Operational President of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Alumni Association, Francesca Allievi will be giving a 30-minute webinar on Tuesday, September 6th at 12pm EST. Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Francesca about her work on agriculture and sustainability.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Francesca Allievi (FA): I feel like it has been a lifelong process, something which has always been part of me. All my great-grandparents were farmers, and now it feels like I am carrying on that family heritage, though I have limited experience with hands-on farming and focus my research efforts on sustainable agriculture on a global scale.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
FA: Everything that mimics the natural processes fascinates me. I see an increasing interest towards this approach, and I am excited to see it being adopted at increasingly larger scales. Apart from my work with the BCFN Foundation, I also volunteer for the Arbio project. The project aims at implementing sustainable and productive conservation of the Amazon forest in Peru through the use of Analog Forestry: an agricultural technique in which up to 25 productive species are planted in the same area, replicating the structure of the virgin forest and providing nearly the same ecosystem services, once the system is fully functional. All innovations that learn from nature not only have a small environmental impact but also aid in changing the way we approach the food system. Nature is not for us to overexploit, but for us to be humble enough to learn something from it.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
FA: When my grandfather was 14, he started to work as a carpenter. After the first two weeks, he brought home his pay and showed it to his mother. His father was coming back from the wheat fields at the same time and asked how much he had earned. My grandfather replied, and his father reflected for a moment and then commented: “I have also worked for two weeks, but I have earned no money.” My grandfather said he never showed his pay to his father again, and just delivered it directly to his mother. I have many memories connected with my grandfather working in his garden and eating part of his harvest, but the story he told me about his father is even more important to me. It makes me think of the many farmers facing the same feelings nowadays worldwide, perhaps struggling with the economic sustainability of their farming businesses. We, as a society, should be putting more efforts in appreciating and valuing their humble yet fundamental work. By being involved in food sustainability, I hope I am contributing to that as well.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
FA: Waste. I am not talking about food waste in terms of only what gets thrown away, but everything it implies: waste of water, energy, money and resources. Do we really need to eat as much as we do on average? Do we really need to have so many food choices, anywhere and all year round? The food system is very complex, but I believe that there are smarter ways of using what is available.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
FA: In my opinion, the first step to creating change is to be informed. The variety and abundance of accessible food can easily lead people to make thoughtless choices, just because they can. Instead, I wish people would make thoughtful and informed decisions. Our food system is complex, but I encourage people to be genuinely curious about this complexity. The digital era gives us the great possibility of having all sorts of information at our fingertips: let’s use this chance! One of the issues that excites me about working with the BCFN Foundation is contributing to developing scientifically sound and simple facts for the general public. The knowledge is available, it only needs to be delivered properly. Let’s put more time into getting information about how we can improve our diet, both from a nutritional and environmental point of view. Let’s ask some more questions from the waiter before we take that Instagram picture. Let’s use all the possibilities we have to learn about food, and more sustainable choices will follow naturally.