October 6, 2022

What truths can emerge from the Italian food system summit?

This article originally appeared as part of our Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up for sustainable food news in your inbox every Thursday.

at the beginning of this year I received an unusual invitation. Sharon CitroneA long-standing food and food technology contributor I’d never crossed paths before suddenly popped up in my inbox. She asked if I wanted to come to the food system for a new summit and her consulting firm. Edible Planet Ventures Co-hosted with central Italy’s Umbria region.

I will spend four days meeting 150 food and agriculture experts from around the world, envisioning a new charter for working towards a more sustainable and equitable food system. and visit the region’s sustainable producers.

I’m a bit skeptical about initiatives focused on writing a new charter and sustainability framework. It seems to me that we have a lot of plans. And it should take time to implement major changes in regenerative agriculture, food waste, food change. and food justice, which many people agree on.

But because of the key role my role at GreenBiz has developed through understanding the trends and challenges in this sector, So it seemed like the perfect learning opportunity. So I enthusiastically replied “Yes!” to Sharon and traveled there last week.

This group includes activists, artists, entrepreneurs, investors, journalists, farmers, politicians and consultants. We work across the food system. From biotechnology to food sovereignty regenerative agriculture to indoor farming food service to policy formulation and plant protein to food waste

While Cittone spoiled us with a magical dining experience and a beautiful setting. She made us work hard. We explore how each part works. which are still lacking and discover opportunities for cross-pollination

It will take a few weeks for our discussions to be compiled in the final charter. But I’ll share when I’m ready. Even if we make good faith efforts I don’t expect it to be a framework that will eventually fix the food system. Still, it’s a powerful process. (And sometimes it hurts) that left me with three key points.

1. Let’s stop arguing.

As a general expert on food systems I have noticed a growing hatred between different food and agriculture working groups. Those tensions were real in Umbria as well.

I have seen indoor agriculture take seriously the soil health conflict. Some beef reform advocates canceled all trips because they thought the crop-based crowd was too much. Health experts challenge cultivated meat investors to raise food safety standards.

Although some skepticism is helpful. And the discussion has a valid point. But most of the conflict stems from the competitive nature of the food industry. People value their work and do not immediately engage with their peers outside of their networks.

The feeling of scarcity also caused tension. interest of the funder policy maker and consumers are rare. Instead of cataloging solutions From reducing food waste to carbon farming This is important for building a better overall food system. Each camp seems to be fighting for its own survival, yet uniting in systematic advocacy and education can make everyone better.

2. Let’s be honest with our work.

More collaboration must be less bragging, whether it’s cows, vertical farms, compost, small farmers. or a food scientist alone. It won’t change climate change or save the world. But today, single-hero storytelling prevails in hundreds of press releases flooding my inbox every week. as well as news sites social media conversation and industry webinars.

It’s refreshing to see a more detailed debate in Italy. At the end of our two-day workshop Each group presents a short lesson learned. Many begin with a more concrete and collaborative vision of their role.

For many, regenerative agriculture contains too many ifs, mays and coulds to serve as a serious alternative to the status quo.

Cultivated meat groups reject a narrative that wants to completely replace animal husbandry. It stated truthfully that the sector is unlikely to gain more than 20 percent of its market share. The plant-based segment makes a difference in the diet changes they are making. They talk about anti-protein overload in the United States and other Western countries, instead focusing on the cultural and nutritional value of the product.

I’d love to see more contrasts and breaking legends. We need to identify potential uncertainty and the limitations of each solution clearly. This will make the food system community as a whole more friendly and cooperative. and help outsiders to allocate support more efficiently.

3. Let’s create a more complex measure of success.

Productivity and profits have dominated today’s mainstream agricultural ambitions to the detriment of hard-to-measure metrics needed for human and planetary health. These new indicators include biodiversity, resilience, community well-being, labor rights, local pollution. and food sovereignty The overemphasis on productivity has silenced the involvement of food and agriculture practitioners with more holistic traditions, worldviews and experiences. especially indigenous peoples and smallholder farmers in the southern part of the world.

As the climate crisis escalates Adopting alternative practices can be daunting and risky. Kasetsart is an example of such a challenge. Compared to intensive farming which results in high yields and high profits. The contract will have many social, economic and environmental benefits that are difficult to quantify. but tends to yield lower returns The general carbon logic states that we need to protect crops above all to prevent encroachment on farms in native ecosystems because converting them to farmland releases a lot of carbon.

A visit to the 2,000-acre organic and more revitalized farm on the final day of the summit gave fodder for thought on this question. After experiencing severe drought-related harvest losses for the past two years, farm owner Marco Minciaroni works for resilience and rotation with the primary focus of managing his farm.

Minciaroni acknowledged that agricultural practices such as biodiversity band planting hedging and ground cover plants The use of traditional seed and reduced tillage tends to reduce yield per acre and his harvest. But he believes investing in soil health. water retention And pollination will improve his long-term success under more extreme conditions.

[Interested in learning how we can transform food systems to equitably and efficiently feed a more populous planet while conserving and regenerating the natural world? Check out the VERGE 22 Food Program, taking place in San Jose, CA, Oct. 25-28.]

He also experimented with intercropping. This means that he grows wheat and lentils in the same field. and plans to combine chicken and wild asparagus with his olive grove. when calling These practices will increase the overall productivity of his farm.

For many, Minciaroni’s and other farmers’ experiences in regenerative agriculture are conditional, feasible. and too much capacity to be a serious choice for the status quo. What if their hopes don’t come true and we end up in global starvation beyond the climate crisis?

I have that fear too. But I also thought what would happen if we didn’t. What are the risks and costs of not investing in these options? Aside from the many summit attendees, I don’t think we’ve analyzed enough about what happens if we don’t optimize for our mutual benefit. Or at least it hasn’t been considered. all evidenceAgricultural methods will not be a viable option for all farms everywhere, but many will benefit from review and restructuring of success measures.

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