The youth gathering of Youth4Climate in Milan closed a few days ago and Greta Tumberg’s “blah, blah, blah” still echoes in the public debate for the politicians of the earth. The eighteen-year-old Norwegian, this time in the company of new figures in the movement such as the Ugandan Vanessa Nakate, mimics politicians around the world and their inability to influence the choices of real change for the salvation of the planet.
The young people of Friday’s are right to sell, they scream their disappointment because they know that the choices that concern the protection of the planet are anti-system choices that undermine the economic dogmas on which the West is based. These are “revolutionary” choices, that is, they presuppose the subversion of the system of production and consumption of goods and services of industrialized societies.
We are on the verge of an energy crisis and facing an epochal shortage of raw materials, and this is just the latest of the many worrying signs generated by the overcrowding of the planet. All the studies indicate catastrophic scenarios, placing little hope in the subversion of a model that points to the circular economy, that is “a’economy designed to be able to regenerate itself. (…) A sistem economic planned to reuse the materials in subsequent production cycles, minimizing waste. “ (MacArthur Foundation)
In this regard, the most difficult chapter to tackle for the protection of the planet is that of the food industry, or rather a capillary system of production and consumption that involves enormous induced industries, from mechanics, to catering, to pharmaceuticals, in all countries of the planet. .
The food industry, with $ 8.8 trillion, represents more than 10% of global GDP and about 12% of Italian GDP, which is the second largest industry in our country. From a recent investigation by Sabrina Giannini in the program Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner on Rai 3 the discrepancy between the aims of the EU policy on the protection of the planet and the economic policies implemented in favor of large-scale distribution, across the entire agri-food chain, emerges very clearly.
It is indisputable, in fact, how large-scale distribution, large supermarket chains and the international agri-food cartel have shaped over the decades not only the supply and purchase prices of goods, but also the culture of food, the “formats” of fruit. and vegetables, the industry of packaging and the consumption needs of populations.
A long-standing issue that significantly affects global CO2 emissions, land desertification, air pollution, land and groundwater pollution by pesticides in extensive crops, the quality of products for the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in intensive farming .
The incredible, embarrassing and symptomatic question of the degeneration of large-scale distribution is that of food waste.
A huge amount of cubic meters of water, fossil emissions, cultivated land, plastic, fuel used every year by the food industry just to produce further refusals. Of all the food produced in the world about 30% is thrown away. In Western countries, the gap occurs in 3 phases: the first in which the raw material (fruit, vegetables, cereals, …) that does not meet the standards required by the marketing of large retailers and a series of compliant EU legislative measures are discarded. The second consists in the rejection of unsold items, the one that has the greatest impact, since large supermarkets are calibrated on economies of scale for which it is convenient to purchase large quantities to be offered at the counter: food that largely expires in a very short cycle. The last phase occurs in the home of consumers and in the restaurant premises and consists in the rejection of the surplus.
The waste represents a huge environmental problem, because not only organic foodstuffs end up in the garbage, but all the products associated with the packaging, namely paper, metals and a lot of plastic.
The major contradiction is that in post-pandemic Italy there is a huge percentage of people living below the absolute poverty line. Households of 2 people earning less than € 1100 per month. We are not talking about homeless people, but about the segment of the population that is among the “new poor”: people who survive dependent on their parents, inactive at work, victims of the ultra-precariousness of Gig economy and new slavery in the fields, the young unemployed.
Residents in Italy below the absolute poverty line are 5.6 million, about 10% of the population, who earn a figure equal to or less than € 640 per month. The food incidence for these categories is not insignificant, in a basket of survival needs that includes rent, payment of bills and a series of expenses that make many primary goods inaccessible to these citizens.
From an economic point of view, the value of food waste in Italy has been estimated at around € 16bn per year. On their own they would be enough to cover 3 times the income of about 6 million Italians below the poverty line and twice the cost for the state of citizenship income. To these must be added the costs of waste collection and disposal and above all the enormous “ecological footprint” that this problem has on the planet.
Leonardo Cecchi, influencer and activist on the web, in recent months has articulated a proposal for a “Food income” to families and citizens who live below the absolute poverty line: a social initiative – according to the promoter – to complement and supplement the citizenship income. It has launched an online signature collection and the proposal has turned a lot on web, collecting about 76 thousand signatures and aiming for the 100 thousand mark in the coming weeks.
This is a measure capable of relieving citizens in economic difficulty from food costs and thus being more comfortable to face the costs of rent, heating and bills, which will undergo a drastic increase in these months. The proposal focuses on compensating for the reduction of food waste by matching the supply of large commodities of products destined for pulping with the growing demand for assistance to the new poverties.
In Italy there is no lack of experience in this field. The first forerunner dates back to ’98 when prof. Andrea Segrè of the Department of Agro-Food Sciences and Technologies of the University of Bologna proposed the project “Last minute market”, Sounding the alarm on food waste and immediately gaining the interest of the scientific and economic world.
The proposal will have interesting developments with the founding of one Spin off university (today scientific excellence in the country) and in 2019 of a social enterprise, which sees as partners many of the largest international brands in food distribution and beyond.
Since 2016, Gadda Law No. 166 on “Donation and distribution of food and pharmaceutical products for the purposes of social solidarity and for the limitation of waste”. Both of these initiatives have contributed to raising awareness of the problem. The problem that perhaps should have been better addressed is that which concerns the logistical distribution to the audience of beneficiaries. Today, distribution is the subject of intermediation by accredited and structured subjects able to distribute large quantities of foodstuffs that often need preservation throughout the territory.
This organization is carried out by non-profit organizations recognized on a territorial level, therefore the dynamics generated are in the area of charitable solidarity, which in many cases can generate the difficulty and embarrassment of citizens to use it, especially those belonging to the band we define as ” new poor ”, dramatically increased during the pandemic and made up of people who perhaps a few months ago had a solid and profitable business.
Cecchi’s proposal focuses on a digital card – ATM type – with a credit of € 400 per month, on the model already in use for electronic meal vouchers.
Cecchi argues that this tool can make it possible “to prevent many people from asking for help because they are ashamed to do so. In fact, anonymity is guaranteed with food income, because the card is very similar to any prepaid card and to use it you don’t have to go to some place dedicated to the poor (canteens, emporiums, etc.): just go to the supermarket. There you can take some products and “pay” with that card, in a process identical to what happens when you do a normal shopping “.
The signatures collected will be delivered to the agriculture commission, once the target of 100/120 thousand adhesions has been reached. From there it is hoped that the political parties will be taken on board within the revision and the desirable strengthening of the Citizenship Income.
Historically, large-scale distribution – on which distinctions should be made between the various multinationals – does not encourage practices to mitigate the problem of the gap between production and real demand, because potentially dynamics would occur detrimental to the value of the products. Since the 1970s we have been used to seeing millions of tons of fruit and vegetables pulped before reaching the counter, because overproduction generates an excess of supply, causing prices to collapse.
Having said that, large chains can no longer exempt themselves from taking action by applying best practices, to protect consumers and the environment. Adhering to initiatives to combat waste would often mean an economic saving on taxes by the distributor and lower waste disposal costs, as well as a clear improvement in the “social balance” of companies.
It would be only a slight step towards the much evoked “green economy“Based on the circular economy: a great collective battle, in a common struggle that is written” Green new deal “and reads replacement of the capitalist model.