Italian researcher Michele Pedrotti is the Geographic Representative of BCFN Alumni Network for Europe, and BCFN Yes! Competition 2014 finalist. Michele has explored topics relating to food and sustainability during his Master in Food Technology at Wageningen University, and through the BCFN Yes! Research Grant Competition, where he projected a sensory guide to reduce food waste.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Michele about his deep passion for food, and how the BCFN Yes! Research Grant Competition spurred his innovative approach to tackling food waste.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to become involved in food and agriculture research?
Michele Pedrotti (MP): More than an inspiration, passion for food was something that I had inside already. I am glad that I grew up in a family that gave particular attention to food, nutrition and nature. My father was not only vegetarian long before the movement was trendy, but he also had a real passion for food and cooking since he also wrote many cook books. By growing up with this passion for food, and thanks to my experiences at Wagenigen during my MSc in Food Technology with a specialization in Sensory Science, I realized more and more how our food chain is distorted and how far the gap is between the citizen and the food. While learning more about that, I felt that was time to do something. Being involved in food and agriculture research is my way to be active and to be part of the effort to face the huge global challenge of food and sustainability.
FT: How did the BCFN Yes! Research Grant Competition support your research endeavours?
MP: BCFN competition was the beginning of a long journey that I am still discovering. The competition allowed me to enter into a network that put me in contact with a myriad of wonderful people, ideas, events, information about something that everyone should care about: the sustainability of our society and how this has an effect on its health and on the health of our planet. The BCFN Yes! Research Grant Competition gave me the opportunity to work and gain great insights on two really challenging topics: food waste and sustainable agriculture. At the moment, with a team of BCFN Alumni I am participating at the public consultation called by the EU commission for the new reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (PAC): a very fascinating way to gain more insights about our food system.
FT: Can you tell us about your project Common Sensing: A Sensory Guide to Reduce Food Waste, and how it works to reduce consumer food waste?
MP: While I was in Copenhagen during my MSc together with my ex-colleague Stefano, we came in contact with the reality of dumpster diving. When I tried it for the first time, I was astonished and terrified at the same time by discovering real treasures hidden in the trash bins of Copenhagen’s supermarkets. Seeing all that food wasted and, at the same time, by directly facing the issue of food safety, made us think about how we could apply our knowledge of sensory science to tackle this paradox. In particular, in the food chain, consumers are the biggest wasters with a share of about 38 percent here in EU. We think that this is due mainly to the fact that nowadays consumers have lost confidence in their own senses: they have lost contact with food and they prefer to delegate the responsibility for consumption to an expiry date, or they may not know the difference between a “Use-By” and “Best-By” label. Therefore, we came up with the idea to engage consumers in a sensory process: to train them to use their senses to recognize spoilage in a variety of large-wasted foods (like vegetables, fruits, dairy and bread) by building a sensory guide.
FT: What other innovative ideas and solutions are you most excited about that are addressing the challenges of the global food system?
MP: About food waste, I really liked the approach of the FUSIONS and REFRESH projects. They are two great EU projects/frameworks where different institutions cooperate to address the food waste issue with a multidisciplinary approach. In general, I also like the idea of circular economy promoted by the EU, that gave rise to some great innovations.
In regards to sustainable agriculture, I think the emerging concepts of agroecology and food sovereignty are very important. Agriculture should not only be able to provide healthy food, but l to also take care of the environment by promoting biodiversity and mitigating climate change. In this direction, a revolution of the food chain is also needed in order to have (small-scale) farmers and consumers at the centre. This requires shortening the length of the food chain and incentivizing local consumption. I am still trying to understand how these concepts can be implemented successfully in Europe and, more in general in a world that is going more and more global.
FT: Who are your food heroes or people that work on food issues who most inspire you and why?
MP: In the last few years I met many fascinating people. On the food waste side I really admire Selina Juul, founder of the Stop Wasting Food movement Denmark (Stop Spild Af Mad). She spurred a great impulse to act against this paradox that I had first discovered in that exact country. It’s also thanks to her hard work that Denmark was one of the first countries to open food shops selling food that otherwise would have been wasted.
Dr. Hilke Bos-Brouwers of Wageningen University was another figure that enlightened my food waste path. I first met Hilke when asking for advice about the project Common Sensing. Then during a course at university about food waste I discovered the EU projects that she coordinates. It was an ambitious multidisciplinary framework that involves 21 partners from 13 different countries in order to collect, map and starting developing solutions about the waste. The initiative is now continuing with the EU project REFRESH, and reaching great results.
For sustainable agriculture, most definitely Luca Colombo—FIRAB (general secretary)—who I met during the last BCFN forum in Milan. He helped me have a better perspective on how complex and fundamental this topic is. He is really pushing hard to promote organic agriculture and, more in general, to introduce agroecology and food sovereignty in Italy (and in EU).
Last but not least, my Italian friends that I met during my studies at Wageningen who now started activities related to agriculture in Italy: some started their own activity and farms, some are helping the family’s farm, some are coordinating community gardens and sensitizing society about the key role of agriculture in producing healthy and sustainable food. I always feel good vibrations and a great inspiration by engaging with them and their work.