The slender line between fish and chips and an empanada

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Healthy nourishing, international trade, and environmental sustainability are obvious highlights among an NGO’s concerns. Their weight in the activities and discussions does not refer to convivial gatherings in which to devour heaps of parrillas and asado with chimichurri. However keenly volunteers practice this kind of food-related activities, the debate is concerned with a socially aware vision of food.

The work of an NGO is addressed to the ultimate goal of the benefit of the community. It is achieved through sustainability, environmental responsibility, and the pursuit of financial independence. Food sovereignty is a philosophy comprehensive of this set of criteria, and it has been chosen as discussion topic for the last monthly meeting of Voluntario Global. The idea of the discussion has arisen from a new project of the NGO, regarding a network of sustainable gardens, outside Buenos Aires. The topic has been covered deeply and in its numerous aspects. 

Food Sovereignty was defined in the international Forum of Sélingué, in April 2008. The famous declaration of Nyéléni was held by an intergovernmental council, sponsored by the UN and the World Bank. The official definition delivered there refers to “the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies." The term had already been established in the ‘90s, by the members of Via Campesina. The goal of Campesina, embodied by their vocabulary choice, referred to a socialistic nature: the notion of placing again the local producers, distributers, and consumers at the center of nutritional system, with the liberation from the corporations’ oppression. The embryo of the ideology is of a social nature, nonetheless, its later developments have beautifully spread in manifold directions, to embrace trade, ecology, anti-multinationalism, ethics and gastronomy.

The social philosophy of food sovereignty is indissolubly linked to the notion of space. It is linked to the awareness of space, the requirements of its times, and the implications involved by crossing space through trade. Most importantly, it refers to the people’s ownership over their own land. This latter notion is what spins the  wheel of factors involved in the complex system of food sovereignty.

From a nutritional standpoint, recovering the local growing of food preserves the freshness of the product and prevents it from chemically toxic treatments adopted for the purpose of export. Moreover, food grown locally is likely to be best suited for the place’s climate and conditions, leading to the delivery of a higher quality product. The recovery of local food over fast-food globalized standards, and tastes, aids the rescue of the contact with the people’s own land and tradition. Although some university professor might have mislead the naïve reader, culture does not only lie in museums. Happily enough, culture is defined as the cumulative deposit of shared knowledge and experience of a group of people in the course of time. Which means the national anthem just as much as Caravaggio, Beyoncé, dulce de leche in Argentina and pfannkuchen in Germany.

On the other hand, from an economic point of view, the overcoming of over-imposed market policies lets the people choose what to produce and to consume. It has also been proven, in recent psychological statistics, how peoples that work for themselves are better inclined to happiness. The possibility of recognizing oneself in one’s market aids the notion of identity, which human beings need for their well-being. In simple words, an employer for a foreign multinational will not experience the same sensation of belonging and fulfillment as a member of a family business, or a provincial cooperative.

Campesina’s ideology should not be dismissed though as communist protectionism. It should in fact not be omitted that, as far as the nutritional field is concerned, a globalized market does not constitute a sound alternative, mainly for matters of health and environmental responsibility. Food, in the light of its vital role in human beings' life, should primarily be considered a source of sustenance, rather than an object of trade. Nevertheless, Food Sovereignity is not blind to the undeniable necessity of importation of the products that a country cannot provide for itself. Campesina merely prioritizes the local product, mainly insofar as it prioritizes the community by which it is delivered.

Attaining food sovereignty, in a nutshell, would imply to place the focus on the people’s benefit, ecologically, economically, culturally, health-wise and gastronomically.

In this line of thought, several organizations were born, one of which is worth of mentioning. Slowfood supports the recovery of local food, especially against the nutritional globalization of fast food and fast life. Slowfood says no to having a 15 minutes lunch break, and says no to devouring a Pret A Manger "organic" sandwich. It is especially concerned with the taste, the quality, and the origin of the food it supports. Founded in the 80’s by Carlo Petrini, it summarizes its ideology in “good, clean, and fair food”. Its highlights are gastronomy, ecology, ethics and pleasure. Slowfood supports the pursuit of these ideals by means of aggregation and going back to work together locally.

Some reader might indulge in guilty thoughts, and misleadingly suppose that Slow Food supported 2 hours lunch breaks formula, equipped with Michellin starred lobsters. On the very contrary, at the heart of slow food lies the notion that everyone has the right to pleasure. Good and clean food should not be something that not anyone can afford. Slowfood tries to fight the contemporary paradox, according to which, in several places around the world, local cuisine is becoming more expensive than imported chain fast food. This dynamic deprives the local from the right to the access his own products, and to the pleasure everyone is entitled to.

Promoting food sovereignty belongs to the focal priorities of the work carried out by people in an NGO. The placing of the people, and their food, at the center of trade systems, the recovery of genuine taste, and the adoption of environmentally responsible nutrition, are words to be spread and ideals to fight for. Most importantly for the reason that this task is not a goal to achieve, but rather a deprived reality to be restored.

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