Food sustainability, an obligation on the table

Christmas is synonymous with family gatherings around a table.

27 December 2022 Tuesday 14:38
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Food sustainability, an obligation on the table

Christmas is synonymous with family gatherings around a table. Consistent meals, products that we eat infrequently and exaggerated amounts. But although they are extraordinary and festive lunches and dinners, we can make them more sustainable with responsible consumption of products and reducing food waste. An exercise that we would not have to apply only for Christmas. All year round we need to think carefully about our menus to avoid a negative impact on our health and the environment.

This issue has been discussed in Dialogues in La Vanguardia with Carmel Mòdol, Secretary of Food of the Generalitat de Catalunya; Álvaro Porro, director of the Barcelona City Council World Capital for Sustainable Food project, and Rocío Torres, EY sustainability manager.

Before sitting at the table these holidays we need to make the effort to think about the menu and the portions. Carmel Mòdol recalls that “we have to think about a reasonable menu, that diners leave happy and satisfied and that at the end of the meal we don't have too much food left over. And let's be clear that everything that may be left over can be used to make other food products. It is a mental exercise, thinking about the menu and the portions. And for example, if we have leftover nougat because we are fed up, remember that it is a product that can last all year and is always a good resource for final desserts. We can, without spoiling the party, be more reasonable.

Álvaro Porro adds: “The first thing we have to think about is how we will enjoy that meal. Christmas is a special day. The balance of the alimentary system is not based on that day. We don't have to just get fussy for parties. The important thing is the rest of the days of the year. We have to ask ourselves if we eat seasonal and local products, if we eat too much animal protein, if we can eat less sugar and less processed”. Rocío Torres insists that "the seasonal product is a good option for a sustainable meal". In the end, we look back again. Our grandparents and grandmothers already consumed what they played when they played, and it was local. Let's go in parts.

Before setting the table, we plan the menu coherently. We count diners and their preferences well. We calculate the portions well to avoid buying an excess of food. Buying more is the gateway to the food we throw away. We would have to plan a light menu, with a reduction in animal protein and an increase in vegetable protein. Meat and fish are usually common products in Christmas recipes, but we can choose to increase the presence of fruits and vegetables. It is essential to be sustainable.

Once we have decided what we will do for lunch or dinner, we preferably buy local products. We have to choose local products and seasonal foods. It is the way to be responsible with the environment and reduce economic spending. "Proximity is a very easy path," recalls Mòdol. “It is time to learn what the food chain is. We don't have too much food. There are parts of the world where they are more vulnerable from a food point of view than from an energy point of view. But we are not aware of it, ”says the representative of the Generalitat.

Although not all the responsibility falls on the consumer, it can be decisive. And here the concept of Sherlock Holmes appears. Users do not know everything, nor can we dedicate our time, scarce, to investigate if that product is local, seasonal and if it has been produced following sustainable processes. Álvaro Porro believes that “right now there is confusion. We cannot expect the change in the food system to come hand in hand, only by consumers. Individual decisions in each purchase will help. But it is necessary to regulate the markets. As is done in other sectors. It is a path that is not easy, but we cannot shrink”.

From the Generalitat, Mòdol defends the regulation, but “with a certain flexibility and always leaving the citizen who has the last word or decision. We can decant to generate better practices, but the final freedom has to be had by the citizens, who have to be well informed”. In addition, our consumption habits can also influence the decisions of companies in the sector. “We have the power to change the practices of companies with a little awareness. If we express that we want the system to change, that we want companies to respect the environment and human rights, we will achieve it. In fact, many companies already have ambitious sustainability strategies and goals,” warns Torres.

We've already decided what we're going to do for lunch on Christmas Day. However, where do we buy the raw material? Álvaro Porro has it clear: in the local trade. “Supermarkets have marketing strategies so that you buy what is next to the box and was not on your shopping list. We trust in local businesses, in the staff who can guide and advise us on the virtues of each food”.

For now, the public trusts. In Barcelona alone, six out of ten residents buy fresh produce in local markets and stores. With this bet we will not only help local commerce, we will also contribute to making our primary sector more sustainable, which suffers, and beautifully, the shortcomings of the system. Carmel Mòdol explains that in Europe, “based on competition law, legislation is not favored for a sector, the primary sector, which is strategic for us. From the field of competition they tell us 'no, you can't enter here', and that's why we have to go on lead feet”.

However, Europe has good initiatives. Álvaro Porro explains the From the Farm to the Fork project, which establishes that by 2030, 25% of European agricultural production will have to be organic and the use of agrochemicals will have to be halved. In Catalonia, with regard to production, we have already met it: we are at 30% if we take pastures into account. Rocío Torres explains the EU Due Diligence directive that will require companies to prevent and mitigate the adverse effects of their activities on human rights and the environment. This directive affects both companies and their value chain inside and outside the EU.

Once the purchase of the products that will be part of our Christmas meal has finished, it is important that we transport the food carefully and store it correctly. We put those that expire first more within reach and we respect the cold chains so that no product is spoiled.

And now we come to the heart of the food system: waste. All the remains can be a resource for other elaborations. We think of cannelloni or croquettes, for example. Unfortunately, the figures show that each Catalan wastes, on average, 35 kilos of food a year. Or what is the same, about 90 grams a day, almost a daily yogurt. That is equivalent to 7% of the total food purchased. The forecasts of the international authorities are still far away. Among the sustainable development goals that the UN has set for 2030 is to halve per capita food waste.

In Catalonia, the basis for combating this scourge is already there, but it must be developed. Two years ago the law against food waste was approved. But with the outbreak of the pandemic, it has gone unnoticed and has remained pending deployment. By the end of the first quarter of 2023, the deployment of the standard is expected to be completed.

Among the measures planned is the obligation of restaurants to provide a lunch box for diners to take away food that has not finished. It also imposes a series of obligations on all agents in the food chain, with the corresponding sanctions. The companies that are dedicated to the distribution of food will have to have a plan for the prevention of food losses and waste and report annually.

Álvaro Porro believes that “Catalan law is good. Now it is necessary to make the deployment regulations and assess, then, if it has an impact or not ”. Beyond the legislation, we also have to be creative and bet on giving second chances to some products or giving them a new life. Rocío Torres gives us an example: “Cashews grow on a tree and inside a kind of apple that until now was hardly used for anything. Now there are initiatives that are studying using it for animal feed or composting.” The problem of food waste is not only related to our practices when consuming. Prices also have a lot to do with it. Now we are in full food inflation. Many families suffer to fill the shopping basket. They have other problems or priorities, especially housing, and have stopped investing in food. The figures show it: family spending on food has fallen by 65% ​​in the last six decades. "We have to see what kind of income support we can do, market policies to favor the most vulnerable families," says Porro. For Mòdol, “citizens are the beginning and the end of all things, they are the ones who choose. We have to put public resources where the citizens want to commit their future”.

We think of a more local, more sustainable, safer food system that guarantees territorial balance. We teach from a very young age the importance of a good diet. There are projects, such as the Barcelona City Council, Menjadors Sans i and Sostenibles, which are already working. It is about fifty schools in the city that understand the dining room as another space for learning. It is one of many projects of the first Strategy for a Sustainable and Healthy Food City 2030 recently presented and led by the City Council, but with the participation of businesses, peasants, restaurants, schools, universities... to which Porro encourages both adherence companies and entities as well as citizens.

According to the FAO, the food sector is also one of the protagonists of climate change. Gas emissions from agriculture and livestock exceed those from transport and are only behind energy. One third of world food production is thrown away. That is, 1,300 million tons per year. With this scenario, sustainability is no longer a fashion or trend, it should be an obligation. One of the star gifts of these parties.



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