For most people, food constitutes the major issue in the life of every day. Through the daily activities they perform to procure it, they express their ability to relate to the environment and with their peers, their way to give meaning to their existence, and a mirror of their culture.

Nico Zardo

Together with air and water, food is the element that has marked the civilization of mankind. Reading its history reveals the results of an activity lasting thousands of years whereby plant and animal species have been gradually domesticated and food habits unified on a world scale. Evolution was sustainable as long as relations and size proportions between cities and the countryside maintained an acceptable balance through a dialogue that respected and shared seasonality, the quality of the production and consumption of food, supported by cultural traditions that guaranteed the quality of the food itself. The ways and times with which the planet’s natural resources have been exploited in the last decades have seriously endangered the possibility of regeneration of the environmental needs on which the wellness of its inhabitants depends. The globalization of production systems and demographic trends that for 2050 envision the presence of 9 billion people on our planet impose serious reflections on the need to reconsider the sustainability of all the aspects that involve the relationship between man/food and the environment.

THE BARILLA CENTER FOR FOOD & NUTRITION (BCFN), for several years committed to facing this issue in organic fashion, has elaborated - with the collaboration of international experts belonging to different disciplines - a plan celled the Milan Protocol that, on the occasion of EXPO 2015, proposes possible guidelines to institutions, companies and to civil society as a whole in order to meet this challenge. “It is absurd”, writes Guido Barilla, president of BCFN, presenting the Milan Protocol, “that today there is abundant food for everyone, but hundreds of millions continue to suffer from hunger; while waste, excessive consumption of food and using the land for purposes other than for food are normal practices. Food is often reduced to a mere commodity; it has lost value and has even become an object of financial speculation.” This statement summarizes the three main goals of the Milan Protocol: promote healthy lifestyles and fight obesity; promote sustainable agriculture; reduce food waste. These are issues that affect everyone: they cannot be faced successfully unless individual citizens, companies and governing bodies are sensitized through a detailed information campaign aimed at fostering awareness of the issue and a consequent assumption of responsibility.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES THAT WE PRESENTLY CONSUME ARE GREATER THAN WHAT OUR PLANET CAN REGENERATE. To continue leading our current lifestyles, we would need 1.5 planets like the Earth. And within this paradoxical balance, the figures relating to food waste make us cringe: each year, 1.3 billion tons of food end up in the waste bin. They represent one-third of the food produced in the world and four times the amount necessary to feed the 868 million starving people on Earth. A more conscientious diet matching real needs would allow decreasing the incidence of disease connected to food. Says Jonathan Bloom, journalist and author of American Wasteland, “… the only way to truly end food waste is to teach children that wasting food is unacceptable. This can be accomplished through intervention and action at school level. As a bonus, children will bring this message home, reforming parents’ behavior”.

WIDESPREAD DIFFUSION OF HUNGER AND MALNUTRITION, population increase forecasts and the need to adapt to climate change impose that a sustainable agricultural production should be remodeled based on real needs. Since one-third of the global agricultural production is used for animal feed and another important portion to produce biofuels, being able to feed an increasingly growing world population is difficult to fathom. If we consider that – as mentioned in the introduction of the Milan Protocol, “Of the some 7 billion people on earth, 1 billion are without access to drinking water, which causes the death of 4,000 children each day. In contrast, 15,000 liters of water are needed for the production of a single kilo of beef”, we can well understand how pressing it is to find sustainable alternatives. Food is a right that institutions must guarantee: it is inadmissible that financial speculation favoring “market volatility and increase in food prices determine the possibility of access to food”.

THE MICRODATA ELABORATED BY THE GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE (2012) FOR THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) indicate that one-third of the world’s population has problems related to nutrition and that, for the 868 million people in a state of undernutrition, there are 1.5 billion obese or overweight people, and that for the 36 million deaths per year due to lack of food, 29 million deaths are registered attributable to an excess of food. Despite the fact that life expectancy from 1970 to 2010 has increased from 61.2 years to 73.3 for women, and from 56.4 to 67.5 for men, the quality of that extra time is not good because it is accompanied by chronic diseases that often last for years and that are closely linked to dietary habits.

AMONG THE MAJOR HEALTH RISK FACTORS connected to bad dietary and behavioral habits we find hypertension, reduced vitamin intake, hyperglycemia, excess of salt, hypercholesterolemia, a diet poor in fish and integrated cereals and lack of physical activity. Calorie intake must be proportioned to real needs, limiting fats, fried foods and sweets. The remedies recommended by experts to keep the main chronic conditions and aging at bay entail assuming lots of fruits and vegetables, fish (2-3 times a week), the use of condiments of vegetable rather than animal origin and of complex carbohydrates. Regular physical activity is recommended (30 minutes a day), no smoking and avoiding an excessive consumption of alcohol. The model that most respects the criteria of a good diet is the Mediterranean diet because, besides being comprised of foods such as fruits and vegetables that contain balanced nutrients, its supply chain has a lesser impact on the environment.

FOOD HABITS ARE PART OF ROOTED LIFESTYLES THAT MAY BE DIFFICULT TO MODIFY. Often, obesity is seen as an aesthetic rather than a health issue, more like a personal problem than a social one. Actually, overweight conditions entail greater risk for the development of disorders that include metabolic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems like strokes or heart attacks, respiratory illnesses, problems related to joints, a predisposition for the development of diseases of the digestive system, mood disorders (depression, for example). Statistics yield a quantitatively preoccupying image of reality. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in the last thirty years, the number of overweight people has doubled. In Italy, obese or overweight people account for 45% of the adult population, in Great Britain 61.5%, in Germany 52.4%. In the United States, a country that represents the emblematic case of this transformation, only one American out of three is normal weight; the others present at least one overweight problem. The total number of obese persons is 78 million. Governments worldwide are starting to worry about the social-economic impacts of this trend.

COMING UP WITH SOLUTIONS. In a survey presented in 2009 and currently undergoing updating in its scientific and statistical aspects, BCFN has elaborated a model, the Double Food-Environmental Pyramid that compares the nutritional aspect of foods with their environmental impact. What emerges from the position of the foods in the graph is the possibility of making two important goals coincide in one model: people’s health and safeguarding the Planet’s resources. It is evident that the foods recommended to be eaten more are also, generally speaking, those that require fewer resources for their production and vice versa. Eating sustainably not necessarily implies spending more, but it certainly requires greater attention in terms of time dedicated to choosing the foods, preferring those having a high nutritional value – like pasta and cereal-based products, pulses, fresh and dried fruit – and relatively low costs. In particular, white meat, low-fat dairy products and eggs represent a less expensive source of animal protein.

TO FACE FOOD AND NUTRITIONAL NEEDS IN A RICHER, MORE URBANIZED WAY and with a growing population, dietary systems must undergo radical transformations toward a greater efficiency of use of the resources and a more balanced and fair food consumption. According to the FAO, sustainable diets can reduce the use of water and minimize CO2 emissions, promote food biodiversity as well as nutritionally rich traditional and local foods. To encourage sustainable diets, the FAO retains it necessary to involve civil society and private individuals in the fields of agriculture, nutrition, the environment, education, culture and commerce.

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