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Vous consultezChapter 11. Responsible consumption
AuteurRoberto Burdese du même auteurSlow Food, Italy
Roberto Burdese began to work for Slow Food in 1991 and has been involved in several projects involving various activities. He worked on various publications with the Slow Food publishing house Editore. He coordinated the organisation of the Salone Internazionale del Gusto (which has been hosted in Turin every two years since 1996) and he worked closely with Carlo Petrini on ambitious projects such as the creation of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. In 2004, he participated in the creation of the international network Terra Madre. He also worked to develop the international Slow Food network until the end of the 1990s. With regard to Slow Food Italy in particular, he served on the National Council of the association from 1998 and was nominated Vice-President of Slow Food Italy in 2002. He became President of Slow Food Italy in 2006 and is still in office at the present time.
Consumption is the basis of the modern economy and the fulcrum of business activities. Without consumption, companies that produce goods and services would have few reasons to exist. All the major economic theories have been founded on it, especially since the Industrial Revolution, hence the rise of “mass” consumption. As exchange economies have intensified within the framework of what we define as the process of “globalisation”, and also as the result of new forms of trade, consumption-related problems have multiplied and grown more complex. Whereas on the one hand it has become harder to protect the consumer, on the other the consumer has acquired new means of self-protection and networking.
2 In this article we confine our analysis to food consumption and the problems that relate to it. It is thus important to point out how the criticalities of the present economic system (from production/processing through distribution to consumption) emerge more in this sector than in others.
3 We are concerned in particular with the Mediterranean region, and we seek to analyse consumer behaviour as it is and could be in relation to the Mediterranean Diet, a cultural heritage that, albeit common to the people of the area, can vary widely from one place to another. Here we discuss how and why it should be promoted, protected and developed.
4 Even the most ancient religious and legal codes, such as the Old Testament, contained an embryonic form of consumer protection, involving almost exclusively the prohibition of adulterated foods. It is very difficult, however, to trace the complex developments of the last two centuries back to those early laws. With the advent of serial and industrial production, consumers have been progressively deprived of direct forms of control over the characteristics and quality of the products they purchase. The split between the act of consumption and the acts of production, processing and distribution has cut consumers out of supply chains to the extent that they are now little else than the final and largely passive link. This may be one of the reasons why the earliest forms of protection came, slowly or sporadically, directly or indirectly from the legislator, thus from above.
5 It was the North Americans who set the fashion with the first antitrust law, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which was effectively the first step towards modern consumer protection legislation. The original aim was to combat monopolistic and oligopolistic combinations within the capitalist system. The Act nonetheless was also a first attempt to introduce elements of protection into a framework that was not that of a perfect economic and market system, a setup in which, through supply and demand formation mechanisms, free competition ought to have been the main consumer “watchdog”.
6 The twisted logic of capitalism was also the driving force behind the subsequent stages in the development of the consumer movement in North America. It is interesting to note that the aim of the first association, the National Consumer League, founded in 1898, was not so much to defend consumers as to defend workers, which they did by commending the products of those factories in which conditions were most respectful of their dignity and health. Women played a fundamental role at that early stage and soon made these demands their own to assert their rights as the producers’ main customers. Hence the first list of quality food products was published by the women’s magazine Good Housekeeping in 1905, the year before the first law on food and pharmaceutical safety and meat control was passed by Congress (Zunz, 1998). The battle against aggressive capitalism and the quality of food and pharmaceuticals remained key issues for the definition of consumer awareness for many years. That awareness grew to such an extent that in the 1950s the need was felt in the United States for political representation of the consumer movement, which was strong throughout the country, albeit under different banners.
7 It was also in the 1950s that consumer movements and associations began to spring up in Europe: first in Denmark in 1947, then in Great Britain and the rest of Northern Europe, and later in France and Germany. The first consumer groups also began to appear in the Mediterranean region in the same period (in Italy in 1955). They followed exactly the same model as their Northern European counterparts and thus developed mainly within political movements and parties, by which they were invariably influenced. As had previously been the case in the United States, the first battles of consumer associations in Europe were focused in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. But the power and influence of these associations remained relatively limited until Member States of the European Community began, very slowly, to adopt Community laws on consumer protection.
8 Although it is important in this context to summarise the main stages in the development of consumer movements (Alpa, 1995), it is equally important to provide an overview, albeit by no means exhaustive, of the evolution of legislation, namely of the legal tools that have allowed associations to perform their functions to the full.
9 As we suggested above, legislation in European States has inevitably been influenced by the development of Community policies. Although a declaration of intent to pursue active consumer protection was incorporated into the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the EEC let fifteen years go by before it took a firm stand on the matter. It was in the 1970s that the need for initiatives to protect the health and economic interests of citizens and the Community was finally appreciated and the legal systems of Member States were harmonised in aid of trade and commerce. In 1975, a European Council resolution reorganised and rearranged all existing initiatives, giving priority above all to the protection of consumer health and protection against economic risks, the provision of consultancy and assistance concerning compensation for damages, consumer information and education, and consumer consultation and representation prior to the passing of any legislation that might affect consumers’ interests. Since the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) and in the three-year plans enacted from 1990 onwards, health protection, economic interests and comprehensive information have continued to be the cornerstones of EC policy. However, declarations of intent have not always been backed by adequate legislation, and problems of harmonisation are still among the main hurdles to be cleared.
10 The 1990s saw increasing recognition including at normative level of the role of the associations that were then proliferating around Europe and of consumers as special partners in talks with the institutions. While this raised popular awareness, it also fragmented the initiative, which, as part of a highly complex normative framework affecting the most diverse economic sectors, largely failed to foster the implementation of effective policies.
11 When we consider the Mediterranean region as a whole, the picture is more complex. Here, in fact, the European countries that are attempting to harmonise their legislations are juxtaposed with another group of countries with very different laws, not always stable political situations and very different economic priorities which by no means facilitate the organisation of citizens into associations able to collaborate internationally in any effective way. The European Union has bolstered its relations with Mediterranean countries, particularly after the Barcelona Conference of November 1995. The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of the then 15 EU Member States and 12 countries from the wider Mediterranean region. On that occasion, the participating countries unanimously adopted a declaration and a multilateral working programme embracing, among other things, consumer protection. In the wake of the developments in Barcelona, a protocol agreement among the Liguria, Sicily and Campania regional authorities in Italy established CONSUMED, a consumer protection network that has made overtures not only to public institutions, but also to consumer associations in the Mediterranean countries concerned. The network has produced a helpful document (CONSUMED, 2009), which summarises the legislative situation in countries in the Mediterranean region, highlighting their heterogeneity and pointing out how long the road to harmonisation across the whole region could be. Suffice it to say that the “designation of origin” protection system in force in Europe has no bearing whatsoever on other Mediterranean countries.
12 In some Mediterranean countries, especially on the southern shores, associations have been created by governments. Here, due to the lack of norms or, where norms exist, of the difficulties involved in enforcing them, consumer protection has been less effective. As part of the enlargement of the European Union, prospective Member States are expected to meet a set of important parameters designed to achieve a minimum level of equilibrium as a common denominator for their admission. When talks for admission begin, the screening process to which candidates are subjected envisages collaboration in trans-European networks and protection of consumers and their health. For example, pending a more open social fabric, Turkey backed its candidature for admission to the EU Commission in 1999 through its principal consumer protection organisations, such as Tükoder, a consumer rights protection association, and Tüketici Haklar ? Derneği, a consumer rights association activated by volunteers and broadly represented by pensioners, government officials, workers, engineers, lawyers and homemakers.
13 Faced with a normative situation still a long way from providing effective, complete and strong consumer protection, the association movement in the Mediterranean appears increasingly heterogeneous, embracing a diversity of subjects with varying potentialities and objectives. Together with protection in the banking, insurance and e-commerce sectors, protection in the agro-food sector is certainly one of the most frequently shared priorities, but it is largely confined to health guarantees, protection against fraud and proper product labelling. In such a complex context, often in contrast with the interests of the agro-food industry, factors such as food quality, variety and origin are not always assigned the importance they deserve in fact, in some cases they are completely ignored.
14 A good example of this dynamics is found in Lebanon, where a network of Earth Markets, a particular kind of farmers’ market, has been successfully set up by Slow Food. After experience in Tripoli, the Beirut Earth Market was opened in 2009, representing the culmination of the work done to support small-scale quality products across the country. Before the Earth Markets were created, small producers in Lebanon had no proper or regular opportunity to sell their products to consumers direct except in their villages. The opening of these markets has provided a commercial outlet for all of the farmers and herders involved, who are now enjoying unexpected economic benefits with a significant effect on the lives of entire families. In Beirut today fifteen small-scale producers can sell their products ranging from fresh fruit and vegetables to mouneh (traditional Lebanese preserves), mankoushe (traditional thyme-flavoured pita bread), olive oil and natural artisan soaps. The Beirut Earth Market has also been a success with the public since the number of visitors is increasing, and it has furthermore become a source of raw materials for some of the top chefs in town. Furthermore, the market is not only a place where people can buy and sell, it is also a place where they can meet and socialise and discover and appreciate Lebanese culinary identity. In addition, the Beirut Earth Market has become an example of peaceful coexistence. Although they come from different parts of the country and represent various religions and ethnic groups, the producers display their products side by side, establishing good relations and helping one another.
15 To explore the subject we are concerned with here namely responsible food consumption in depth, we shall now shift our field of enquiry to establish exactly what we mean by food consumption and how it has evolved in the context of the “Mediterranean Diet”. We then draw up guidelines for true respect of the Mediterranean Diet, which can be ensured not only by favourable social and production conditions, but also by consumer choice.
16 As can be deduced from the historical outline above, consumer associations come into being and develop mostly round two fundamental factors: prices and fraud. For a long time the commodity fields taken most frequently into consideration were food and medicines, since attention was largely focused on economic and health factors. This pattern changed very little in the course of the last century and it was on this basis that most of the modern associations came into being.
17 Such associations, it seems fair to say, were born entirely of capitalism in order to correct its malfunctioning. Monopoly or oligopoly situations can influence price trends to the detriment of the consumer, whereas, if no controls are in place, growth in scales of production can cause damage to health, particularly in the agro-food sector. Associations thus have the job of monitoring, reporting, informing, taking legal action (the instigation of class-action lawsuits is becoming widespread) and exerting pressure to prevent instances of the “malfunctioning” of capitalism from harming people.
18 It would be reductive, however, to consider consumer responsibility only from the point of view of what consumer associations have done and do. Since consumption is, first and foremost, a matter of choice, the consumers’ responsibility resides, above all, in his or her ability to choose. It is thus fundamental to understand what makes a consumer prefer one product over another. If, in the food sector, health and price parameters are undoubtedly decisive, it is also true that, as we gradually enter the so-called post-modern stage in history, other factors are becoming increasingly relevant. Post-modernism is seen as a reaction to the “monotony” of a positivist, technocratic, rational vision of modernity and the standardisation that ensues there from (Sertorio and Martinengo, 2008). We are now living in Bauman’s “liquid society” (Bauman, 2000), in which a change in styles of production has been matched by changes in styles of consumption.
19 Recent food crises should also be mentioned when considering consumer choices and price influence. A new feature of agriculture is the high unpredictability of food prices, and it is most likely that agricultural production will have to live with this unpredictability in the near future.
20 After the crisis that emerged in 2007 and continued until mid-2008, with a sudden increase in food prices, quotations started to decrease again until early 2010, when there was another upward trend in prices. Many of the causes of this tendency have been investigated, and biofuel production, which takes land away from food production, seems to play an important role. This unpredictability had many negative consequences for both producers and consumers, since, on the one hand, it concerned lower incomes and, on the other, food shortages and price increases.
21 If we confine our field of enquiry to food, new cultural elements are superimposed on a Fordist model to borrow a production term in which food is ultimately considered just like any other consumer commodity. From both the production and the consumer point of view, the industrial agro-food model has stripped food of many of its values. If fair price and health are the prerequisites for a foodstuff, due to the reductionism of ensuing industrialist and consumer models we no longer attach importance to many of the requisites that are decisive in the building of a concept as complex as quality. As all the many advertisements and commercials that misuse the term demonstrate, for industry a product is “quality” simply because it is above minimum standard which ought to be ensured by law and nothing more. As soon as a product improves by some parameter (use of raw materials, processing technique, less recourse to additives, certification or mark of origin), we begin to talk in terms of excellence, sometimes even of production niches.
22 As a result of this type of approach, taste and the fact that food always comes from complex ecosystems on which human responsibility weighs have been completely underestimated. The outcome the impoverishment of natural resources and food production, with progressively decreasing average organoleptic quality is there for all to see. The race towards lower and lower prices (accelerated by the market and bargaining power of organised large-scale retail) has done the rest. Once factors such as taste, diversity and the sustainability of production processes became secondary, average quality further declined, eventually plummeting to a minimum that, in some cases, dropped well below the acceptability threshold. Such low prices have also created increasingly unsustainable conditions for many actors in the supply chain, especially farmers and fishermen, the people who grow, raise and catch our food. Agriculture has arguably never been so deeply in crisis as it is today, in Europe and in the rest of the Mediterranean region, where it is one of the factors behind the popular discontent that has triggered great political instability.
23 The “Fordist” approach to food production has inevitably influenced modes of food consumption, impairing consumer choice. People have simply adopted the minimum prerequisites of agro-food production as their criteria and ultimately propped up a system, now global, that is characterised by the fact that it attaches little value to food or the vast number of human activities related to it. As Carlo Petrini puts it, today we may well no longer be the ones who eat food it is food that is eating us. Food is in fact now eating up the land, ecosystems, biodiversity, farmers and our cultures (Petrini, 2010).
24 However, with post-modern society and the structural crises that have hit the capitalist system over the last few years, the model has started to creak, and new consumer needs have increasingly emerged. A very strong impulse has come from environmentalism, which, as the effects of global warming have become increasingly apparent, has assumed the appearance of a veritable world movement. The importance of the question of social justice and serious global inequities, first underlined at the World Social Forum in Seattle in 1999, is now also undeniable. Food and food policies have become an important way of addressing these new issues, which growing segments of the world population have now adopted among their new choice criteria.
25 The Mediterranean is once again at the centre of the world. The social, political and economic situations on either shore are very different, but never have they been so closely interconnected. The northern shore depends partly on energy from the southern shore in the sense that an increasingly sizeable share of European agricultural and food production is the fruit of the labour of immigrants from the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, European surpluses are swamping African markets, causing enormous damage to local products by exploiting the crisis situation that is forcing African peasants to leave their land and come and seek their fortune on the Old Continent. All this is happening in an environmental framework in which shared management of several common resources is necessary: the most important of these is the sea itself, on which European and other countries are directly situated, and which also exerts a significant influence on non-coastal countries in the region.
26 Protection of the landscape, respect for the environment, safety from polluting emissions, naturalness, diversity and wholesomeness of foods, defence of biodiversity, recognition of minor cultural identities, gender questions and social justice such are the new paradigms that are beginning to gain ground in the world of consumer associations. Hence the birth of the critical and responsible consumer.
27 In this type of context, many associations concerned with the environment or problems of social justice and many non-governmental organisations working in poor countries have met with the demands of consumer movements. As in the early stages, when the first American consumer movements were formed to expose factories in which the lives of workers were being exploited inhumanly, ethics is once more a factor that guides consumer choices. As campaigns to boycott the large multinationals mount, so consumers are growing more aware of their power and of the pressure their choices can exert in orienting markets and products.
28 The Slow Food association, born as a “movement for the defence of and the right to pleasure” (Slow Food Manifesto, 1989), is also progressively characterised by the strongly ethical nature of the choices it shares with its members. In the early stages, in the mid 1980s, Slow Food saw the defence of “tranquil material pleasure” (Slow Food Manifesto, 1989) as an antidote to the “fast life” and as a far-reaching criticism of the global consumer system. Its demands have since extended from food to progressively embrace ecology and social justice (albeit always in terms of their connection with food). Here lies the originality of the path chosen by Slow Food, which has developed from being a movement of “oeno-gastronomes” into an eco-gastronomic association, whose philosophy is summed up today in the slogan “good, clean and fair” (Petrini, 2007). This new definition of quality is paradigmatic of how consumers are changing their food choice criteria. This is not a question that concerns only wealthy countries that have long achieved food security, since we see similar examples in different contexts precisely in the Mediterranean.
29 Environment, sustainability and workers’ rights are taken increasingly into account in the many consumer protection and cooperation projects on all shores of mare nostrum. The new definition of quality that is being developed throughout the world comprises the following aspects: the organoleptic property of foods (“good”, the first revolution, that of pleasure and personal gratification through the training of the senses); ecological quality (“clean”), through food cultivation, processing, distribution and consumption; and, finally, social justice (“fair”), in acknowledgment of the disastrous conditions in which billions of peasants live (not only in the global South) and in recognition of their precious labour from a human and economic point of view. In “liquid society”, consumer paradigms have changed and, in view of the multitude of crises which the world is experiencing, critical and responsible consumption is assuming strategic importance and is potentially capable of reorienting the entire global food system.
Slow Food implements the new paradigms of quality (good, clean and fair) through a number of projects:
- the Ark of Taste, which identifies and catalogues traditional quality food products endangered by industrial agriculture, the deterioration of the environment and the risk of extinction;
- Slow Food Presidia, which set out from the Ark of Taste catalogue to salvage traditional crafts and processing techniques and to save native animal breeds and old fruit and vegetable varieties from extinction;
- Earth Markets, a network of community-managed markets which allows producers to meet, get acquainted, exchange information and, above all, sell their products at fair prices;
- School, Urban and Social Gardens, Slow Food’s most significant and important educational project, which involves the younger generations in particular. As part of the Slow Food “A Thousand Gardens in Africa” project, gardens are designed to produce fresh and genuine vegetables as an important source of healthy food and bring supplementary income to local communities. The goal is to plant a thousand gardens across the continent, including all of the African Mediterranean countries involved in this project, by 2012.
Slow Food in Morocco
The Moroccan context is a good example of Slow Food’s real commitment in the Mediterranean. Here a firmly rooted network of communities made up of producers, consumers, teachers and students is growing high-quality local products, some of which are promoted by the Presidia project. Argan oil, for example, produced in south-western Morocco, has been a Slow Food Presidium since 2002. A DVD on the taste and aroma of this excellent product was produced in French as part of training activities involving young people in particular. In addition, a Presidium diversification project has developed the processing of waste from the extraction of argan oil to produce flour for baking. Taliouine saffron, nicknamed red gold, became a Presidium in 2007. The 11 growers from the historic Souktana plateau now use their product to promote the area at the annual Taliouine Saffron Festival and through participation in international events. In a bare rocky valley at an altitude of 880 metres in the foothills of the eastern Anti-Atlas Mountains in south-east Morocco, the Alnif Slow Food community is closely involved with the Alnif Cumin Presidium. This basic ingredient of Moroccan cuisine is used to prepare tajines, couscous and traditional soups, and is also excellent with vegetables and boiled meats.
In the Rif Mountains in north-east Morocco, Slow Food women and members of the Al Wifak association still collect salt and process it the traditional way. Zerradoun salt is the latest Presidium project product in Morocco. Slow Food is also involved in a project in support of food communities in south-east Morocco for the production and processing of M’hammid dates, Asjen couscous and the Middle Atlas goat. The association’s network in Morocco now plays a major role ; it organised and hosted the last Slow Food International Council, which involved several countries in which the movement has members. Local Universities (Agadir, Kenitra and Rabat) maintain continuous exchange with the Moroccan people (producers, schools) with regard to training in fields such as food and taste education, raising awareness about OGMs and education on the use of certain local foods. In addition to the local actors listed so far, there is also a promising network of caterers who actively participate in many Slow Food events and educational programmes. At the local level, the projects are organised in collaboration with Slow Food Convivia and Terra Madre network communities, the fundamental structures of the association.
For further information: www.slowfood.com; www.slowfoodfoundation.com; www.terramadre.org; www.earthmarkets.net
30 “Good clean and fair” food production may be a hard aim to achieve on a vast scale, but it does represent the image of the food currently demanded today by what may be considered avant-garde consumers, arguably a minority, but undoubtedly already sizeable and bound to grow in the future.
31 It is no coincidence that “critical” food consumption of this type should have appeared in the Mediterranean where, aside from the nutritional and prescriptive elements codified by Ancel Keys (Keys, 1975), the so-called “Mediterranean Diet” also represents a way of relating directly (or quasi directly) to production, in which the origin of food is a decisive factor alongside diversity, freshness and seasonality. These elements, which are essential for any discussion of the Mediterranean Diet, are to some degree antithetical to the logic of industrial mass production, which is why the more this type of production has progressed, the more they have been overlooked.
32 The concept of the Mediterranean Diet was developed around a nutritional model based on the traditional food systems of countries on the European side of the Mediterranean, in particular Italy, Greece, France, Spain and Portugal. But the idea also refers to a complex system that goes beyond mere nourishment: it encompasses a system of lay and religious traditions and rites and thus defines not so much a selection of foodstuffs as a way of thinking about food and relating to it.
33 It was Ancel Keys who first introduced the concept of the Mediterranean Diet to society, describing its distinctive features and highlighting its health benefits. Although the research carried out by Keys suggested that a Mediterranean-type diet ensured a better state of health, this way of eating has been progressively abandoned since the 1950s. Far from being an immutable fact, the concept of the Mediterranean Diet is part and parcel of the culture and identity of a certain society, subject to the sociocultural dynamics that affect the population itself. The upshot is that in the fifty or so years since The Seven Countries Study was completed, the Mediterranean Diet has evolved under the influence of nature-based, social, professional and, last but not least, economic questions.
34 The changes that have taken place in Europe over the last few decades have influenced society and people’s lifestyles and, consequently, their eating habits. The general observable trend has been of changing daily eating routines and places of food consumption. Today, unlike fifty years ago, consumers live with industrial products and have to some degree delegated care about their food to producers. This has weakened their food culture and often left them with little knowledge of the connection between food, body and health. In order to understand how this situation has come about, it is necessary to consider precisely the changes that have taken place in society over the last few decades (Padilla, 2008).
35 The general trend is a drop in the size of family units and a shift from extended families to nuclear families, sometimes composed of one single person. At the same time, not only is the average age of the population increasing, but also the number of individuals working at an older age. In other words, families are growing smaller, more and more people are working away from home, the pace of life is accelerating and leisure time is progressively diminishing. Eating styles and habits are consequently adapting, and as a result the number of meals consumed outside the home is increasing and the time dedicated to eating in the course of the day is decreasing. Speaking of time, it is important to stress how the concept refers not only to the real time of meal consumption more and more concentrated but also to all other food-related activities: from the time required to become acquainted with a food, to that required for its preparation, to that devoted to the sharing of it (Eurispes, 2010; BFCN, 2010b).
36 In practical terms, this change has translated into an increase in the demand for precooked, ready-to-eat food, to the detriment of traditional preparations; in other words, into the abandonment of the Mediterranean Diet, which requires time and knowledge, for other less wholesome models. As Keys’ studies had already suggested, the direct consequence of this abandonment has been an increase in the frequency of pathologies correlated to poor eating habits, such as cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes, as well as in the percentage of overweight and obese people.
37 Over the last few years, we have witnessed an attempt to return to an eating style as similar as possible to the principles set out in the early studies on the Mediterranean Diet. Today anyone who decides to follow a healthy diet model does so because he or she is aware of the benefits it will bring. In other words, the consumption of some foods as opposed to others is no longer so much a question of the mere pleasure they can give or of their availability as of other factors such as their low percentage of fats or their high content of components beneficial to the health.
38 The much-talked-about Mediterranean Diet is often presented as the best for ensuring a good state of health, and a number of surveys have shown how the abandonment of this diet is not necessarily accompanied by a cultural loss of awareness of how important healthy eating is for physical well-being; whereas the majority of European citizens realise that this is the case, what we observe is, rather, a rift between our ideal conceptions and what we manage to put into actual practice on a daily basis.
39 All in all, what we are seeing is a shift from a situation in which individuals followed a Mediterranean dietary model simply because they only ate what was available to a situation where people who follow it do so out of choice on the basis of ideas and awareness, irrespective of the variety of foodstuffs available. The basis for a good diet depends not so much on the choice of what to eat but on good practices and responsible behaviour that attributes value to food. This attitude involves a new approach to food in which sensory pleasure is not only related to, but indeed influenced by, its sustainability in environmental, social and health terms.
40 Food has always been one of the key elements for defining the identity of a population and differentiating its culture. Even today diet is still seen as one of the most important distinctive features for the definition of cultural, social or political boundaries and for the knowledge of other traditions. Food acts as a sort of visiting card with which a person presents him/herself and, as such, may become the initial point of contact for promoting meetings and exchanges between different cultures.
41 The new consumer, defined by different organisations as a “co-producer” or a “consumActor”, can certainly be considered capable of orienting production and, in part, this is what is happening now. But is it also true that “The customer is always right”? Perhaps it is the market that makes the customer right.
42 Historically speaking, industrial food production has been strongly supported, if not expressly demanded, by the average consumer. In the early post-war years, average living conditions in many Mediterranean countries were below the poverty line. The first demand was for more food at cheaper prices, a demand that industrial production was certainly in a position to fulfil. Later, once satisfactory food security had been achieved, consumers began to demand products that were easier to prepare and quicker to supply and consume. This marked a triumph for large-scale retail: pre-cooked, frozen and ready-prepared foods appeared on the market, and industry added more and more stages to the transition from field to table. Average consumers in the Mediterranean region were basically asking to be freed from a difficult past in which food provision was not only problematic and costly, but also extremely tiring. Domestic food preparation and conservation required a great deal of time and effort, and industry deserves praise for doing its utmost to solve the problems of everyday life, relieving the consumer of many food-related chores and offering everything at an affordable price: namely a price in cash, which citizens who had abandoned agriculture were beginning to dispose of in large amounts. However, another price was paid on account of these industrialisation processes, a price not in cash but one that certainly hit the community, undermining the very concept of the Mediterranean Diet and causing many of its premises to collapse, or, at least, seriously compromising them.
43 Intensive production in the countryside and serial production in factories have created a system capable of distributing more than ample amounts of food to the population, but they have also had dire secondary effects. Some of these have been mentioned above and there is a vast literature on them, but here is a brief list: pollution (primarily CO2 emissions); the endangerment of fertile soil and aquifers; the decline in the average quality of food; over-standardisation and the depletion of biodiversity; scandal and fraud; ever lower wages for farmers who have abandoned the countryside en masse; the consequent destruction of the sociocultural rural fabric; lastly, a consumer system in which foodstuff wastage has been calculated at a third of production (FAO, 2011). Of course, if we consider the Mediterranean region, these negative “collateral effects” take on many different forms. Not only are there evident differences between the countries of North Africa or the eastern shore and those of Europe, but there are also very diversified situations within the European countries themselves. It can be argued, however, that comparable trends exist everywhere, albeit moving at different paces and with different levels of intensity.
44 This is not the place to analyse the gravity of these phenomena. Suffice it to say that on the one hand they have exerted profound influence on what is commonly considered the “Mediterranean Diet”, while on the other they have triggered the new trends in “critical” consumption described above. The two points are linked, since what the postmodern consumer demands is based on premises that were and are those of the Mediterranean Diet, where it still exists.
45 As already pointed out above, when we speak about the Mediterranean Diet we refer (or at least ought to refer) to food of local origin, mainly consumed in the season in which it is naturally available, with as few additives as possible. Food should be consumed mainly fresh or made from raw materials which have been produced without the use of invasive agricultural farming techniques and have not travelled from one end of the world to the other and thus have not made a strong impact on the environment. Food should come from rural communities with relatively strong, solid identities and traditions. Food should not generate (or should reduce to a bare minimum) social and environmental costs, and should even offer solutions to these problems, all in the spirit of “multifunctional” agriculture, in which positive externalities prevail over negative ones. Food, in short, should be at the centre of human activities, the driving force behind conviviality in the broadest sense (Illich, 1973), capable of allowing consumers to become once more (or, better still, turn into) the “co-producers” or “consumActors” mentioned above.
46 The co-producer is no longer a passive consumer but an active one, an integral part of a sustainable production process, no longer detached from it. A co-producer is a person who is fully aware of the processes and the people that have brought food to the table. This is one of the reasons why he or she is able to orient its production by demanding more sustainable food, for example, or fairer prices for farmers. A co-producer is a responsible consumer, close to production and capable of understanding and orienting it.
47 It is easy to see that, in a heavily industrialised global food system, the path co-producers follow is beset with difficulties. Yet it is the “contextual” premises of the Mediterranean Diet that provide the wherewithal to follow the route of responsible consumption and assert the consumer’s responsibility to rebuild a gastronomic culture.
48 This culture should consider food as central to human lives and involve a complex system of values and connections with the natural world. This is why it is necessary to be able to “understand” food through all useful information and personal education, which by necessity must start at school and continue throughout life. To achieve all of this, consumer responsibility is not enough: consumers also need to be given support and the means of exercising this “comprehension”, which is still limited and often difficult to achieve a long way away from the immediacy it used to have in the rural contexts where it came into being and where what was subsequently codified as the Mediterranean Diet developed.
49 We must thus become once again the subject of the phrase “man eats food”: we must devote ourselves to the governance of the planet. Eating implies, above all, responsible consumer choices. People’s food consumption and lifestyles, habits and behaviour are inseparably linked. This is what it can mean today to give some food choices precedence over others. The concept of “Mediterranean” expresses not so much what we eat but how we eat it. It is a way of thinking about food and relating to it, and it encompasses a range of values, to some extent irrespective of strictly nutritional aspects. To return to the concept of Mediterranean today thus means promoting a new food paradigm that is more respectful of people and health, not only in the sense of self-preservation but also in the sense of the preservation of planet Earth itself.
50 The right to healthy food needs to be defended today more than ever before, especially in the wealthy countries, in which hunger is no longer a problem, but where the spread of cheap, industrially produced food of poor nutritional quality is the source of serious health problems (especially among the younger generations) and of manifest inequalities in the distribution of the food available. In this context, the typical features of what we conventionally define as the “Mediterranean” become a health choice that needs to be promulgated and pursued. The rediscovery of “simple” food products, such as relatively unprocessed wholemeal cereals, the generous use of fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables, preferably grown using integrated, organic or biodynamic methods, lower meat consumption with an eye to quality as opposed to quantity, lower consumption of sodium-rich processed foods, simple sugars, saturated fats, the consumption of fresh foods, the “intelligent” consumption of alcohol —all these are daily behaviours that can exert strong influence on our state of personal and collective health. The goodness and wholesomeness of well-produced foods prepared in the least refined, least elaborate way possible must be appreciated. It is all a question of culture or, better still, of education. As Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, when it is possible to eat everything nature has to offer, deciding what it is good to eat inevitably generates a certain apprehension, especially if certain foods prove harmful to the health, or even lethal (Pollan, 2006). To combat the junk food boom, guidelines must be identified that are easily applicable and adoptable on a daily basis so as to avoid unbalanced or incorrect eating styles and to opt for a more balanced diet.
51 To address this need, in 1992 the US Department of Agriculture created its first food pyramid, the basic criteria of which are known to all. The base consists of foods of vegetable origin (typical of the Mediterranean Diet) with high nutrient and protective compound content and low energy density. The next section up contains foods with higher energy density (very common in the Mediterranean Diet), which ought to be consumed with less frequency. The scenarios of the last few years have made it necessary to broaden horizons, viewing food in terms of its positive impact not only on individual health, but also on that of the planet. This is why a group of scientists and researchers elaborated the paradigm of the “Double Pyramid” of healthy food for people and sustainable food for the planet (BFCN, 2010a). The model basically takes that of the original food pyramid and flanks it with an inverted “environmental-food” pyramid. This demonstrates that the foodstuffs we ought to consume most frequently are also the ones with the lowest environmental impact, whereas those to be eaten less frequently are also the ones with the highest environmental impact. Environmental impact is calculated according to three variables: Carbon Footprint (generation of greenhouse gas effect), Water Footprint (consumption of water resources) and Ecological Footprint (use of land).
52 It is thus possible to combine in a single model two different but equally important objectives: health and environmental protection, eating better in order to live in a better world. Seen through this lens, the Mediterranean Diet is not only a set of foods associated with a well-defined geographical area, but also an important tool of consumer education. We must grasp the need for our eating habits to be the fruit of a responsible approach, which interprets the food system in its global dimension. To do this it is necessary above all to revitalise local areas and be aware of the importance of acting locally to shorten the distance that food travels. In other words, it is necessary we repeat to become “co-producers”: not mere passive consumers or passive subjects, who purchase what they eat absent-mindedly sometimes ignorantly but attentive and responsible citizens, prepared to pay the right price for the pleasure of food and health, concerned about health protection not only as a right but also as an intellectual and collective duty. It is a question of ethicality, closely interconnected with the dimension of pleasure. To choose good food is to make a commitment to save the planet, for food and taste are the vital node on which depend the health of peoples, the planet and social relations; in short, the lives of us all.
53 It is necessary to come to terms with a fact that can be measured globally: namely that the development, in the classic sense, of a country, and thus of the countries of the Mediterranean region, is not matched by equivalent growth in critical sensibility towards food purchases, knowledge of raw materials and the environmental and social impact of food production.
54 The first of the many threats to a gastronomic system would thus appear to be “modernity”, which influences the ways in which meal choices are made insofar as it modifies individual and collective time management. Much of the blame can be placed not only on the production and distribution system, but also on the method of food procurement. All this tends to change any gastronomic identity radically. In this context, what is needed is greater, more resolute support for small-scale agriculture as a virtuous component of the regional fabric with reduced environmental impact and as a source not only of education but also of income for families.
55 The quality of food depends not only on ingredients or organoleptic properties, but also on the methods used to produce it: all of these elements must meet principles linked to history, culture and land protection. Gastronomic identity is in fact based on subjective elements such as climate, soil and land, as well as a whole set of questions associated with the culture, society and history of a community, not to mention, of course, individual skills. Favoured by a temperate climate and with mainly peasant or artisan roots, the societies of the Mediterranean region have conserved a gastronomic identity that is part of a complex and pluralist way of life. To exploit these complexities it is imperative to show the utmost respect for indigenous customs.
56 If a diet falls under cultural and economic pressure, even one that is firmly rooted in a culture like the Mediterranean culture is liable to lose its originality and substance and the standard of quality of its food. If quality standards decline, the diet per se is liable to lose its significance: thus increasingly refined cereals that increasingly resemble simple sugars, flavourless, odourless vegetables, meat from animals raised with growth promoters and in conditions of stress, intensively farmed fish, deodorised olive oils, cakes containing artificial flavourings the list could go on and on turn the main items of the Mediterranean Diet into empty labels. In view of the devastating effects, countermeasures must be taken to protect quality food, good production practices, the land, its biodiversity and, above all, the protagonists of the system, the peasants and farmers whose aim it is to develop “good” agriculture. Any form of negative and devious change that is likely to corrupt the authenticity of a heritage of quality must be fought. This concept requires that we acknowledge the true value of responsible food, which involves no waste and is respectful of places of origin, the history of peoples, and age-old traditions.
57 In any era, consumers meet their requirements by confirming habits or creating new ones alongside existing ones, contributing in varying degrees to their own personal lifestyles and/or to the behaviour of the community of which they are members. Today consumers can be divided into “rational actors”, active planners who, at the moment of purchase, tend to maximise utility, and “passive subjects” (Sassoli, 2009), who are easy to manipulate and are exploited by the market, and whom Barber defines as “consumed” (Barber, 2007). Whether rational or passive, consumers can be influenced by advertising, which steers consumption by persuasion, and by the techniques used to present and explain individual commodities.
58 The time has come to reject the word and the idea of the “consumer”: power of choice makes the role of the buyer decisive only if he or she has access to all of the information that permits a well-reasoned choice, and enables him or her to influence market trends and evolution. The availability and accessibility of information change simple consumers into “citizen-consumers”, who work towards the creation of an ethical market (Masini and Scaffidi, 2008) and evolve into a “co-producer”. Underpinning all this is communication about the tools that can re-establish a thrifty and balanced relationship between man, environment and food.
59 This may seem an extremely exacting task. But the rediscovery of the pleasure that food gives is the precondition for recognising its true value. Pleasure is thus not a variable of quality (or cost) but an indissociable element of food, a physiological and natural feature of our relationship with what we eat. The experience of this pleasure is attained to the full in the sharing thereof. By which we mean not only conviviality but also awareness of the virtuous journey a food product has made before arriving on our plates.
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PLAN DE L'ARTICLE
- Consumer associations: a little history
- The paradigms of consumption
- Mediterranean Diet: by nature or by choice
- Is the customer always right?
- Is it possible to return to an authentic Mediterranean Diet?
POUR CITER CET ARTICLE
Roberto Burdese « Chapter 11. Responsible consumption », in MediTERRA 2012 (english), Presses de Sciences Po, 2012, p. 227-243.
URL : www.cairn.info/mediterra-2012-english--9782724612486-page-227.htm.