional networks out of Terra Madre, a global network of food producers, cooks, academics, and youth, to create this cultural shift and grow sustainable food systems on national and regional levels.
This direct link between producers and co-producers is important since, in the United States for example, 91 cents of every dollar spent on food goes to middlemen for packaging, shipping, transportation, and marketing, while only 9 cents goes to the farmer. By shortening the supply chain, consumers pay less and eat better, and farmers earn a fair wage. Besides the obvious economic and health values, this connection also reinforces positive community development, preserves local cultural practices, and educates consumers on the realities of where their food comes from and from whom.
Do you see any connection or potential connection between the “slow food” or “whole food” movements in the United States and Europe, and the work that Slow Food is doing internationally? Why should consumers in the United States care about preserving biodiversity or food traditions in Uganda, for example?
In many ways, consumers are now facing similar food-system issues in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Lack of access to food that is healthy and fresh is not only happening in the neighborhoods of Yaoundé, but also in the food deserts of North America. Over-nutrition is a problem now in sub-Saharan Africa, right alongside under-nutrition, and both can be caused by poverty. People who have migrated to urban areas are eating foods that are low in nutritional value, and, consequently, are fighting diabetes and other diet-related diseases.
There are parents in every country who want their kids to eat good food at school, and gardens on school grounds are growing in every corner of the globe. Engaging the next generation of farmers, and ensuring that they have the skills and the markets to make a living, is another common thread of concern. Nearly everyone we speak with agrees that it is increasingly difficult to slow down and share a meal with friends and families, and that we are forgetting our cultural and culinary heritage.
The effort to feed the world almost exclusively by an industrial approach to food production and consumption is demonstrating its inadequacy in terms of health, environmental, economic, and cultural consequences. Consumers in the United States should care about preserving biodiversity and food traditions in Uganda because they are faced with the same dilemmas at home, because we can learn from one another to improve the situation, and because many American agricultural and trade policies, not to mention cultural influences, have had-and continue to have-a huge negative impact on less-developed nations’ food systems. It goes back to the concept of pleasure and responsibility: we cannot enjoy our food and ignore the system that produced it. In the end, that system affects us all.