by Carlo Petrini

April 2008

What is the value of food?  Everyday things tend to be taken for granted because they're always there.  We only notice them when a crisis sparks and shortages snap us out of our habits.

People struggling on a daily basis to get enough food don't need others telling them how important food is in their lives.  Every day is a day of reckoning.  However, a situation of abundance - or rather, a situation where people are used to abundance - doesn't allow most people to be aware that food is not only a question of survival.  It is an expression of what we are and what our society is.  It is a reflection or a cause of many of the large and small problems that surround us.

Since the agrifood industry set itself up as our main provider, this awareness has been handed over to food companies so they can make profits.  But, profits do not follow the laws of nature, and this incompatibility creates disruptive unsustainability.

The economic value of food is also increasing:  the price of wheat, for example, has risen dramatically.  Increases in worldwide consumption of meat (in countries where they didn't use to eat it) and the boom in biofuels are among the main causes for soaring prices, which show no sign of moderating and are beginning to create social tensions in both the global North and the global South.  This has happened because we have forgotten the value embedded in the act of eating and what it represents. Its sanctity has been eroded, reducing it to the level of any other consumer product that follows the rules of a market economy opposed to nature.

Bringing food back to the centre of our lives is an immensely responsible act, as well as a benefit for ourselves.  It means beginning to think together, learning to share knowledge and act in full awareness of global destiny.  Our own destiny starts from our own particular situation - what we decide to put on our plates, the seeds we decide to plant in our fields.  We need new responsibilities, based on the centrality of food in our lives.  That is something the Terra Madre communities know very well and it is what their network can teach the rest of the world.