Worldwatch Institute (Washington, DC)

25 June 2012

Africa: Eating Planet - Carlo Petrini Discusses Buying Food and Paying for Your Values

press release

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. The event is full but please tune in on the 28th via livestream: we will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

In a chapter introduction for Eating Planet - Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet - the newly released book from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition - International Slow Food Movement founder Carlo Petrini discusses what paying a fair price means, and why it's important for the sustainability of the world's food supplies.

Petrini begins by explaining that sustainability means the plans we make, both in terms of individual and higher-level actions, must be able to last over the long term and on many different levels, taking into account social, economic, and environmental factors. With its many impacts on these factors, he says, food is crucial to sustainability as a whole.

According to Petrini, what we eat, including the time and money we put into it, is an investment in both our health and the state of the environment. He says it also reflects a certain set of values that can have strong implications for sustainability. These values may be the bottom line of overall profits, or longer term considerations like protecting the health of ecosystems and the livelihoods of our food producers. Petrini argues that the values inherent in our food should be included in their price, especially after accounting for what these values contribute to the sustainability of the planet.

Petrini believes that abundant and healthful - and ultimately sustainable - food supplies depend on fertile soil and biodiversity that links climates with appropriate crops. We must therefore, he says, value agriculture that respects the natural settings in which it operates. Farmers play a central role in this as both the producers of our food and stewards of the land on which it is grown - what Petrini calls farmers' "multifunctionalism." According to Petrini, "Farmers should be repaid for the many services that they perform for society and for the earth, not just for the products that they put on the market. This money pays for certain values, not just for the price of a product."

In this multifunctional role, Petrini explains how farmers also contribute to the physical beauty of the land they use, and how this has implications for sustainability. Caring for physical environments, he says, ensures not only their health and wellbeing, but their beauty, as well. In this way, ethics and aesthetics in the context of sustainability are essentially one and the same. Farmers are responsible for both the beauty and wellbeing of the land used for food production, and this is a service, Petrini argues, for which they should be compensated when consumers buy the food they grow.

In addition to his discussion of food prices and values, Petrini includes several additional recommendations to help achieve a more sustainable food system. In light of how much food is wasted every year, he states that slightly less food should actually be produced, and that what is produced needs to be of higher nutritional value. Food should also be distributed intelligently, with production and consumption spread more evenly across the globe and occurring on a more localized level.

Petrini points out that consumers increasingly support paying for their values when purchasing food, but that political systems still largely view agriculture as its own entity separate from any values other than making a profit. Despite a lack of change at the policy level, Petrini asserts that our individual choices are still crucial to deciding how our food is produced. He says that though what we eat is an everyday decision, it "is actually a decision that has the power to change the world."

Marlena White is a research intern for Nourishing the Planet.

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