Why isn’t food on the COP agenda? (part 1)

December 09, 2021 TABLEdebates.org Season 1 Episode 17
Why isn’t food on the COP agenda? (part 1)
Show Notes Transcript

Why was food absent from the climate agenda in COP-26, the global gathering that took place in Scotland in November 2021? In this bonus episode, we speak with different people who attended or advocated at COP for food to be more central to the climate agenda. We hear from a youth activist (Vera Röös), a representative of civil society (Pete Ritchie at Nourish Scotland) and a politician (Secretary of International Affairs Marta Suplicy in São Paulo), who say we cannot reach emission reduction targets without looking at food systems. In part two of this episode we will speak to policy and finance experts to hear some other perspectives on COP-26.

For more info and transcript, please visit: https://tabledebates.org/podcast/episode17

[intro music] 

Matthew  00:06

Welcome to Feed, a food systems podcast presented by TABLE, a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Wageningen University. I'm Matthew Kessler and today we're starting a two part special episode on the 26th gathering up the Conference of Parties, or COP 26, a United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, Scotland. We'll be hearing from different voices from the food system, including some who attended the last COP in November 2021. 

So how important are these international conferences? And did they actually get anything done? Each year heads of state gather and briefly shine a spotlight on climate change, they recommit to limiting temperature rise to under one and a half degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels before the end of the century. And then it seems that this climate talks fade from the public. But perhaps that's changing.  There are increased efforts to halt deforestation to reduce methane emissions, and high emitting nations are beginning to set more ambitious targets. But we're currently at 1.1 degrees and business as usual projections suggest we'll reach three degrees unless drastic action is taken. 

The food system is estimated to be responsible for 30 or even 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and many say we cannot reach emission reduction targets without looking at food systems. In this episode, we speak with different people about COP and why food wasn't more central to the climate agenda.  We talk with Vera Roos, a youth activist from Sweden, Pete Ritchie, the executive director of NGO Nourish, Scotland, and Marta Suplicy, Secretary of International Affairs from São Paulo. In the second part of the episode, we'll speak with more policy and finance experts who offer some different perspectives on COP.

But before getting into the weeds with different speakers, we first hear a few quick words Feed’s co-host, Samara Brock, who attended this year’s COP and can share what this important global gathering actually looks like on the ground. 

Samara  01:59

I don't know if you've ever been to a COP. It was nuts! Everybody's running around. And it's crowded and busy and no one has time to do anything. Because everybody's always wants to be somewhere else and it's packed and there's no windows and you can't find your way anywhere. 

Matthew  02:14

And getting into COP wasn't a walk in the park either.

Samara  02:17

Getting back and forth, because I was staying in Edinburgh. So I had to take a train in the morning and was like, run to get the chain is the chain stand around with all the other delegates waiting for the next train, get onto a very, very crowded train and then push and shove each other to get on the crowded bus and show them your daily test results.

Matthew  02:34

Not only was the process of attending and participating in a cup challenging, there's also some ambiguity about the actual impacts of all the behind the scenes conversations and negotiations, which is why many food stakeholders settled on a similar message.

Samara  02:48

Everybody's big mantra for the purpose of being there was, “We have to get a food day at the cop 27 We have to make sure that food is a big deal

Matthew  02:58

I then asked Samara what she think will happen next.

Samara  03:00

Sort of the takeaways for food was the food mentioned was actually pretty minimal. But the food people who are there are very much trying to change that. And whether they do or not, I'm not sure. I think the press after COP, the press I read post-COP, has all been pretty negative about the outcomes in terms of what happened coal and last minute retractions or weakening of commitments and statements.

Matthew  03:27

But she did hear one person present a way to think about it more optimistically.

Samara  03:31

It was an interesting metaphor. He was saying we have to see the COPSs not as still images, but as a movie. And if we see this as a movie, it's actually moving in the right direction. Like the conversations that were happening there will lead to conversations that will have to happen at cop 27 that will actually probably result in some sort of ratcheting up, even though initially if we just look at this as a snapshot, it seems disappointing.

Matthew  03:54

That was co-host Samara Brock reflecting on her experiences at COP 26. Next we'll hear from Vera Röös, a 16, soon to be 17 year old from Uppsala, who's a member of the youth Green Party in Sweden and was invited to join this year's COP through her involvement with the Federation of Young European greens. Vera has been active with the young greens since she was 13. As a committed activists, she took a multi day train ride from Sweden to Scotland. And then back.

Vera  04:23

Since I was a child, I thought like I was really interested in like politics and especially like, because also I have my mother who is a scientist. And no, she is a researcher, I mean, in this area. So I got interested really early. And so I wanted to meet like other young people who were also like, interested in these topics, because I feel like most people, my friends and stuff, they didn't want to talk politics every lunch like I want to do. So I decided to join the Young Greens, I went to my first meeting, and it was really nervous at first because I was so much younger, and I didn’t know that much about politics and stuff. But then I started to get more organized. And I joined the board in my city. And yeah, it was on that path. I also started doing joining like fighters for future process and stuff.

Matthew  05:10

What was it like when you first got there? Was it once you entered Glasgow? Did you know that you were in the middle of COP? Or did you get to a certain area and then you're like, “Oh, I'm really here right now?”

Vera  05:18

Yeah, so like, it's really apparent when you get to Glasgow that it's not like an ordinary time there. This is a really special event for them because it's not that big of a city. Like everywhere. It's says COP26 and like every restaurant also wants to put forward their like climate policy or whatever. So there are a lot of different companies are trying to advertise and benefit from this big event in Glasgow, I think,

Matthew  05:41

And what type of events or protests or marches did you attend while you were there?

Vera  05:47

So we attended the big climate march in the Sunday, or on the Saturday, I think it was. When like 100,000 people you're in, so it was really cool. There's also a thing called People's Climate Summit. in Glasgow, which is basically like civil society getting together, there were different panels, and stuff on the climate in general. So we one day we just attended different seminars and stuff in Glasgow, they're held in like, churches and different locations all over Glasgow. 

Matthew  06:15

What was like it being at the People’s climate summit?

Vera  06:19

There was one really interesting panel about right wing extremists and the climate denial and these types of things. I think it’s a Swedish author, I don’t remember his name. He has written a book called ‘White Skin, Black Fuels’.

Matthew  06:34

I looked this up. White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Danger of Fossil Fascism is a 2021 book by Andreas Malm that dives into the historical roots of right wing nationalist’s opposition to dealing with climate change.

 So one of the reasons that I wanted to talk with you is that we wanted to understand how different people are viewing this COP 26. And I want to know, from your view, what do you think would be a good outcome?

Vera  07:00

Yeah, so I think that's maybe hard for me to say, and I don't think it should be up to me to decide either, because I'm, like, only 16. So I mainly like listening to the scientists what they say about this outcome. And I think we've seen some success. There are some reasons for hope. But obviously, more have to be done. I think that's what everyone's saying. And I would agree with that. And I also think, like a lot of stuff is happening, like right now, because today is the final day. So there, there is like a draft right now. So I'm really like looking into that and seeing what the actual outcome will be.

Matthew  07:31

We recorded this conversation on Friday the 12th, the official last day of the summit, although the negotiations continued into Saturday until a deal was reached late in the evening.

Some were contented with the deal that was reached, while others were uninspired by the same commitments that they saw is not going far enough to keep warming under one and a half degrees. Vera shared some of the positive outcome she saw at COP26. And at the same time, remained cautious about some of the voluntary pledges that were made.

Vera  07:59

So I think, for example, like India, actually taking action and making a pledge to decrease emissions, I think that was a really successful outcome, but also like the pledge to stop deforestation. And also the thing with the methane emissions that they should decrease by 30% by 2030. That was also quite hopeful. But I think the thing is, we will have to see if the countries actually live up to the pledges that they have taken, because we have seen that in the past that in these really big events, there are a lot of nice words, and a lot of ambitious politics. But then afterwards, other things tend to get more important.

Matthew  08:36

And what about some of the things that you were maybe disappointed about or that you think there could be much more action on?

Vera  08:43

I think, like, there's a big gap when it comes to like climate funding, especially like in less wealthy countries who are going to pay like no countries have actually really take a lot of really big countries have taken responsibility for this. So I think that's one of the main issue, but also a lot of things around how the COP was organized.

Matthew  09:04

Climate funding refers to how the countries are investing in efforts to respond to climate change. This could include adaptation or mitigation projects, and small and large investments such decarbonizing the energy and transport sector. The Paris Agreement called for richer and higher emitting countries to set up investment funds to help poorer and lower emitting countries respond to the disproportionate ways in which they are impacted by climate change. Many critics suggest richer countries could be doing a lot more on this front. 

I then asked Vera why she thought this particular COP was poorly organized?

Vera  09:38

I think there were some things with like COVID because they restricted like the number of delegates. So a lot of like activists couldn’t come, especially from the Global South, was literally like lack of representation from like, the most affected countries.

Matthew  09:53

So now I want to pivot a little more to the food aspect of all this. One of the things that we're talking with each of the guests is we all sort of acknowledge that food is not central to the climate agenda. Why do you think that is?

Vera  10:07

Like it could be that it's such a personal question, or like it's, it's so close to us personally, what we eat and like it's so clear in this question that is like the consumption and the way that we live that needs to change. And I think that's makes it difficult for politicians to like, talk about it. I'm a member of the Greens in Sweden, and for us it has been really hard to like have policies or and the politics around these types of questions, because it's not popular. I know that for the Greens in in Germany when they wanted to have like a meat free day. And that's when they have never have so low numbers in the polls because it was really unpopular. 

Matthew  10:47

Given that food and climate are interlinked, and each subject can lead to highly polarizing debates, I asked Vera how she thinks we can speak about these issues in a less divisive way.

Vera  11:11

I think recently we have seen that like people and like civil society has actually are wanting to go further with food, like lots of people are eating less meat and including more like climate friendly foods in their diet. So I think like politicians are more scared of talking about that than they should be because obviously there are going to make people like upset but also a lot of people I think would support it. But also going through farmers and actually showing that we're not wanting to make it difficult for like farmers but actually include them in this transition that will make it better for everyone. And also maybe talk more about like people in this process. For example, in slaughterhouses, people who work in slaughterhouses are really exposed and are often experiencing a lot of mental health issues and stuff like that. So maybe talking about the animals will probably work for some people. But for other people, I think they just really don't care about animals. So maybe also talking about more about the people involved,

Matthew  12:10

Vera continues to strategize about how we should move forward in these conversations.

Vera  12:15

I just think it's important to talk more about food and how we're going to, because it is a difficult transition like it's, it's hard for everyone involved. So I think it's important to recognize that we have to change the way we eat and the way we produce our food. And that change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. So we either have to adapt to the climate crisis or stop it from happening. And I think reducing our emissions is probably going to be both like a cheaper alternative, but also, like better for everyone in so many ways.

Matthew  12:45

That was Vera Röös, sharing some ideas about how to transition the food system. We'll hear more from her later in the series talking about the power of the youth to transform food systems. 

Next, we speak with Pete Ritchie, Executive Director of Nourish Scotland to hear a view from civil society. Nourish Scotland works for a fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system in Scotland and campaigns on issues such as the environment, public health and inequality.  Pete and Heather Anderson run Whitmuir Organics, a livestock and vegetable farm producing food for Scotland from 16 miles south of Edinburgh. Pete’s work used to focus on the inclusion of disabled people in society for about 25 years before he took a turn towards farming.

Pete Ritchie  13:36

I had a bit of a midlife crisis and ended up buying a small farm. And for a while we did the farming sort of part time and then went to work and did our day jobs. People said things to us like, so can we buy some food from you? But you have like 100 acres, like, surely you can grow some food and we go well, I suppose. And then we started, you know, that was the biggest mistake, was we started thinking, oh can grow some food here, you know, like, we've got a few vegetables and, and our climate where we are in our soil isn't really ideal for vegetables. It's not - it's a bit of a hard, a hard yard doing that. But we get started. And then, you know, we got these people to get involved with the farm and we build up the business. 

Matthew  14:15

Pete quickly began to recognize the difficulty of making a living from farming and how challenging it was just to sell food to his neighbors.

Pete  14:23

I just started get involved in food policy, because it's just incredibly interesting to think, Well, why does it work like this? You know, why do we have? Why? Why is it so hard for fun like ours to actually sell food to people near where we live? At that point sheep, we're going 500 miles on a lorry to get slaughtered, because the person who had the contract for organic sheep was down in England. It's just a crazy system. But we were part of it so we tried to understand how it worked.

Matthew  14:47

Pete started to join more community farmer working groups and meetings. And he observed a mismatch in the priorities of what was desired in his local community versus what was desired at a larger scale, and who it was that was guiding that policy.

Pete  15:01

And then we realized that policy was being driven by the food industry and a powerful actors in the farming sector. And the rest of civil society, we didn't have a focus at all on food policy. We think it helps important environments important, nutrition equity is important. We think all these things are important. There was no way they're really collectively talking to government.

Matthew  15:23

So that's why they started Nourish Scotland. And Pete gradually spent less and less time on the farm

Pete  15:29

So now and I’m like 90 percent  desk and 10 percent farming.

Matthew  15:32

Our conversation with Pete was recorded a week before COP 26. Pete shared how he felt about the world coming to his home of Glasgow for this climate gathering.

Pete  15:41

We were so excited when it was announced. I mean, we just so excited, I think at the moment, we're a bit full of trepidation because we've actually got to deliver forty events in next the two weeks. And, we're sort of ready. But, you know so many things could go wrong. So I think we'll be really excited after it's over. We will be excited what is going on, but just at the moment, we’re in that “Oh my God” phase of the whole process, but it's a great honor. I mean, it really is amazing. It makes us very proud of our little country,

Matthew  16:07

Nourish Scotland organized 40 different events! They were explicitly focused on integrating food into the COP agenda since it wasn't there in the first place. We asked Pete why it wasn’t there to begin with?

Pete  16:23

Yeah. I mean, food is not there at all. We've got what is it 11 daily themes to choose from, and we can’t find one of them being food, that seems to be pretty weird. And the closest that we can get is nature. It just doesn't quite capture the whole thing. As far as we could see, there's no appetite from UK Government to get food high up on that agenda. And I think that's just because it's in the too hard box.

Matthew  16:50

Do you agree with that diagnosis, that food is too hard?

Pete  16:53

It's much harder than the other stuff. Nobody cares whether the car runs on a battery or a fuel tank. I mean, nobody cares. Nobody cares where their house gets heated by a heat pump or oil pump. You know, it's like, nobody cares. But people do care about their food. It affects over a billion producers worldwide in terms of - are they going to have a likelihood? What are they going to produce? It affects national governments export strategies, public health, all the relationships around land, who makes a profit out of the sort of food that we're going to be needing to eat? Which businesses don't have a business model going forward? Energy businesses can switch from being oil companies to being renewable companies like that's, that's easy, you know, it's no different from motorcycle companies becoming car companies. It's the same sort of thing you're doing your mobility companies or your power companies. But for food businesses, shifting to a model where sort of risk and externalities are internalized within the price of food, that's much, much more disruptive. And very difficult to do, because trying to cost in these externalities is complex, and it's contested, in a way where getting a price for carbon, once you've got it, it's one number. So it is – food is much, much harder, it involves much more change in a much more complex system.

Matthew  18:17

Pete brings up an interesting tension here about how it might be easier to frame problems and solutions around a single number, versus dealing with the complexity of many variables. Pete sees this way of thinking impacting wider climate negotiations.

Pete  18:33

I mean, I don't think, you know, obviously, from the sort of low income countries, the key thing is climate finance. And obviously, from the point of view of the wider world, you know, the key thing is how do you accelerate decarbonization. , you know, what, you know, market measures, fiscal measures, you know, play commissions to us to get that to happen quicker than it's going to happen to please your market forces. So that's, that's the big thing. But the fact that nature-based solutions has now been shortened to the five letter word “Trees” is sort of a bit of a symptom of where that whole agenda fits in the UK Government sort of thinking. They’re very mechanistic on the whole thing. This is about climate finance, and it's about getting off coal, and it's about decarbonizing transport. And it is if you like, the straightforward, easy wins, but food is in the too hard box. And as we saw with the National Food strategy in England, any mention of dietary change was pushed into the sort of nice to have box, you know, it wasn't seen as something that government really needed to do anything about.

Samara  19:39

So given that you're one of the organizations that's trying to gain attention for food and climate and the links between that at COP. What are you hoping will come out of that work?

Pete  19:49

Yeah, hoping I think, two things. One is that the drip drip drip here helps get COP27 food higher up the agenda, you know, we know that these things have a long lead time, you know, there's nothing going to be affected by this, we're not going to have any impact on this year negotiations. But if COP goes to Egypt next year, that maybe in a different context, different time, that food will, will be much higher up that agenda. And even the change of location may have an impact on that for African nations being more involved in that conversation. Where the future food systems is a huge matter to the African continent. What sort of a food system are we going to have in Africa? A continent that could quite happily feed the whole world itself?

Matthew  20:38

Pete is really hoping that the role of governments in shaping the food system gets amplified.

Pete  20:43

Partly because, you know, we've seen with other facets of climate change that local governments are often ahead of national governments in terms of policymaking, and they certainly head when it comes to food policy,  , and that there is a, I wouldn't say it's the most powerful global movement, but there are compared to 10 years ago, far more citizens interested in changing the food system than there were, and they're talking to their local representatives, about what can we do around here. And so I think amplifying those voices, through city governments, regional government and state governments, I think is part of what we're trying to do at the COP. So getting food into the sub-national government pavilion into the sub-national government agenda. We've managed to do that in a small way. So we're really pleased about that.

Matthew  21:31

Part of the work that Nourish was doing around COP 26 was to highlight what they found to be inspiring food stories from across the world. They hosted dynamic panels, screenings, hands on events and community engagement through a series called Recipes for Resilience. They also organized the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration along with International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems – or IPES-Food. The declaration is quote, “a commitment by sub national governments to tackle the climate emergency through integrated food policies and a call on national government to act.” Pete shared a few examples of organizations that he found particularly inspiring.

Pete  22:11

I can pick out two to start with. One is Mouans-Sartoux, sitting there in France, 10,000 people, they go, “Hey, we want to have organic food in our schools.” This is really difficult. We have to convince the department to do something or we have to convince French government to do something or we have to convince the EU to design. Actually no, we don't. We are just going to buy a farm and hire some farmers and then we’ll do it. Fair play to them. They've just gone, we've got a plan and we're going to implement it, we're going to do that. And then at the other end, you've got a mega city like São Paulo, which has, according to people we are talking to there, has a third of its surface area is Virgin Atlantic Rainforest, which they are busy protecting, and within that they’re supporting organic farmers, farmers to go organic and to produce food for the city, and actually linking sort of demand and supply now that's obviously not going to feed all of São Paulo, but it's a really important example of a city getting involved in, in land use. And in organics and in farming.

Matthew  23:12

 We'll hear more from the city of São Paulo soon. Pete was reflecting on the diversity of efforts put forward by the signatories and shared one more example.

Pete  23:22

I did like what they were doing in New Haven. Again, quite a small city. But were these issues about racism had come to the fore when they started to look at the food system, and talking about how we have a two tier food system in all sorts of ways in terms of people's nutrition, but also in terms of who's runs the businesses who's got power in the sort of production system. They’re actually trying to rethink their food policy work from a sort of justice perspective and an equality perspective. And I think that's hugely important, because I think it's really easy for preoccupation with food and food systems to feel a very white, very middle class very sort of nice to have sort of issue. And if you're going to really run a good food policy at city level, that being inclusive and actually designing a policymaking process in a way that a really diverse group of people actually want to be involved in it. I think that's a real challenge. 

Matthew  24:21

That was Pete Richie from Nourish, Scotland. We’ll hear from him again later in the series as he diagnoses power in the food system, and speaks more about the connections between the agency of local, national and international government actors. And this sets up our next conversation with  someone who has been implementing the food systems transformation through politics for several decades in São Paulo, Brazil. 

So we're joined today by São Paulo, Secretary of International Affairs, and Marta Suplicy. Thank you very much for speaking with us today.


Marta  22:24

It's a pleasure to be with you. And to talk about something so important, yet so little talk at COP26.


Matthew  22:32

Yes, and we will get into that. But first, maybe just an introduction. You've been involved in politics for several decades serving as the mayor of São Paulo, the Minister of Tourism, Minister of Culture, Vice President, the Senate, you have a very long resume here. And looking through the record, you've also been outspoken on food issues for quite a long time. When did you first become more concerned about food issues?


Marta  22:54

Since a child I could see the hungry my country, and how the rich people would waste food and eat very well, and how many people would go hungry? And that to us just a perception of the lesson too. And I think at that I start to think seriously about that. When I heard about technology, when I heard about climate change, and how they talk with the food and the influence of climate on production of food, and food something that everyone should have access to nutritious, safe, adequate and healthy diets.


Matthew  23:42

Marta strongly argues for the right to food, which is the right to have regular and unrestricted access to culturally appropriate and a sufficient quantity of food. It’s also refers to the right of people to feed themselves in dignity. More information on this can be found in TABLE’s What is food sovereignty explainer and in Feed episode 13 with Felipe Roa-Clavijo.

Marta makes this argument by talking about the context of the food system in Brazil,


Marta  23:49

in Brazil, 55% of the population does not necessarily eat three meals a day and we are under food insecurity. 90 million Brazilians are in extreme food deprivation today.


Matthew  24:03

She also mentions how the pandemic has worsened food security and the policies put forward by the current federal government, the Bolsonaro administration, have also exacerbated hunger.


Marta  24:13

We are under a dismantling of the Food and Nutritional Security policies in the country, which involve family and urban agriculture. Family Farmers struggle for land and the movements representing the landless and the small rural workers are being criminalized.


Matthew  24:33

Marta talks about how different groups have both progressed or regressed the efforts to eliminate hunger and she really stresses the urgency of this work.


Marta  24:41

We don't need to create anything new in Brazil. We know where to go and we are talking about hunger. This is something heavy, because people die of hunger. And we can't just talk about things thinking about long term results. We need instruments right now. The deal with the dimension of the problem, investments that deal with human life. So we are talking about such a rich country that could feed everyone here, and has all lots of problem - mainly these last two years.


Matthew  25:17

You have a lot of the tools and the instruments and the production yet there's still persistent hunger. And so not everything is a technical solution. There's, there's social issues, there is –






There's politics. Absolutely.


Marta  25:31

Politics is the main instrument for anything that you want to do. Right or wrong.


Matthew  25:38

We're talking with you and other guests about their views on COP26. You have all these discussions on climate, but very little discussions on food’s relation to climate. Why do you think food is not more central to the climate agenda?


Marta  25:53

Because deforestation has a much higher level of visibility and pressing consequences. So deforestation is also easier to discuss because of a clear pathway on what to do and how to do it. Countries just need to be held accountable. On deforestation, individuals have limited actions. But on food issues, we have authority on that matter. Each one of us, given the growing attention of the key role that food and agricultural systems play in climate change. The synergy is not as big a piece of COP26 agenda as it should be. Food is the missing ingredient at cup 26. But climate change policies are the essential components of food systems, putting land use, low carbon agriculture, and renewable energy at the heart of the Paris Agreement.


Matthew  26:47

Marta shared an example of how food and climate are connected,


Marta  26:51

The Amazon forest is being different deforested. So we have the consequences already in the south like in São Paulo, where I live, we are having a drought. Why? Why do we have that? Because of all the problems of not raining enough there and not getting – the winds cannot carry water to São Paulo. And so we are living the consequences already. And in a very, very short time. So everything is related,


Matthew  27:22

Marta explains that if the rainforest are harvested, it doesn't only have broader global implications for the loss of habitat for biodiversity and carbon storage. But it also directly impacts her region in São Paulo.

And so that brings us to this international climate conference, where people say that all politics are local, but it's hard to deny that what happens across the world impacts everyone.


Marta  28:58

I think that's very important to understand. And I think most people that are worried about climate know that the big changes will come in cities, and in big cities, we have to think about that not only food, but things small things that the local governments can do. Because when you add everything that can be done, it will be a huge amount of things that do have very, very great impact. And if you don't care about that, you can talk about the forest.


Matthew  29:35

Marta talks about the importance of taking care of the needs of the local citizens. But that doesn't have to come at the expense of global or environmental concerns. 


Marta  29:44

The city of San Paolo look at 62% of its pollution is due to buses. That's the first thing we as local government have to take care of. And for us, it's more important and really important to take care of that for the health of the citizens. Then then the forest. But before so we have consequences for your sample as I was telling. So everything is related. And if you think about food is also a big thing in the cities because how you feed the children in schools, how invite your food and other things


Matthew  30:19

From the perspective of São Paulo, what would be a good outcome for COP26?


Marta  30:25

São Paolo wants the recognition to be an international Green Capital, we are fighting for that. We wanted people to know that we are as far away as possible from the national government policy of denial on climate change, and constant attack on science. We don't have anything to do with that. On the contrary. In São Paulo, we have 1/6 of our territory, that's preservation area, like a rural area. We have the sources of the city’s water preserved and we have 13 indigenous tribes in the territory of San Paolo. And San Paolo has a lot of parks - 48% of its territory is green. So sometimes because you have so many buildings, they say São Paulo is a concrete city. Yes, we have lots of concrete, but we have a lots of parks, and we have a lot of vegetables also.


Matthew  31:26

Yeah, it sounds like you have a lot of diversity there and its people and the landscape. The city of São Paulo has received growing international attention in the last five years for some of its recent programs like the school lunch program, and the municipal program to combat food waste and loss, both being created to build a more sustainable food system. Can you first talk about the school lunch program? What was the problem that it was trying to solve? And how did it go about doing that?


Marta  31:55

The school program in San Paolo is one of the largest in the world. Every day over 2 million meals are served to more than 1 million students in about 3500 schools from our municipal Education Network. We represent the most comprehensive experiencing public policies for food and nutrition in South America. Besides being one of the oldest in the world, we distinguish ourselves by universal coverage in the provision of meals - universal coverage. The school menu prioritizes organic items for local family agriculture. Could you imagine 2 million meals with organic food? Yes, we have that. Policies that promote the reduction of meat conception represent one of the most efficient, feasible and cost effective methods to achieve several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Impacts of one day of the school lunch program considering the consumption of meat really helps the city with our water and carbon footprints. We do that.


Matthew  33:03

Marta describes the three objectives of the sustainable school lunch program.

Marta  33:08

To diversify the school meals with vegetables, to promote activities in educational gardens, and also to purchase from small family farmers that produce organic food. In addition to this, during the pandemic period, the city of San Paolo, as I was telling you invested 1 billion reals in food vouchers to reach more than 1 million students enrolled in the municipal Education Network.

Matthew  33:34

That investment amounts to a little over 175 million US dollars. It had a huge impact during the pandemic to ensure that students had access to at least one meal a day, especially during lockdown that forced the closure of classrooms and schools

Marta  33:48

We are aware that many children in São Paolo lives under circumstances where they eat better at schools. That is one meal they have a day.

Matthew  33:57

So I just want to ask you, because I'm from the United States, and I'm living in Sweden, and I can't imagine that program going into effect at that scale. Because it's hard to think of the kind of political support behind it – 


You are right.


So I'm curious, is it a popular program? And how do you fund it? How did it become operating at the scale?

Marta  34:20

That has been going on for some time. It's not something to do one day and then it happens, because it has to be the farmers to produce the food, the vegetables and everything. So it has been improving and improving for a long, long time. But it's amazing what you say. Because I I'm not sure if the parents realize how sophisticated the meal is. They are just very happy that the children are eating and they eat well, and they like. That's what is important for them. And so, I think just the sensibility of the municipality, the mayor's that were before, the mayor that is now. And we have the resources. That's an important point do we have the resources in education

Matthew  35:08

Marta also shared more info on the municipal program to combat food waste, and loss, which was organized by those working in the logistics of the food supply chain. To minimize area where food was wasted 880/5 street markets were targeted, and the excess foods were donated through a screening process that saved up to 85% of the food. That food then went to a municipal Food Bank and the other 50% ended up in the municipal composting program. So the food was either directly distributed to people facing food insecurity, through an effort coordinated by over 300 charitable institutions. Or it was distributed as compost to the farmers. Between 2018 and 2021, 385 tons of food were collected. 

Marta  35:50

The program also promotes the training and reintegration into the labor market of unemployed people in situations of social and economic vulnerability. The beneficiaries, mostly homeless people, immigrants, participate directly in activities related to the collection of food and integrated qualification courses about good practices, permaculture and personal finance.

Matthew  36:16

That was Marta Suplicy sharing some inspiring examples of food systems transformation happening in Brazil. Thank you. Thank you so much, Marta.

Marta  36:18

Pleasure to talk with you. We could spend the whole morning here.

Matthew  36:24

So we spoke to a policymaker, an activist and a representative from civil society, who have similar aims, but come from different places in how they approach these issues. We've heard people say the food system is too difficult, and it's too personal, which is what leads people to focus on, quote, simpler problems like deforestation. While food system challenges may be difficult and complex, that’s not a good reason to not address it. On the other hand, reversing the trend of deforestation is also another difficult proposition and it does have a clear connection to the food system that merits attention. 

In the second part of this episode, we will speak with Patty Fong from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and with two shareholder advocates from Green century, an investment firm that encourages institutions and individuals to invest in environmental and socially responsible companies. We will discuss the role of finance and policy as instruments to change the food system.

Thank you all for listening. The feed podcast is produced by TABLE, a food systems collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Wageningen University. This podcast was edited and mixed by Matthew Kessler with help from the broader table Community. Music in this episode by Blue Dot sessions. Talk to you soon.