It is estimated that the world’s human population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050—a 40 percent increase that will double global food demand. With dwindling natural resources, worsened by the negative effects of climate change, the challenge of producing enough food to feed the entire planet while preserving the environment has become a global one.
The overarching theme of the Universal Fair in Milan this year was dedicated to this challenge: ‘Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life.’ Most who took to the fairgrounds in Milan’s eastern periphery were likely more captivated by the unusual culinary wonders being served up at the almost 150 pavilions (including edible insects and crocodile burgers) or the unique architectural scenography at some pavilions (like Austria’s ‘authentic forest’ and Brazil’s amusement park-style bouncing rope canopy), but the true premise behind Milan Expo 2015 is the debate surrounding the future of food and food security.
According to recent estimates, today about 800 million people are chronically hungry and two billion people are malnourished, indicating that more sustainable food systems and the fight against food waste and loss are already critical issues.
Hundreds—if not thousands—of discussions, workshops and events at the fair focused on these themes, highlighting different forms of sustainable agricultural and food production, such as aquaponics, vertical gardens and the development of circular agricultural systems and economies which seek to consume natural resources and energy in novel, more sustainable ways.
In view of Expo Milan 2015, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MIPAAF) launched a project which has been touted by politicians as the ‘true cultural and immaterial legacy’ of the world’s fair: the Milan Charter.
Intended to be a guide of Best Practices in the consumption and production of food, the Milan Charter comprises 66 articles, outlining a series of commitments to guarantee the ‘Right to Food’ for all of humankind. Key objectives include continued engagement in the global fight against food loss and promotion of sustainable agricultural practices and lifestyles. Indeed, in late September 2015, MIPAAF minister Maurizio Martina will present the Milan Charter at the United Nations in New York, where institutions will ‘define the objectives of the millennium,’ he said.
On the charter’s website, www.carta.milano.it/en, the details are published in several languages. The full range of actors along the supply chain—from individual consumers to food producers and local institutions—is invited to sign the document. Those who sign pledge accountability for their actions and production practices and request that governments and international institutions adopt rules and policies that ensure a fairer and more sustainable future. As of July 2015, the charter had gathered more than 900,000 signatures.
The preamble reads: ‘In signing the Milan Charter, we affirm the responsibility of the present generation to take action and implement practices and choices that also guarantee the right to food for future generations; we commit to advocating political decisions that will enable achievement of the fundamental goal of equitable access to food for all’.
Aside from its inherent ethical issues, food production also has a huge environmental impact and causes the majority of global food loss. Today, traditional agriculture consumes 70 percent of the world’s fresh water and land; clean water resources are being negatively affected by climate change; and rising sea levels are eating away at arable, fertile lands in coastal areas.
The Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that the majority of food loss, however, occurs before food hits the table: 32% of food is lost or wasted during agricultural production; 22% is lost during harvest; 11% is lost during industrial transformation; and 13% during distribution.
Wallets also take a hard hit. The Italian observatory on food waste, Waste Watchers, estimates that Italian households throw away 5 million tons of food each year, worth approximately 8 billion euro (representing 0.5% of the GDP). For context, imagine that each week an Italian family throws away about 630 grams of food, worth 6.50 euro. Foods most likely to be tossed by Italians are breads, cereals and other by-products (30%); fish (30%); fruits and vegetables (45%); meats (20%); seed-derived oils and beans (20%); root vegetables and tubers (45%).
Meanwhile, globally, the FAO estimates that approximately one fourth (22%; 345 million tonnes) of all food is spoiled or squandered annually by individual consumers and restaurants.
To conclude, some food for thought: the next time you photograph a beautifully plated, delicious-looking dish of linguine ai porcini to post on Instagram, think about food security—for today and tomorrow. What can you now do to help ensure there is enough food for us all?