The UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Food, which took place in Parma, Italy, on 12 and 13 September, focused on culture, food and education as powerful enablers of transformational change and sustainable development. Whilst the cultivation, preparation and serving of food is a universal human experience, there is a rich variety of food practices around the world, constituting an important part of our shared heritage.
Opening the event, Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, underscored that investing in cultural heritage and culture-related food practices strengthens social inclusion, economic development, and well-being, thus addressing the challenges of the UN 2030 Agenda. “Cultural policies today provide innovative responses in areas such as inclusion, technical and vocational education, employment, the preservation of cultural heritage and of biodiversity”, he said. Mr Ottone also stressed that cultural practices rooted in traditional and local knowledge systems related to food are important markers of collective identity and environmental sustainability.
Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities, emphasized more awareness of the identity value of food, its importance as a vehicle of knowledge and an instrument for intercultural dialogue, whose safeguarding contributes to preserving environmental, cultural and social ecosystems. Focusing on the active role of communities, which are a source of knowledge and wisdom for the entire society, the Minister said “Our crucial mission is to identify key areas of action with the goal of ensuring the harmonious development of the territory and the balanced relationship between urban and rural areas, also through the food sector and creativity.”
Teresa Bellanova, Italian Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, stated that “Moving towards universal food models and diets can threaten traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. That is why we need to ensure sustainable development by reinforcing the links between food and culture.” Experts emphasized the dynamic character of local food practices that have evolved, blended, and crossed boundaries, giving rise to new cultural forms, while preserving cultural traditions or reinventing them.
Noting the importance of eating well while protecting the planet, the Forum’s speakers analysed how, over the last century, food systems have undergone significant transformation with technological advances, the massive use of fossil fuels, trends in migration and increasing urbanization. Food production accounts for a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions while we waste a third of the food we produce, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes. The expansion of agricultural land is also the largest factor behind deforestation.
These trends threaten biodiversity, which is decreasing at an unprecedented rate. Experts recalled the impact of climate change, which brings new risks to food security, particularly for the over 2 billion people who currently do not have regular access to safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities.
Creativity through gastronomy is also part of the solution, as highlighted by representatives of the UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy. Each of these cities has adopted innovative, locally-adapted strategies and projects. Likewise, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage elements, World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and Geoparks serve as laboratories of experimentation for scientific research, innovation and practice that showcase the intrinsic and interdependent linkages between cultural heritage, communities and environment.
Italian chef Massimo Bottura, founder of the non-profit organization Food for Soul, launched a vibrant call to action stressing the social responsibility of chefs in raising awareness about making sustainable and informed consumption choices, supporting healthy diets, and fighting food waste. “Cooking is a call to act” he said.
The Forum concluded with the adoption of the Parma Declaration, which reaffirms the necessity of reinforcing the links between culture and food to preserve biodiversity rooted in cultural identity and heritage, improve food production and consumption, support healthy nutrition and impulse transformational change.
UNESCO organized the Forum in collaboration with the Government of the Italian Republic, with the support of the Emilia Romagna Region and the City of Parma, which is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy since 2017.