Foto: Andrei Armiagov/

Every bite counts

Food provides us with energy, delights our taste buds, shapes identities, affects our climate, brings people together, makes us ill or restores our health: food is everything.

‘First comes food, then mora­lity’, accor­ding to the ballad ‘What keeps mankind alive?’ from The Three­penny Opera. The lyri­cist, Bertolt Brecht, loved to provoke. He also enjoyed holding up a mirror to his audi­ence and presen­ting an unvar­nis­hed depic­tion of reality. Inclu­ding the bits no one wanted to look at. For exam­ple, the topic of food. Few topics are more mundane, complex and funda­men­tal. And few remain just as rele­vant today as they were in Brecht’s time.

We cannot take food for granted

The term ‘Fres­sen’, as used by Brecht (meaning ‘food’, ‘grub’ or ‘to gorge’, among other things), is more commonly used in the context of animals, but it can also have conno­ta­ti­ons of eating to excess, deca­dence, glutt­ony and over­in­dul­gence. Most people in Europe are able to take the avai­la­bi­lity of food for gran­ted. Rather than asking oursel­ves whether we will be able to eat, we find oursel­ves focu­sing on what we will eat, when and what kind of quality we can expect – and if the food tastes good, we tend to eat too much. We tend to think of hunger as a problem faced by other people. Parti­cu­larly people in far-off countries. 

Howe­ver, with the current rate of infla­tion, a growing number of people in our coun­try are finding that their budget is stret­ched to its limits just shop­ping for food. The issue tends to be hidden from view. The social insti­tu­tion Soup & Chill in Basel, for exam­ple, has been based in aban­do­ned proper­ties or contai­ners for the past six years. The orga­ni­sa­tion hands out free bread, fruit, tea, coffee and soup during the winter months. Most of us are enjoy­ing a diffe­rent reality – one that features packed shel­ves and exten­sive variety, with year-round avai­la­bi­lity of produce that is meant to be seaso­nal. Dishes that have been proces­sed to vary­ing degrees – and elabo­ra­tely packa­ged – are always available. We buy too much and we throw away what’s left, even though most of us are aware that this kind of consu­mer beha­viour is problematic.

Food systems

Food produc­tion is beco­ming chea­per and chea­per, and, as a result, price pres­sure on farmers and all along the value chain is growing. At the same time, we are not eating healt­hily and that is gene­ra­ting costs in other areas. This is why there is incre­asing talk about the food system: we can’t bring about a trans­for­ma­tion through isola­ted pilot projects in one part of the value chain. We need to take a syste­mic view and act toge­ther, in unison. Various nonpro­fit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons are making a valuable contri­bu­tion here, culti­vat­ing old varie­ties, test­ing new tech­no­lo­gies and orga­ni­s­ing networks to help shape this trans­for­ma­tion. Their work illus­tra­tes the diverse approa­ches to the issue of food in the world of phil­an­thropy. It is a topic that is being discus­sed in a range of areas: in the health­care sector, for exam­ple, the vitamin manu­fac­tu­rer DSM’s Sight and Life Foun­da­tion is commit­ted to comba­ting malnu­tri­tion. The Seed­ling Foun­da­tion, which provi­des support for climate protec­tion, is focu­sing on the food system. And in the social sphere, Stif­tung Schwei­zer Tafel coll­ects over 25 tonnes of food a day and distri­bu­tes it to social insti­tu­ti­ons, redu­cing food waste at the same time.

Secu­rity and sustainability

Food is connec­ted to a whole range of current issues. And there is an acute need for action: to ensure food secu­rity, we need sustainable and rege­ne­ra­tive food produc­tion. ‘Our food system is not sustainable. To main­tain our liveli­hood and the basis for our econo­mic acti­vity, we need to realign the entire value chain,’ the fore­word to the ‘Wege in die Ernäh­rungs­zu­kunft der Schweiz’ report on Switzerland’s food future explains. The fact that we have grown accus­to­med to the avai­la­bi­lity of food items should not blind us to the fact that things do not have to be this way – and that we have a lot of leverage to hand here. The Fede­ral Office for the Envi­ron­ment FOEN writes that agri­cul­ture was respon­si­ble for 14.6 per cent of Switzerland’s green­house gas emis­si­ons in 2020. Dairy and meat produc­tion were at the heart of this. A third of global green­house gas emis­si­ons can be traced back to the food system, WWF Germany writes. The envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­sa­tion counts emis­si­ons caused by slash-and-burn agri­cul­ture as indi­rect emis­si­ons here. While these occur a long way away, the fact that Switz­er­land is only 50 per cent self-suffi­ci­ent means that the emis­si­ons are directly asso­cia­ted with the Swiss food system. Our biodi­ver­sity foot­print is also nega­tively impac­ted at home and abroad by our consu­mer beha­viour. FOEN main­ta­ins that food and animal feed have the biggest impact here. In other words, our food choices have serious rami­fi­ca­ti­ons. And that is why – with all respect to Bertolt Brecht – mora­lity has to come first. And then food.

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